Malabar Mail: Celebrating the spirit of the region

Malabar migration: is the dream coming to an end?

Farmers, who came from Travancore and braved challenges to lead better lives, are forced to think of a retreat

The pastures of Malabar are no longer as green or inviting as they used to be. Most of the agrarian patches in the hilly terrains are now more like abandoned ships in the making, in fact. For, the second and third generations of migrated settler farmers are in search of greener pastures elsewhere.

Malabar’s unexplored land with its invigorating petrichor beckoned the poverty-stricken villages of central Travancore in the 1920s. The highlands of this region appeared to be their promised land to transcend the days of hand-to-mouth existence. With their humble belongings, they packed for their own exodus. It was the beginning of their new innings as Malabar’s enterprising green thumbs.

The peasant immigration, which was in full swing during the 1945-1970 period, changed Malabar forever – geographically, culturally, socially, and economically, as large tracts of uncultivated cheap land were transformed into productive fields. It was not plain sailing for them. They fought wild animals and deadly diseases. But they tilled the land for survival. Rural settlements popped up. Food and cash crops set the financial rhythm of life in those settlements.

Little wonder that the sweat of enterprising settlers left an impressive mark of development on Malabar’s most sought after hinterlands. Around 80% of settlers were from Kottayam, Idukki, and Ernakulam who also brought home their unique culture, faith practices, and a distinct dialect of Malayalam.

However, the inherited agriculture land is no more an attraction for many. Price fall and poor yield have doused their enthusiasm; wild animals continue to pose threat to their lives and crops; recurring natural calamities in high ranges are persuading them to think of a second exodus to safer lands. Once the backbone of urban markets, the hill produce is constantly on the decline.

There is no denying the fact that the region is witnessing irreversible change in the highland eco-system. Unregulated mining in the Western Ghats area is the main reason. The adverse impact is only too true: fresh air, water, and fertile land are now a bygone bliss in many settler villages. To cap it all, for many nuclear families of the third generation, the available patches of land in their agrarian villages are just properties to be sold in the realty market.

The changing pattern of landholding too is serving as an impetus for a second exodus. When a majority of the first generation migrants had high extent of land, their sons or daughters got only one-fourth of it or even less as inherited property due to partition. This fragmentation of cultivable landholdings subsequent to family partitioning or resale for financial needs is forcing many to shift their vocation to non-agricultural fields.

The good news is that many of the educated youngsters in settler belts have emerged as breadwinners for their parents who have been fighting a losing battle with the traditional vocation. True, the boom in careers like nursing and hotel management abroad has saved many youths and their families. Educational loans too helped several underprivileged farmers give professional education to their children and prepare them better for the new-gen job market.

There is room for hope, though. A reverse migration of those youngsters may give some respite to the old captains with their forsaken agri-ships in the settler belts. The possible comeback of professionally trained youths to their agriculture roots with their expertise, wealth, and passion make them dream of a future that is green, once again.

But it remains to be seen how realistic those hopes are.

(MALABAR MAIL is a weekly column by The Hindu’s correspondents that will reflect Malabar’s life and lifestyle)

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Printable version | Mar 29, 2020 1:48:32 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/kerala/malabar-migration-end-of-a-dream/article30497658.ece

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