What happened to Atapati? - Center for Public Policy Research (CPPR) (2023)

The gruesome lynching of Madhu, a 27-year-old Adivasi youth from Chindakki, in the Attappadi area of ​​Palakkad district is yet another example of how successive political parties and governments have neglected the area for decades. In fact, Attappadi has received national attention since 2010 for its high infant mortality rate (IMR). A study conducted by the Kerala Institute of Local Administration (KILA) in 2012 showed 63 in the period 2010-2012. and 2012-13. The government has announced a special scheme of Rs 400 crore for the welfare of the Attappadi tribe following the mass infant deaths. Ironically, however, these funds were not well spent and infant mortality continued in the Adivasi region with 30 deaths in 2014, 14 in 2015, nine in 2016 and 10 in 2017. 10 deaths (as of July).

The magnitude of the problem was well reflected in Prime Minister Narendra Modi's speech during his trip to Kerala in May 2016 for the cyclonic elections, when he included the indigenous and tribal population of Kerala. Deaths from poverty and malnutrition in the United States equal those in sub-Saharan countries such as Somalia. Somalia's IMR was 85 in 2015, while Attapaddi district had an IMR of 66 and the rest of Kerala state 12, according to a 2013 study by the National Institute of Nutrition.

What was wrong with Attappadi?

Does the Attappadi tragedy reflect the flaws in the "Kerala development model" praised by many leading economists and secularists like Nobel laureate Dr. Amartya Sen? Attappadi's case studies shed light on complex issues related to development and the attitudes of government and civil society towards vulnerable and marginalized groups.

Attappadi district, spread over an area of ​​745 square kilometers and having an indigenous population of about 10,000, is the first tribal block of Kerala. Soon after independence, more than 90 percent of the area consisted of dense reserve forests. After about 15 years, the forest coverage rate fell to 82%, and then the forest area continued to decrease, which currently amounts to about 20%. In fact, the enactment of the Kerala Private Forests (Allotment and Transfer) Act, 1967, which limited each landowner's land ownership to a maximum of 15 hectares, resulted in the widespread sale of private forest land by six landowners at lump sum prices. Most of the land in Attappadi. The new owners are mainly entrepreneurs, wood traders and sawmill owners, who have almost finished the forest with massive cutting of trees. Although the government failed to stop the menace, most political leaders cooperated with these groups. As a result, the process of deforestation continued until 1980, and the controversy surrounding Tiha Dolina attracted the attention of environmentalists and nature lovers internationally.

Deforestation not only causes serious environmental and ecological impacts such as reduced water sources and climate change, but also adversely affects the lives of indigenous peoples. They had to abandon traditional crops such as rags, maize, millet and beans. The breeding of goats and cattle disappeared, and the harvesting of secondary forest products such as honey and medicinal plants became impossible. Unemployment and poverty became two aspects of the Aboriginal population. Demographic changes in the area have adversely affected the lives and livelihoods of most Adivasis, with settlers driving them from their land and traditional ways of life. Over the past 50 years, the percentage of Aboriginal people in the region has dropped from 91 percent to 41 percent. During the same period, the non-indigenous population in the region increased from 9% to 59%.

A survey report revealed that settlers from central Kerala, Tamil Nadu and Karnataka have encroached on 10,472 hectares of native land in Attappadi block. The Irula tribe was the worst affected, losing 8,996.14 hectares, followed by Mudugas (1,083.17 hectares) and Kurumba (26 hectares). Ironically, influential political leaders in the region encouraged a large influx of non-tribals and sought to occupy large tracts of forest or indigenous land. Of course, they became loyal supporters of the immigrant lobby. In addition, some political leaders, especially the pro-settler ones, have managed to acquire large tracts of land at a lump sum price and use the labor of Adivasis to convert them into plantations, depriving them of minimum wages.

