My greetings and salutations to all indigenous people fighting, surviving and living around the world. As a tribal woman myself, I fully understand that the oppression and subjugation of indigenous populations globally, is nothing novel. However, the novelty lies in their achievements. The belief of fighting their own fights as a community has brought them a long way. They negate the idea of any 'saviour' and believe that no one but solely they can fight against their socio-economic, cultural and political oppression. This idea has brought them closer to entering the mainstream system by indulging in Politics. They opine that securing rights through politics can provide an opportunity to live with dignity for their future generations. With the goal of improving the situation of the tribal community as a whole, Mrs. Suryakalavathi and Mr. Vinoth contested the Madurai local body election in 2022.
The following is a part of the conversation we had when we met them on February 6th 2022. We were excited and had multiple questions in mind, which they gladly answered.
Kavi: What needs to be done to improve the condition of Kuravars (a tribal community)?
Mr. Vinoth: We believe in serving the ethnic communities. So far we have helped our community with the help of two organizations. We have travelled a lot and talked to the ethnic communities about their problems and challenges. Our journey so far has been good and we hope to serve our community and contribute towards betterment.
Kavi: What do you think about contesting for the post of 59 ward councilor in Tamil Nadu - Urban Local Government Elections in Madurai Corporation?
Mrs.Suriyakalavathi: Yes! As a tribal woman, I am contesting in ward 59 with Scheduled Tribes certificates issued by Govt. I believe that just like others we tribals can serve the country and our own communities. In order to fight against our own oppression, we need to enter politics, be a part of policy making and work at the ground level.
Kavi: Which welfare programs do you intend to work on for the people of ward 59?
Mrs.Suriyakalavathi: I know that ward 59 needs a lot of basic facilities. I intend to focus on providing safe and clean drinking water. Street lights are in poor conditions. They need to be improved in order to provide better security facilities to people. I will also work on infrastructure and road development.
Kavi: Madurai Corporation Tamil Nadu - Ward 66 in Local Government Elections does not have a single ward reserved for tribals. What do you feel about contesting as a tribe in a general ward?
Mr.Vinoth: Tribals are not given seat in Madurai Corporation. So, I am contesting the General Ward. I am fighting to assert our identity as tribals in politics.
Kavi: Tell us something about your experience in politics?
Mr.Vinoth: So far my experience has been mixed but rather than focusing on my experience I want to emphasize on my goal which is to bring tribals at the forefront and assert the tribal identity in the mainstream society through public platforms like politics.
Kavi: What is your election promises for the people of Ward 66?
Mr.Vinoth: I will ensure basic facilities and all benefits in the Madurai Corporation. I will take steps to change ward 66 as the primary ward.
After this conversation, we all had some tea at the roadside and then said our goodbyes. After this conversation, I began pondering on the issue of reservation and tribal identity, in politics.
In Madurai, the law provides 1% reservation for tribals to contest elections, however, this has not materialized. Moreover, there are loopholes in the system which have snatched away the very identity of being 'tribal' from the people. The government has issued certificates stating that only the people residing along the hilly areas are tribes, while the rest are Scheduled Tribes. Kuravars had migrated from the hill regions in search of better economic and educational opportunities. They are one among the various tribal communities that have been denied their identities and rights. It is therefore important for tribals to engage in politics, more now than ever as their identities are being attacked, their very survival as a community is at stake and they risk being wiped off from history as tribals. I also urge the government to reconsider their step of issuing certificates that deny tribal populations the status of tribals. This not only takes away their identities but also denies them future opportunities for socio-economic and political improvements.
This article is created as a part of the Adivasi Awaaz project, with the support of Misereor and Prayog Samaj Sevi Sanstha.