Friday 29 July 2011 by Fedina


Tribals, the ethnic minority of Kerala, constitute one percent of the state’s population. Formation of the state in 1956 and the division of the state into different districts horizontally left the tribal population of Kerala scattered, mostly in hilly areas. They started facing problems of existence with the encroachment of their ancestral land by powerful settlers from the plains, starting from pre-independence days. PANIYA, the labourers constitute the major share of the 37 tribes of this state.

Negligence of the state and mainstream politics, exploitation of the powerful communities mingled with the lack of education, denied access to land, food and health care made the life of the tribal’s miserable in Kerala, as it’s in the other Indian states.

The state of Kerala passed the ALIENATED TRIBAL LAND [RESTORATION] ACT in 1975, in conjunction with the then Indian Prime Minister Smt. Indira Gandhi’s proclaimed 20 point programme as part of the Emergency measures. Presenting this Bill in the state Legislature, the then Revenue Minister of Kerala proclaimed that the government treats all the alienated tribal lands as "STOLEN PROPERTY" and assured restoration of all the lands lost by Kerala tribal’s from January 26,1960.This 1975 Act was duly incorporated into the Ninth Schedule of the Indian Constitution. Yet this Act was not implemented by the then state government nor by any of the successive governments led by both LDF and UDF, the ruling Duos in Kerala.

Problems of the tribal’s got aggravated with the absence of cultivable land and very meager wages in the crises of the agriculture sector following the NEW GENERATION ECONOMIC POLICIES, Liberalization Privatization Globalization (LPG).

There were so many attempts from the part of the governments in Kerala to bypass the 1975 Act through amendments and Ordinances from 1986 onwards. But a writ petition filed by Dr.Nalla Thampi Thera in the Kerala High Court in 1988 pleading to direct the Kerala state to implement the 1975 Act, prevented all attempts of the governments to bypass the Act.


Utter poverty and unprecedented starvation deaths in the tribal belts in Kerala in 2001 precipitated the already prevailing unrest to a very new struggle of the tribal’s of Kerala, led by Smt.C.K.Janu, a newly emerged tribal leader from the PANIYA community, staged in the state Head Quarters at Thiruvananthapuram. The Adivasi Dalit Samara Samiti [ADSS] led by her could bring national and international attention to the alienation of the tribal’s in Kerala. Subsequently on the 48th day of the "SHELTER HUT" strike, A.K.ANTONY, the then Chief Minister of Kerala signed an agreement with C.K.JANU to give one-five acres of land to the tribal population of Kerala on a phased manner. Following this 600 tribal families [one percent of the tribal families identified eligible for land] were given a total of 950 acres of alternate land in Idukki district in January 2002. Even this meager allotment ran into deeper controversy with the then Forest and Revenue Ministers confronting on this.

The repeated pleas of the tribal organization led by C.K.JANU to the state government for land allocation fell in deaf ears. Hence on January 4, 2003 around 500 tribal’s including women and children under the leadership of C.K.JANU entered the forest land in Muthanga in the Neelgiri Biosphere, built huts, dug wells, and started cultivation.

Obviously this new form of agitation drew the attention of the Governments at all levels. The state government tried to evict the tribals on February 17th which was resisted by the tribal’s and on the 19th the state police very brutally evicted the tribal’s with frightening lathi charge, tear gas and firing which resulted in the killing of a tribal, missing of so many of them, the arrest of the rest and the life of a police man.

C.K.Janu and her aides were brutally tortured under police custody and naked violation of Human rights was well engineered by the police even by forcefully ousting the media persons from the site. Though, at the cost of the life and the blood of so many tribal’s, again the tribal issues got attention worldwide. All the political fronts in Kerala were together in alienating the tribal’s.


Now the tribal’s who struggled for land face a series of charges against them under so many severe sections of Indian Penal Code in the CBI Court at Kochi. A lot of water has flown under the bridge, governments have come and gone, Tribal’s of Kerala still are groping in darkness.

In 2006 the UDF government, led by Indian National Congress, had gone out of power, the LDF, led by Communist Party of India-Marxist [CPIM],came into reign. The tribal organization, ADIVASI GOTRA MAHASABA,[AGM], led by C.K.JANU, though not a registered political party, had contested in certain constituencies against both the political fronts in Kerala and was able to get few thousands of votes in the Assembly polls. C P I M the leading party of the 2006 Left Government had tried in its all time usual dirty tricks to pretend to stand for the cause of the tribal’s by organizing few paradoxical land struggles under the aegis of ADIVASI KSHEMA SAMITI [AKS] but not taking any possible and responsible step with commitment to allocate land to the tribal’s, what could be easily done by a government led by them and expected of them. They still continue their betrayal by castrating the tribal organizations and movements with false allegations and pretend as if they are the sole advocates of all struggles, whatsoever Human Rights or Tribal. This is very evident in their Government Order in October 2009 wherein they state that only the tribal’s who do not even have a single cent of land will be eligible for land. "Will there be anybody like this.....?" asks C.K.Janu. And she says that most often tribal people who live in colonies will have four cents of land in which they have their huts and they will not be eligible to get land as per this Government Order. The betrayal of CPIM to the real tribal issue is evident here and the tribal’s’ demand for cultivable land to work and exist goes unattended forever.

On the other hand The INDIAN NATIONAL CONGRESS who are heading the UDF Government that has come into power in May 2011 was very cunning in utilizing this crises and reverted the tribal votes [though very negligible] in favour of them, especially in Wayanad, the district in Kerala with highest number of Tribal population [even that too is only one fifth of the total population of the district]. All the three Assembly seats of Wayanad are won by Congress led UDF and for the history of Kerala, a TRIBAL WOMAN, [the only one woman representative of the ruling front in the state assembly] from Mananthavadi constituency in Wayanad has become a state minister.

Learning from the history, the LAND and other crucial issues of the Tribal’s of Kerala will go on unattended, since the major political parties are just concerned to appease the vote bank of Kerala, which is in no way the Tribal’s. Looking to the Peoples’ organizations, they try to organize the Tribal’s just for the sake of some projects and as and when the project period gets over they leave them half way. Moreover such organizations seem to lack a political will and vision to carry on the tribal issues with persistence. Even the media gives only little attention to this. So the real political discourse, vision and direction to take up the cause of the Tribal people of Kerala are drained up with either the threat of the CPIM or with the other interests of the Congress and the lack of political will of the peoples’ organizations.

Most of the Tribal’s of Kerala have become agricultural workers and are underpaid. It’s true that their land rights are important. But at the same time it is very crucial and the need of the hour is that Agriculture Workers’ Union of the Tribal’s is formed to enable them to have decent wages and other labour rights, especially the right for the National Rural Employment Guarantee Act [NREGA].


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