Updated: Mar 14, 2022
While, 'development' has been widely used, debated and deliberated upon, in the mainstream political discourse of India, in the last couple of years, there are villages deprived of even the basic amenities. The people of these villages live under extremely difficult and challenging conditions. Lack of roads, electricity, proper housing facilities, safe drinking water, are only some of the problems faced by these villagers on a daily basis. Adivasi Awaaz creator K.V. Kanniyappan talks about the plight of 11 such families from the Irular tribe
Irulars are the adivasis residing on the hills of Mannarkkad, in Palakkad district of Kerala. The Mannarkkad hills are connected to the Western Ghats bordering the state of Tamil Nadu. Hence, the Irulars are found residing at both sides of the hills, i.e Kerala and Tamil Nadu. They speak two different dialects. The word Irular comes from the word 'Irul' which means darkness. Irular thereby refers to 'the dark people'. According to Thurston (1909), there are two probable reasons for referring to these people as Irular. One is either due to the dense, dark jungles they inhabited and second is due to the colour of their skin. Irulars belong to the Dravidian ethnic group.
A community of 400 families reside at a village, in the Palampoondi panchayat of Villupuram District. For over 35 years, 43 people belonging to 11 Irular families have been residing at the foothills of a mountain located on the outskirts of the village, without a road. This place is located across the lake from where the general population lives. Without any access to drinking water, they travel distances and fetch water from an ancient well at the foothills. The available water is not good for drinking purposes.
The huts on the foothills do not have electricity. There are no street lights. This makes life difficult for the Irulars, especially for students. Night time for these Irulars is even more challenging. They live under the constant fear of poisonous insects and reptiles, which could have been avoided through street lights and electricity. The north-eastern monsoon rains often damage the thatched huts of the Irulars. There are no facilities for proper reconstruction of these huts. There are no provisions for better residing facilities for the people living here. Repairing old huts is often difficult and time consuming. This implies that the Irulars living here, have to make do with the damaged huts for days, without any relief. This year, the north-eastern monsoon rains had spill over effects and it continued for a longer time than usual, in Tamil Nadu. This had major adverse effects for the Irular people, inhabiting the foothills of the village mountains.
Upon information, the Revenue Inspector and the officials of the village administration shifted the Irulars affected by rain to a nearby community hall. As soon as we received this information, we went to meet them at the community hall. Sinrasu, who had been shifted to the community hall from his residence, greeted us and told that the village officials have been shifting them to the community hall every time there is a heavy rainfall, without any permanent solution. The Irulars present here also talked about how politicians visited their residents only during elections and completely neglected them in the aftermath of elections. No welfare activities were carried out. The daily basic requirements like shelter, electricity, roads, drinking water, etc., of the people were not taken care of. There were no provisions for safe housing facilities. Sinrasu demanded that the government should provide them with a permanent place for living. He proposed that government houses should be constructed for them so that they can live there 'permanently and peacefully'.
Even after more than 70 years of Independence, the despair of the tribal Irulars without basic amenities, poses some serious questions. When we talk about 'development', what exactly are we discussing? Is it the construction of roads in places of economic interests? Is it the construction of skyscrapers, big malls, restaurants and others that generate profits? Is it destroying forests in the name of connectivity? Who are the beneficiaries of development? At whose cost is development afforded? These are only a few questions that arise when we look at the condition of not just the Irulars of Villupuram, but at the condition of adivasis in general. Countless displacement of adivasis in the name of development leading to migration, exploitation and oppression, thereby pushing them towards poverty and illiteracy, have been the unfortunate reality of a nation that boldly talks about "Development".