Written by Murugeshwari and translated from Tamil by Dhanalakshmi
The Paliyars of Kodaikanal, residing in a small village called Bharathi Anna Nagar, have been facing several issues and challenges to their socio-economic and political development, since ages. They lack proper housing facilities and shelters. There are no community halls or educational and economic opportunities for them. Hence, the leader of the Paliyar community, Mr. Selvam Vellayammal, had set up a community hall of bamboo trees on their land, with the help of Kannan Meenakshi and other Paliyar youth of the region. It had been in good shape and condition for ten years. However, after that all its poles were eroded by termites and it fell down.
Mrs. Kaliswari Palan, a volunteer, has submitted a petition to Governor (Vattachiyar) to construct the community hall as a building. There are forty-four families in this area belonging to the Paliyar community and only two streets have been assigned to them. Hence, there exists a serious housing crisis. The condition is so dire that three-four families cram in one house, as there is a total of only twenty houses available for Paliyar families here.
A large portion of the Paliyar population does not own adhar cards, ration cards, voter IDs and caste certificates. Mrs. Murugeswari Esudas had submitted a volunteer account of who needed which documents. She had also submitted a petition to the panchayat head requesting to pay heed to the situation.
However, no action was taken. The district collector then attended a grievance meeting in their district of Dindigul. Mrs. Murugeswari Esudas participated here and gave the petition directly to the district collector. Two- three weeks later the VO officer and other government officials came to visit these residential areas and locations. Within three weeks time they returned and measured two cents of the space not only for the newlyweds but also for the thirty families who were homeless. Also, steps were taken to issue adhar cards, ration cards, caste certificates etc., which was completed in the next two days.
The Paliyar youth and children have also been deprived of education. In our village, there is only one Panchayat Union school for primary education, up to the fifth grade. To study any further, one has to travel about fifteen kilometres to and fro daily. Moreover, the commute to places of education is poor and inconvenient. Minimum transportation facilities on poorly constructed roads increase the hardships of the Paliyar children and youth. Belonging to the lower economic strata of the society, in lieu of being ‘tribals’, they also can not buy and own private vehicles. In order to improve this situation, volunteer Murugan mobilized the Paliyar youth and went to meet Mr. Puthukottai Rajaraja Thondaiman. He was of royal lineage who donated a high-capacity school bus for the Paliyar children, which today is used not only by the students of this region, but also by the students of adjoining areas.
There are issues of safe drinking water as well for the Paliyar community. There are no water storage tanks in the residential areas of the Paliyars. Despite these hurdles, some Paliyars have managed to complete their education and look for better economic opportunities. Miss Malika for instance, completed B.COM degree, and became the first graduate of Paliyar ethnic group. Similarly, five young men from the Paliyar ethnic community are working as forest guards. Mr. Manikandan is one of them.
As the world is progressing technologically at a very fast pace, the tribal populations need to cope with it in order to survive. As such educational opportunities become vital. Culture, traditions and customs gain more meaning and identity, once individuals from tribal backgrounds start receiving education. It enables them to assert their identities and fight for their constitutional and human rights.
This article is created as a part of the Adivasi Awaaz project, with the support of Misereor and Prayog Samaj Sevi Sanstha.