The Adivasi communities of India are prone to socio-economic and political vulnerabilities, due to years of oppression and repression. Most Adivasis face economic challenges on a daily basis. They do not have access to education and in many cases to health facilities. They are also unaware of the governmental policies, schemes and facilities they can rightfully avail. In many cases they do not have papers and documents that are required in availing these facilities. Kaaleeswari Ammal, an inspiring Paliyar woman has been working around these issues for the Paliyar community since many years. The Adivasi Awaaz creator Murugeshwari, brings the story of Ammal for our readers.
Kaaleeswari Ammal, resides in a small village called Bharathi Anna Nagar at the foothills of Kodaikanal, in Tamil Nadu. She has been involved in volunteering activities to help people from her tribe, the Paliyar tribe of Bharathi Anna Nagar, in applying Patta for the land and BPL (Below Poverty Line) certificates for economic benefits. She has been toiling hard and continuously working in collaboration with an organization called Aarokiyadas, for the past few years to help people apply and receive various other government documents.
Source: Photography by Pushpika Sapna Bara
It is interesting to note that although she works hard to help people receive education, she herself has never attended school. She can not read or write. However, she has learnt to write her own name, her husband’s name and the names of her children. It was her daughters Maheswari and Sadaiammal who taught her to write their names. She takes pride in the fact that she struggled hard and put in her best efforts to ensure education for her daughters. She wishes the same for every child of her village.
She has been ensuring that every child in the village has access to schools and education. Additionally, once a year she buys pens, pencils, notebooks and stationaries for the school going children of her village. She also works with the organisation Aarokiya Agam to take care of students living in hostels by providing them with essentials including food, money, soaps, oil and so on. She also arranges for examination notes in order to aid the students studying in standards 10 and 12, who appear for the board examinations. These examinations are considered to be crucial stepping stones in the lives of students. The percentage they secure in these examinations supposedly ensures their entry into good educational institutions for further studies and thereby a good career.
Ammal's works are not restricted to Bharathi Anna Nagar. She endeavours to help neighbouring villages including Kadanmeravu, Paalaimalai, Saambak Medu, Kathaalampaari and so on. She organises drives to help students, senior citizens and pregnant women of the neighbouring villages. She creates awareness about the rights and facilities available for stiudents, senior citizens and pregnant women. In these drives, she arranges for fruits, milk powders and health drinks particularly for pregnant women.
The Paliyar Community
Some Adivasis belonging to the Paliyar community, live in and around Pothhar village inside the forest. Ammal works here to create awareness and inform students and pregnant women about various educational and health facilities. She conducts these works in collaboration with Aarokiya Agam. During her works, Ammal found out that most of the families dwelling here, did not own basic government documents including PDS ration cards, community caste certificates, aadhar cards (identity cards), birth certificates, etc. Hence, she started making efforts to help these villagers get their basic government documents. After multiple, tedious struggles, some of these families received their aadhar and ration cards.
Ammal also works for the children who drop out of schools. In the villages she works, if any child drops out of school or if schools are completely inaccessible for children, she alternatively inducts them into Anganwaadi schools. She also regularly visits the Anganwadis to check the quality of food, the health mixture powders and other amenities.
She has also been trying to generate fair income for the Paliyar community through their traditional occupation of harvesting honey. She has been in regular conversations with various village heads to sell this harvested honey by the Paliyar community, at fair prices. She should also be credited for ensuring well lit roads, water wells, dustbins and other such facilities for the villages she has been working at, and the Paliyar community. She has regular engagements with the Panchayat leaders, in order to improve the living conditions of the Paliyar community.
I was amazed and inspired by her dedication and passion towards her work. At the same time I was curious to understand the reason for this dedication. Hence, I asked her what urged her to work so hard and get involved in so many projects to help people. “ I did not study. My mother died when I was very young. So, there was no one who asked me if I wanted to study. No other children from my tribe should be denied education like me. No girl from our tribe should go through hardships like me for basic fundamental things. That is why I try to do these things with the help of other organisations, to help my fellow Paliyars", she replied.
There are many organizations that are involved in social works. There are many who talk and deliberate upon the challenges faced by the Adivasi communities in terms of education, livelihood, displacement, health facilities etc. However, the story of an Adivasi Woman helping her community solely based on her lived experience, without any formal education, deserves to be told, appreciated and acknowledged. Let us come together to congratulate Kaaleeswari Ammal for the great work she is doing. Her story and work will inspire many, in the generations to come.