People's Democracy

(Weekly Organ of the Communist Party of India (Marxist)


Vol. XXXV

No. 40

October 02, 2011

KERALA

 

What These Tribal Womenís Fault Was?

N S Sajith

 

WAYANAD, a hilly district in the north of Kerala, is well known for its scenic beauty and also famous for its treasure of spices like pepper and cardamom. The idyllic nature of Wayanad and its nearness to Ooty and Mysore offers tremendous potential of tourism development. The flora and fauna in this district, that is located in the Western Ghats, are also considered to be a rich resource of biodiversity. However, while this district abounds in the enchanting and charming beauty of nature, it at the same time presents a painful history of exploitation of the tribal communities.

 

The adivasis of this district of Wayanad also have a glorious history of having waged a long and blood-stained revolt against the British rule. Tribal warriors were in the forefront of the revolt led by Pazhassi Raja in the turbulent years of resistance in the 18th century. The revolt was directed against the exploitation of their resources by the British authorities who had bribed the Mooppans (clan leaders) with liquor and tobacco for the purpose.

 

After the countryís independence, this role was taken over by the landlords who illegally seized the lands of the tribal people. Tribal people were thus always at the receiving end of exploitation.

 

And now a piece of news from Wayanad tells another pathetic story of the tribal peopleís sufferings and dismal conditions. It is about a horrible action perpetrated by the Kerala Police and is unheard of in any civilised society, especially worrying all the adivasis and other Keralites having self-respect. This abominable action is about some policemen intentionally stripping adivasi women in broad daylight. They removed the kachcha (a dhoti like cloth) of these women on the pretext of frisking them.

 

Women from the Paniya clan had this bitter experience in Kalpetta, the district headquarters. They had come there to receive pattas for plots of land from the chief minister Oommen Chandy in a function. It was also to be attended by tribal development minister P K Jayalakshmi who belongs to a tribal community in Wayanad. These innocent Paniya women testified that male policemen had indeed tried to remove their clothes.

 

Adivasi Kshema Samithy (AKS), an organisation fighting for the welfare of the tribal communities in Kerala, has taken up the issue. AKS leader Sita Balan held a press conference in Kalpetta along with these Paniya women, and gave the details of what had happened. Paniya women too came before the cameras to tell the world what had happened to them. These women also said that many women from their clan had not even turned up for the patta distribution function due to fear.

 

The patta distribution function was itself organised in the backdrop of an agitation by the AKS in the preceding months. The organisationís main demand was about execution of a High Court order to attach 17 acres of land which was illegally encroached by M V Shreyams Kumar, a UDF legislator of the Socialist Janata Party led by M P Veerendrakumar. The AKS and the CPI(M) have jointly organised struggles to bring pressure upon the state government to attach the land from Shreyams Kumar. On the day Oommen Chandy reached Wayanad, the AKS had organised a protest march and black flag demonstration on the issue. This was the reason for the frisking the policemen were resorting to.

 

While reacting to the controversial stripping, tribal development minister P K Jayalakshmi apologetically said that the incident should have been avoided. But the AKS is firm on its demand for stringent action against the erring police personnel.