Kerala

Strangers in their own land

Dearth of livelihood options make life miserable for tribespeople of Njaraneeli

While many tribal families have lived here for generations, a sense of alienation exists among the residents of the tribal settlements in Palode. The severe dearth in livelihood opportunities is being perceived as a major reason for the hardships faced by the tribespeople in Njaraneeli.

“At least four generations of each family have resided here, but the authorities treat us as mere outsiders who have been permitted to settle here by their benevolence. Despite being provided with possession certificates several years ago, none of the successive governments have distributed title deeds. There has been no dearth in assurances, particularly during elections. Our society is merely a vote bank for political parties,” laments Sreedharan Kani, the leader of the Ilanjium tribal settlement.

While the tribal residents are not permitted to fell trees, the Scheduled Tribes and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Forest Rights) Act, 2016, empowered them with the right of ownership and access to “collect, use, and dispose” of minor forest produce. While the tribespeople of Njaraneeli cultivate various crops including rubber, tapioca, and plantain, the lack of fencing often makes their vegetations susceptible to attacks by wild boars and other animals.

Headload work

Compounding their woes are the trade unions that maintain a monopoly over the headload work in the region, denying local residents an avenue for livelihood. According to Sanukumar, a former Scheduled Tribes (ST) promoter and a resident of the Theruvathukavu tribal settlement, members of various unions, who are not residents of the tribal area, consider it their prerogative to undertake the loading and unloading of rubber products, including latex and sheets, besides construction materials transported to the area.

“While there are laws that proclaim that tribal people are entitled to earning their livelihood in forest lands, such is not the case here. There have been clashes among trade unionists and tribal residents with the Labour Commissioner being forced to intervene. Sadly, the authorities have failed to protect our reasonable rights. If this is our plight, imagine the situation of tribal communities living farther away from the State capital,” Sanukumar says.

The tribespeople also accuses the Forest Department of doing little to alleviate their woes. They claim that none from the region have been employed as watchers and guides.

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Printable version | Jun 6, 2020 4:32:53 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/kerala/strangers-in-their-own-land/article19525098.ece

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