A reclusive tribe in an inaccessible place

Giji K. Raman

The Muthuvans live in an isolated hamlet, 38 km from Munnar

What the tribals were demanding for years was a proper forest path to reach the ‘kudy’ and even now one cannot imagine travelling all alone through the stretch

KATTAPPANA: When free ration was allotted to the isolated tribal hamlet at Edamalakkudy in Idukki district, one kg of rice cost the tribals Rs 5.50, the extra charge being the transportation cost of a headload porter carrying a sack of rice to Edamalakkudy, lying 38 km from the nearest town Munnar.

Often cut off from the rest of the State, most of the Muthuvans, one of the most reclusive tribes spread across 28 kudies, till recently had little access to the town except a few of them reaching Munnar once or twice in many months for purchasing the most needed items for their subsistence.

“Earlier, one had to travel all the way from Munnar to the kudy by foot braving wild beasts including tuskers and inclement weather conditions,” said a teacher from Kannampady, another tribal area near Upputhara, who was appointed to run a single-teacher school at Edamalakkudy. He worked for nearly a year there and abandoned the job. He was the third person who had abandoned the job without completing an academic year. “One has to fight against all odds in Edamalakkudy and when the initial enthusiasm ebbs, somehow you want to escape from there,” said the teacher.

The situation has not changed much now. One has to travel by jeep to an 18-km stretch till Pettimudy and the rest of the distance by foot to reach Edamalakkudy. “What the tribals were demanding for years was a proper forest path to reach the kudy and even now one cannot imagine travelling all alone through the stretch,” said a health worker here, who had worked at the tribal village for a few weeks during the last monsoon along with an NGO team.

“News from Edamalakkudy reaches the town very slowly,” he said and added that only when something severe like shortage of essential items or an epidemic-like situation exists that some tribals reached the town and the rest of the world did actually know about it.

In emergency

“Sending essential items like medicines and food in emergency is difficult as a huge amount has to be set aside for carrying them by headload porters to the village,” he said and added that during the monsoon, the worst period for the tribals, one has to virtually fight against leeches to reach there.

A staffer of a local media, who had reported the living conditions of Muthuvans, said when immediate medical attention is needed, there is no option but to carry the patient in a bamboo litter to the hospitals in Munnar area. A lot of time lapses for carrying the patient and the chance of his survival is less, he said.

“Once depending solely on the forest, the depletion of forest produce had made them to seek outside help. The Muthuvans are facing new problems augmented by a transition in their life style. With a decreasing health status, they are vulnerable to diseases like asthma and TB,” said the health worker.

Farm produce

Unlike other tribals in Kerala, the marketing of farm produce of Muthuvans is difficult due to lack of communication and transport facilities. “For carrying the farm produce to the town and taking the essential items to the hamlet, they have to pay heavily,” he said.

Assembly Speaker K. Radhakrishnan along with S. Rajendran, MLA and a media team visited Edamalakkudy on Monday and spent a night there interacting with Muthuvans. The team returned by Tuesday noon to Munnar. The Speaker set an example by being the first person of his status to have ever visited Edamalakkudy.

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