Rajagopal’s Third Update: From Kerala (Kanoor, Wayanad)

Dear friends,

From Kasargoud

Gandhi Peace Park

Kasargoud is the last district in the northern part of Kerala. This was my third visit to Kasargoud in the last 2 years. The last visit in 2010 was to address a group of adivasis demanding the implementation of FRA.  During this visit, I realized that the implementation is still weak. There are many applications still pending with the district administration. In Kerala, there are only a small number of Adivasis. Since they cannot make a difference in electoral outcomes, they do not get the consideration that they deserve from political parties.

Gandhi Park in Kanchangad is a very important story. A very enthusiastic social worker called Vijayan has created an organization called Yatra. His focus is to give education to a girl child of every family from communities of primitive tribes. In this process he wanted to create a Gandhi Peace Park in the city that can bring all communities together. Some political parties created a controversy over this park and tried to prevent him every time he initiated an action. We were very pleased that the park is finally taking shape. In a very small area, he has put up a statue of Gandhi and created enough space for people to sit and meditate. He has also created a seed temple where people are honouring ‘the seed’ and at the same time, carrying some seed as prasadam (holy gift) for cultivating in their own fields and homes. He is trying to get people to see the world in the example of a seed and also understand the power of regeneration. The temple is also an attempt to remind us of our responsibility to protect the seed and not to pollute it. We will strongly recommend that anyone visiting this town should also visit this small Gandhi Peace Park. It is also good to go and see the work of Vijayan with the children. On the face of it is not a big struggle, but if you consider the time and energy this man has put into create this small park you will definitely admire him for his courage and commitment.

From Kanoor

Kanoor has a special place in Kerala. Once upon a time, this was called ‘the Manchester’ of Kerala. Almost every house had a loom. Even now, the garment produced in Kanoor is famous. The best Bidi cooperatives of Bidi rollers were in Kannoor.  Because bidi is no longer popular, the people have branched out to many other activities. Even now, people come to Kanoor to study about their co-operatives. Unfortunately, Kanoor is also famous for violence. Inter-party, inter-religious rivalries have taken many lives.  There is a chain of revenge which continues to spread violence across the state. Ekta Parishad is faced with a challenge of finding how a non-violent training program for youth can be used to motivate young people to move away from the path of violence. An exposure program for the youth of Kanoor to other parts of India can bring a big change in their attittude. Some young people have shown interest to promote Ekta Peace Forum in colleges and universities in order to create a peace and non-violence process.

Arlam VillageOther than receptions, our main visit was to Arlam farm where the adivasis have been re-settled. This was a national agricultural farm that was bought by the Kerala government for resettlement of adivasis. Large tract of 3500 acres of land has become home for 2000 tribal families. This is the first time that adivasis were settled on agricultural land instead of being settled in colonies.  The general middle class notion is that there is no use giving land to adivasis. They are alcoholic and will sell the land for alcohol. Of course there are land mafias using alcohol and money to tempt adivasis to get their lands. But we do not blame them. Land-reform agenda will not end just by giving land. Land-reform is only a part of agrarian reforms. Once the land is given, farmers should be supported with sufficient inputs to develop their land, they should also be provided market linkages and other non-predatory credit facilities. In the absence of all these facilities, it is natural that adivasis lose their land to those who are better placed in the market. As far as Arlam farm is concerned, we need to have active and committed workers who understand these dynamics and will support the new settlers to use the land for advancing their lives. Ekta Parishad will have to take up this challenge. 2-3 trained workers with reasonable scholarship can take up this challenge to create a model settlement of adivasis.

An anti-corruption campaign is beginning in Kanoor. Some years back, in the name of constructing a dam, a lot of land was acquired. Part of the land was used for construction of canals. There are 2 issues that the anti-corruption campaign wants to address: 1.) large amount of money was spent in canal construction where as there is no water in the canal today. Even now money is being spent in the name of canal maintenance; 2) the acquired land that is not being used is being encroached by powerful people with political connections and land mafias. The campaign committee is expecting active support of Ekta Parishad.

Prayer meeting at Thellenkary

The last program of the day was in the village Thellankary. Thellankery is the village where the anti-landlord communist movement was born in the 1940s. Some leaders of this movement were shot dead. A memory of these leaders is still in the air. This village has three major colonies of Paniya adivasi communities. Paniyar adivasis are the most deprived among all adivisais in Kerala. They need special attention and care. Cutting across political parties, three was a strong appeal that Ekta Parishad should focus on this community and work for their empowerment. All put together the day in Kanoor gave us enough material to reflect on and see how Ekta Parishad can get involved in the adivasi community.

 From Waynad

Drummers practicing Chengeri

A big group of drum beaters were waiting for us in Polpally. The trip from Kanoor to Wayanad took about 3 hours and on the way, we saw a large number of tea and coffee plantations but we also noticed small hamlets of adivasis who are struggling for land.  One can also notice many religious organizations in large campuses. The forest department also has large area under its control. Wayanad district has a history of tension between adivasis and settlers for quite some time. The large agitation that finally turned violent in Muthanga brought Wayanad into focus at the national level. Forest Rights Act did not solve the problem of land alienation experienced by adivasis to the extent we expected. There are still large numbers of adivasis without land. Among all adivasis in Kerala Paniyas are at the bottom. In Malayalam, Pani means work, so the ones who really work in the field are called Paniyas. Unfortunately this is the community without any land. Interestingly the representatives of political parties who came on the dias for the meeting agreed to work together on issues related to adivasis. We learnt about an emerging process called Kerala Adivasis Forum through which different adivasi groups are slowly coming together. There is an understanding that as a national organization Ekta Parishad will take up this process and strengthen the coming together of adivasi communities at the state level.

At night, we visited one struggle where about 50 families are occupying 42 acres. They have been carrying out this struggle for the last 1-1/2 years. While other groups affiliated to ruling parties succeeded in their struggle, these people have had no such luck as they decided not to join any political party but fight for their land independently.  In every adivasi village, a Forest Rights committee was formed to receive petitions from individuals and forward it to concerned government departments for considerations. In this particular case, because the forest committee itself is dominating by a particular political party, they did not accept applications from anyone who does not belong to the party. This is a clear indication how the political system in Kerala operates. Everything is politicized to a level that one cannot survive without being part of a political party. Politicization has helped Kerala initially but it has become very self-centered and violent in course of time. A non-party political formation is very essential for the better future of Kerala and that is being resisted by all political parties. Social movements are being criticized by political parties for depoliticizing society.

With thanks and warm regards,

Rajagopal P.V

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