Schooling at the Kollihills
The Kollihills are one of the seven hill ranges constituting the Eastern Ghats of Tamil Nadu, in Namakkal district. It lies west of the Pacchaimalais (Green Hills), with a total area of 503 km2. The altitude ranges from 180 m to 1,415 m above sea level. The tribes who live on the Kollihills and the adjacent hills such as the Kalrayan hills, the Shevaroy hills, the Javadi hills, the Pachamalai hills are all the ‘Malayalis’ or the hill-dwellers. The Malayalis of Tamil Nadu were a total population of 357,980 in 2011 Census with nearly 51 per cent were men and boys and nearly 49 per cent women and girls.
Of the scheduled tribe population of 38,678 in 2011 Census, 21,073 were literates and schooled both inside and outside of the hills. While the literates constituted 54.5 per cent of the tribal population, a very low literacy in comparison with the state of Tamil Nadu, 58.1 per cent of the literates were men and boys and 41.9 per cent of them were women and girls. Among the Nadus of the Kollihills, Vazhavanthi Nadu had the largest of the literates (3,020) with men and boys accounting for 55.4 per cent of the literates and women and girls accounting for the rest, 44.6 per cent.
And so, a considerably higher proportion of the tribal people of the Kollihills were not schooled and that is a great disadvantage today in their development. However, among the literates of the hill villages, there are several graduates employed locally as well as away from the hills. Men and women of the hills are found in many of the cities and towns of the state, studying in schools, colleges and universities and also employed in places such as Chennai, Coimbatore, Tiruppur and other industrial towns. There are women graduates among them and girls are increasingly schooled in the Kollihills as well as in other places of the state.
The system of education in the Kollihills is constrained with inadequacies, teachers, schools, infrastructures and amenities. Out of the total enrolment, the dropout rate is alarmingly high, touching 60 per cent after middle school due to lack of awareness on education. There are 43 elementary schools, 14 middle schools, 2 high schools and one higher secondary school (statistics of Education Department in Kollihills). The people are however beginning to realize the importance of education and the tribal parents now support their children to achieve a very decent level of education. Their sight is on urban jobs and accompanying comfortable life for their children. The future will be brighter for the tribe.
The Forest Ecosystems and the Hills of God of the Kollihills
Forests are critically important habitats in terms of the biological diversity they contain and the ecological functions they serve. The number of described organisms of the world totals some 1.75 million species and it is suggested that it is just 13 per cent of the true total (Secretariat of the CBD, 2001). That is, the actual number of species may be 13.6 million. What fraction of this uncertain total lives in the forests of the Kollihills is quite unknown.
It is well known that perhaps half of all known species reside in tropical forests alone. It is also conjectured that the majority of yet-to-be discovered species are in tropical forests. This means that there could indeed be an enormous number of species that we deal with when we talk about the forests of the Kollihills. Whatever the precise number, forests of tropical areas such as the Kollihills are major locations for biological diversity.
The values of forests therefore embody the values of the biological diversity they contain since it seems unlikely that the vast majority of the biological resources could occupy non-forest habitats (Secretariat of the CBD, 2001). The need to understand the values that reside in forests arises also from the estimated rates of loss of forest area and, hence, in biological diversity. Loss rates, in fact, run into thousands per year.
Forests of the Western Ghats and the Eastern Ghats (Kollihills inclusive) are continuously affected by large scale uncontrolled forest fires. Fires adversely impact on the forests worldwide, causing a loss of biological diversities in, and ecological services from, 20 million hectares. While fire is a vital and natural part of some of the forest ecosystems, and humans have used fires for thousands of years as land management tool, natural as well as man-made fires cause severe damage in the Kollihills. At any given time, there is a forest fire raging on the hills primarily because someone has been careless or he/she has been deliberate in setting fire to the forest. Human greed knows no bounds and the tribals of the Kollihills are no exception just as the plains people, who have moved up the hills over the decades, who occupy most lands on the hill slopes, whether pepper plantations or the endless tracts of forests that are quickly being destroyed.
In the Kollihills, there are several hill areas which are designated as Samimalai (a hill of God) and there are restrictions to use resources of this patch of the forests. One can see the variations, immediately, in the density of the vegetation compared to the other forest patches of the area. There are annual festivals performed in the temple on the top of the hills. Even during such festivals the tribes do not use even a stick from that forest. Firewood is also carried to the temple to cook food for the festival. Any deviation in the restriction would invite punishment from the Community Council. There are recent reports of offenders being fined to the tune of Rs 3,000. The Samimalai can be regarded as the sacred grove of the area.
The Hamlets and Nadus
The hamlets and Nadus (Nadu in Tamil means ‘country’ or at the lowest level a ‘village’) of the Kollihills are a homogeneity of population in terms of clannish organization. The hamlets, though small in size (of area and population), for all practical purposes may be considered as individual settlements having intricate social relations among the people and with each other.
The hamlets and Nadus become important in that the social system is spatially organized and its operation is spatially structured. And since an important goal in the operation of a social system, and also in individual behaviour, is efficiency, the vur, in their evolution and operation, express this efficiency in the way they are located with respect to economic system that coordinates production, consumption, and exchange of goods - agriculture related commodities and services - which facilitate development of hamlets and Nadus and also influence the locations of functions and the interactions among these functions.
The settlements of the hills show two features that are significant: (a) their small size; and (b) the ecology of the sites with which they are associated. The site areas are such that they offer livelihood for groups of 20 to 100 households, though there are mother - villages with more than 200 households. It appears that the size is an expression of the carrying capacity or load, determining the pattern of the hamlets and nadus. This means that the system of nadus and the tendency towards intensive exploitation by the tribe of limited environmental riches of the hills are an ingenious adaptation to environment, based on a remarkably complete knowledge of local ecology and soil potential.
Critical Population Density of traditional subsistence agriculture is 8 to 9 persons per km2 and in shifting cultivation it is 4 (Kumaran, 1983; 1998). The hamlets therefore remain small communities so that the exploited area is limited and the crop lands do not move too far from the homesteads, though distance from home to land is not an absolute constraint. The general pattern of hamlets is of ' nucleated variety' with a parent village from which segments have split off to form more or less distant hamlets of a few families. There are however small family homesteads beside or within the farm, from preference and for convenience. While the former is determined by the tribe who need to live together for social reasons, the latter is determined by human preference, needs and family traditions, and then by the environmental ecology. And the gregarious live in nucleated hamlets, and those who prefer some measure of domestic privacy live in individual farmsteads.
In this community there is a tradition of worshipping prehistoric Celts (axe-like instruments), stone implements and images placed in huts within the forests. The reverence towards such sacred groves has resulted in the preservation of the flora and fauna within such areas.
Each village of the settlement is called vur. A group of ten to fifteen vur constitutes a nadu. Each vur has a chief called vur goundan or muppan. While the nadu comes under the jurisdiction of another hereditary chieftain called nadu goundan.
Welcome to our new blog. We've teamed up with our colleague in India, Thangavelu Vasantha Kumaran, to publish updates on his humanitarian work in southern India. Updates will first be published in our newsletter, followed by more detailed updates here on our blog, for those who want to learn a little bit more!