Hemmed in Tamil Nadu

Tribal children sail to school in Tamil Nadu’s Thatchamalai village

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Their hamlet is a tourist attraction. But for this tribal community, even going to school means sailing across a reservoir, paying ₹300 a month for a ferry.

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Thatchamalai is a remote tribal hamlet nestled in the Western Ghats near Pechipparai village in Tamil Nadu’s southern-most district, Kanniyakumari. The hamlet has, for a while, been something of a tourist attraction: there is a picturesque hillock, there are rubber plantations and paddy fields.

But for the Kani people who live here — 145 families in all —life is anything but a holiday. With hardly any transport in place, they have to sail on motorised fibre boats across the Pechipparai reservoir to reach the nearest road. School children pay ₹300 a month for a ferry to get to school in Pechipparai. During the rains, this journey becomes especially arduous.

Thatchamalai’s farmers deal with another challenge: wild animals that destroy paddy fields and other crops. On occasion, the animals attack people too. Many members of the tribal community live in dense forests, and are dependent on forest produce for a livelihood. There are 48 such settlements in and around Pechipparai. The community speaks Malambasha, a mix of Tamil and Malayalam. The literacy rate is low and until not long ago, girls were married as soon as they reached puberty. But there is a change, not just in this hamlet, but also in the surrounding settlements of Thottamalai, Arukani, Vellampi and Mokkarakkal Kaani. Many people from these hamlets have overcome challenges and some have moved out to towns to study.

Images and text by N. Rajesh

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