Second Visit to Field Sites (November 23-26, 2018)
The visit was essentially one for firming up the results of discussions with the tribal village communities so far, in five staggered steps. So the Team visited the hamlet of Paravaaru of Ariyur Nadu, first to have discussions with about 15 people, women and men. The group discussion was held at the village temple. The discussion was centred round resources constraints, needs and their economic activities. A 45-year old gentleman was greatly upset about the failure of rains and crops this year. Also this year, drinking water scarcity became rampant, throughout the hills. Women and girl children had to go long distances to fetch water for the household, while men folk and boys were in search of jobs and some went far off industrial towns (Tiruppur, Coimbatore, Chennai) to make a living.
He recommended that when copious rain falls, the Government should help harvest rains and store the water for use. He pointed out that there was shortage of drinking water also because the water was sold to other areas of demand and to make money.
The discussion turned to food and food insecurity. Women were generally of the opinion that the food produced using the modern methods of cultivation, particularly with fertilizers and pesticides, were the cause for the general weaknesses and illnesses among the present generation of people of the tribe. There was rampant alcoholism among men and even boys. The families here were fed with the locally produced millets before but now rice had taken over as the staple of the tribe. Contagious/infectious diseases were quite common these days.
Women of the group informed that they were functioning as self-help groups under two names (of local flowers), Thamarai (Lotus) and Kurinji (a flower of the hills which blossoms every 14 years). One of the Presidents of the SHGs (Yogalakshmi) informed that there were 56 households, some of which were joint or extended. All able women of the households were invariably involved in agriculture and they often worked as agricultural labourers.
Off-season, however, they were put to hardships and sometime many households went hungry; sometimes, they ate their meals without vegetables. But wild fruits, roots and greens were in plenty and they could collect them from the forests near and far. They indicated that goats and milch cattle could be substitutes for agriculture during hard times but they could not afford them.
There was someone in the group (Mr. Krishnamurthy of Sundakadu, a hamlet nearby) who reiterated that the situation was more or less similar everywhere on the hills. His recommendation was that the people should look for alternative livelihoods such as goats, cows, and even businesses that could thrive on the hills (there are not many that could, however). He also said that young boys and girls were now going away from the hills looking for green pastures yonder.
There was elderly couple in the group and they were without adequate income: they entirely depended on work the woman could get and the help the people about them for their livelihood. The elderly man (Mr. Andi) had suffered a stroke and was unable to walk without help.
The Team spent nearly three hours with the group discussing several social and economic issues of the hills and left the village with a heavy heart for the hardships borne by the tribe.
Then the Team met with some 35 women of the hamlet of Thegavoipatti, Ariyur Nadu several minutes after 1.0 pm. They were at their work spot, about a km from their village, levelling the soil dug out of a farm pond (intended for storing water and recharge groundwater and also for farming fish). They were informed earlier about our visit and meeting with them for an appraisal of socio-economic and development problems and anything else they would like to discuss to provide information for our Issues Framework and later for CAP.
Through a representative of their Self-Help Groups (7 of them: Parapatti Bahariamman – a local deity (12 members); Chinnammal (10); Hindustan (10); Thegavoipatti Arangathamman (12); Rathakattuamman (10); Mariamman (12); and A. Nathakadu (12)) – Ms. Rani, they raised several questions for us to answer, because they had a very bitter experience with an NGO by the name Amudhasurabi, which offered to help them economically initially without any cost for them but later put them in financial difficulty by making them pay with fine for the services they rendered.
On clear-cut assurance from us and an explanation of our presence at the Hills we were able to proceed with the discussion on the social and economic hardships, difficulties in obtaining jobs for a living and lack of alternatives for living. The discussion points from the women were essentially a repeat of what we heard from the people of Paravaaru hamlet.
Their households, by their admission, are dependent on agriculture. But they are also involved in small coffee plantations (sometimes a few clumps of coffee plants about their homes). Two of the 7 SHGs made a request for coffee seed separator machine (Mini-disc Coffee Pulper) as they cannot afford the machine (a good one costs about US$ 800, which is quite a sum for many households).
The Team spent about an hour with the group. And as the Team left, there was another group of women from Thegavoipatti who stopped us to speak about their problems and constraints. After about 20 minutes, the Team moved on to Kulivalavu hamlet of Ariyur Nadu.
At Kulivalavu, the Team found the people away at work and hence moved on to another tribal enclave called Thenurpatti. In the group discussion with 6 women and 2 men there it emerged that they also have similar problems and similar needs. The Team was shown minidisc coffee pulpers, both hand-operated and motorised. The youngman at the meeting gave us a demo of the machine and appraised us of the availability and prices in Namakkal town, the closest town to the Hills.
