Adivasi (Indigenous People), A Strong Sense of Self and Place
The land, forests and rivers of the Kollihills yield just enough to live by, and in bad years, not even that. Modest crops of paddy and tapioca, millets and fruits of all kind, pepper and coffee are the products of unremitting toil of the Adivasi families. If the rains are plenty, then they are happy because they will have better yields. But if the rains fail, then they are unhappy because they will have a food insecure situation in most families but those involved in activities other than agriculture or labour. In bad times, however, the forests stand the Adivasis in good stead. There are minor forest products, the leaves, herbs, nuts, roots, wild and edible fruits and so on, to fall back on, to be collected. But not many people appear to be doing this because of the forest department restricting their foraging to only those areas they have legal access to, which is for all we know are limited in extent.
So much so, the effects of an uncertain and inadequate livelihood are seen in the wrinkles of their faces and their hard lives. Without food, three square meals, and sometimes without vegetables and fruits, and medical care, people do suffer entirely avoidable illnesses. The absence of schools, or schools at long walking distances, especially to those living in the interior hamlets, denies children a chance to learn and improve their lives. The residential schools – just two of them – for the Adivasi children are not enough to accommodate all of them can be seen from the fact that most children go to private schools and the parents often struggle to pay. Of course, there are some families in each of the 261 hamlets who can afford the private education.
Poverty and hunger put the people, especially women and girls, for the adivasis have more or less the same cultural milieu as the plains people, men and boys are made much of, at the mercy of a callous government bureaucracy and rapacious plains people who literally devour the Adivasi land and water and all other resources, to whom the adivasis do not matter. The adivasis are to be exploited and plundered. There has been an invasion of the Kollihills by the plains people that the rightful owners of the Kollihills have become over the years alienated from their lands and resources. But the life goes on for the Adivasi, despite the state’s refusal to recognize Adivasi rights to lands and forests. Worse still, the Supreme Court in 2019 has given a verdict in a case for vacating the adivasis from their traditional abode, the hills and the forests. It is almost a total failure of the welfare state in the region.
Despite its hardships, this life is all there is for adivasis and I know it for a fact that they value it. In the midst of the vicissitudes hunger, malnutrition, exploitation and alienation, what keeps adivasis going are the certitudes of community, their cohesive social and ethnic system, their faith in the bonds of kinship: the knowledge that relatives will help out in times of troubles as they always have. And the adivasis also have a sense of self, pride and place that leaving the hills and forests never arises in their minds. They are bound to the nature and multitude of their place of living. What the plains people and the bureaucracy do not understand is that the fear and the hardships the Adivasi faces generate a courage that could defy death or the threat of annihilation, leave alone persecution.
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!