Consequently, despite a series of agitations and campaigns by various aboriginal organizations over the past 30 years, the state has been unable to resolve the fundamental issue of restoring aboriginal land and its distribution among landless aboriginals. Restoring alienated land is undoubtedly a complex issue, but the main obstacle to finding solutions that protect the interests of the indigenous population is the lack of sincerity and commitment from the main political parties. While several regional parties openly championed the cause of the settlers, other major parties and their leaders expressed sympathy for the settlers rather than the Adivasis. In 1999, the state government identified land in the remote area of ​​Sholayar panchayat for allotment to the landless indigenous people. However, despite accepting land title deeds, the vast majority of Adivasis have not moved to this barren land that lacks basic amenities or infrastructure. Moreover, out of 2,523 land dispute cases registered in Attapadi area, only 13 cases covering 44.77 hectares have been resolved so far.

The story of development in the Adivasi region is equally dire. Political gurus and bureaucrats are the main players. Almost two decades after independence, new projects and plans for the development of the area were designed. The state government declared Attappadi as the first tribal district of Kerala in 1975 with the aim of ensuring full development of the Adivasis. After the announcement, the central and state governments poured money into building roads, houses, bridges and other infrastructure. But the illicit connections of contractors, political brokers and bureaucrats have effectively sabotaged major projects and programs and siphoned away much of such funding. By the late 1980s, a series of embezzlement and fraud incidents surfaced one after the other, virtually turning Adapadi into a breeding ground for organized corruption. In addition to various programs initiated by the central and state governments, many funding agencies and NGOs are also involved in various projects in the fields of afforestation, water conservation, education, health and literacy among Adivasis. In many cases, their organized activities are foreign to indigenous cultures and customs and have actually damaged the traditional way of life of part of the local population.

Ironically, some government policy decisions - despite claims of good intentions - work against the overall interests of indigenous peoples. One of these decisions was a complete ban on alcohol in the area from April 1995. All arrack and toddy shops were closed and toddy from the Attappadi area was supplied in large quantities. The worst victim of the decision was the Adivasis. Most Adivasis, who traditionally use alcohol during extreme winters and in their ceremonies and customs, are now starting to produce illegal alcohol in their small villages. Soon, several small Adivasi villages in the hinterland became the center of production and sale of village wine. Organized alcohol mafias operating outside the region use them for their illegal liquor business. With their permission, marijuana also began to be grown in forested areas in the interior. Such activities have resulted in a series of actions by law enforcement agencies, along with frequent raids and harassment of Adivasis. While Adivasis were victims of such operations, illegal liquor mafias and law enforcement agencies thrived with the support of local political leaders.

Another decision was to ban cattle breeding in Attappadi, with the rationale that the extensive use of the hilly terrain for this purpose had a negative impact on the sensitive ecology and flora and fauna of the area. The decision was made as part of one of the most ambitious development plans, the Attappadi Wasteland Integrated Environmental Protection Project launched in 1995 with the support of Attappadi Mountain Development (here). There is no doubt that the above projects have implemented multiple programs such as ecological restoration through tree planting, dyke construction, rainwater harvesting, etc., skills development and income generation programs for Aboriginal people and rebuilding of Aboriginal village centers with better homes, communities, etc. However, by discouraging Adivasis and settlers from pursuing traditional occupations such as cattle and sheep rearing and agriculture in the name of ecological restoration, and by creating hundreds of thousands of man-days in these sectors, the aforementioned projects ultimately alienate large sections of the Adivasi population from their traditional sources of livelihood. for life. Not only that, some programs or programs initiated under the project have been abandoned or have become unfeasible in the changing socio-economic situation. Its ill effects continue to affect a significant section of Adivasis, the latest manifestation of which was the spate of infant deaths in the Attappadi area. Paradoxically, even the additional funds sanctioned by the central and state governments to deal with such tragedies of war have not been properly spent. In this scenario, more and more newborns are likely to die, more and more Madhus will become victims of mob fanaticism, and the powerful settler lobby, directly or indirectly supported by the state superstructure, will always be strong.

(According to an excerpt from the soon-to-be-published book, "Kerala: Indigenous Population, Rebellion and Politics'Author)

*K V Thomas is a senior associate at CPPR and former Assistant Director of Intelligence. The views expressed by the author are their own and do not necessarily reflect the views of the CPPR

What happened to Atapati? - Center for Public Policy Research (CPPR) (2)

KV Thomas

+ post

K V Thomas is a senior research associate at CPPR. He worked for over 36 years in the Intelligence Service of India (Ministry of Home Affairs) and rose to the rank of Deputy Director. can contact[email protected]


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