Something that struck me most in the visits to the Hills is that nobody spoke about wild resources (minor forest produce like herbs, seeds, roots, and honey) that could be harvested sustainably from the forests. In fact, the tribes used to collect them and sell them to a cooperative society known as the LAMPS (Large Area Multi-Purpose Societies) using their traditional rights to such resources. I hear that the tribal people have asked for LAMPS to be improved such that they could improve their incomes and livelihoods. There are 20 LAMPS functioning in the State of Tamil Nadu with the objective to assist the various tribes in marketing their products and providing interest free short and medium term loans.
Some of the tribal collectors of wild resources such as aromatic, medicinal or rare biological resources used in industry (note that not all of which could be sustainably picked from the forests) sell them dead cheap in local markets as seasonal produce. Happily, however, there is now a landmark judgement that makes it compulsory for companies to pay local and forest communities for wild resources.
There is now a regulated market at Solakadu, which operates only for the marketing of tribal produce, particularly vegetables and fruits produced by them.
Another aspect that has never come up in discussion is nature and adventure tourism of the Kollihills. There is very great potential for nature / ecotourism of the Hills, although the infrastructure to support the domestic and the occasional international tourists is poor. There is a lot of scope for both infrastructure building and ecotourism.
And then, after a quick visit to the villages of Valappur Nadu and a meeting with the head of the SHGs (Ms. Kalarani) at her village (Pallathuvalavu) the next day, the Team visited the local free tailoring training centre at Semmedu. The Centre-in-Charge spoke to us about the services rendered free of cost for the Malayali tribe and asked us to spread the news in the villages the Team visits.
Glimpses of Nature and Culture of the Hills
The Kolliills lie in Tamil Nadu's Talaghat Plains (Bohle 1992:140), one of a series of hills of the Eastern Ghats. The Hills lie in the Namakkal political district. Covering approximately 282 square kilometres, the Hills rise between 1100 metres and 1400 metres above sea level, although most of the inhabited area falls at approximately 1000 metres above sea level (Kumaran, 2001:15). The elevation makes the climate more temperate than in the surrounding plains. Bohle (1992:140) notes that the average annual temperatures of 23-25 degrees Celsius, as well as the mean annual rainfall of 1200 mm, make the Kollihills better for cultivation than the surrounding lowlands, particularly given the rich soils of the Hills.
The Kollihills are one of only two mountainous regions in the area that still contain remnants of rainforests. These are predominately evergreen mountain forests, including a number of native and introduced species such as jackfruit, mango, guava and orange trees, eucalyptus and silver oak. The eucalyptus and silver oak appear to have been introduced into the area as part of an attempt at reforestation. Silver oak is also used in the cultivation of climbing pepper plants. The Hills, although surrounded by forests on the exterior, have progressively been cleared for agricultural purposes on the interior. Presently, the area is approximately 51 per cent agricultural land, and 44 per cent forest land. This compares poorly with an estimated 84 per cent of forest lands in 1882 (Kumar-Range 2001:18-19).
The Hills are accessible by road (now about 250 km of paved roads), although some of the interior is limited to dirt roads or walking paths only. There are regular buses from the plains to Semmedu, the central town in the Hills.
This is where the hospital, bank and government offices are located. The bus ride, taking approximately 1.5 hours from the base of the Hills, consists of 70 hairpin turns before reaching Solakkadu, the first community on the road.
As the buses are always overcrowded, this can be a particularly difficult and uncomfortable ride. It is also not unheard of for trucks and other vehicles to miss the tight turns, leaving the roadway periodically blocked. In both 2003 and 2004, while I was in the Hills, rain-induced landslides closed the road for a number of days.
The Malaiyali are a Hinduised people, but they have their own customs and practices when compared with plains cultures. They do not, for example, recognize Brahmins as their priests, and consequently have a less "layered and hierarchical caste system" than in the surrounding lowland communities.
Typically bride price, not dowry, is practiced, but this appears to be slowly changing with increased regular contact with lowland communities (Kumar-Range 2001:39-41, 82).
Boys and girls attend school at similar rates, although it appears that boys may be more likely to be sent to English-medium private schools within and outside the Hills. Statistics from the Block Development Office show that enrolment in primary and secondary schools is about 53 per cent for boys and 47 per cent for girls, with 15 per cent of the boys and 13 per cent of the girls reaching Grade 12 (also called Plus Two or 12th standard).
The sharp drop in school attendance at higher levels may be attributed to a number of factors. Plus two or 12th Standard is generally geared towards students who wish to pursue a post-secondary university or college education.
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!