Not Just Madhu: The Harsh Reality Of Being A Tribal In God’s Own State

Posted by praveen krishnan A in Politics, Society
February 25, 2018

The horrendous images of a tribal man, Madhu, being held captive with his hands tied and later the news of his death, possibly in the hands of the local populace, has shaken Kerala’s consciousness.

Social media has been flooded with messages of condolence and anger. Many are shocked by the fact that the mob had clicked selfies before the man was beaten to death. The apathy shown to the victim can be read from his face filled with fear and helplessness. The state needs an introspection into where does Kerala, arguably the best state in India regarding social and human development parameters, stand as a society. This article tries to analyse our tribal policy in general and the state of the tribal community of  Kerala in particular.

Statistics Of The Tribal Population Of  Kerala

As per census 2011

  • 1.5% of Kerala’s total population are tribals(mostly in Wayanad, Idukki and Palakkad districts)
  • The sex ratio: 1084 females per 1000 men
  • Literacy rate: Above 65%
  • Work participation: About 45% to 50%
  • Cultivators: 20%
  • Agricultural labourers: 40% to 50%
  • Household Industrial workers: 1.1% to 1.5%

The data seems to be an above average statistics as per the Indian standards. However, it should be noted here that while Kerala remains an economy which depends to a large extent on the remittances from middle East, Schedule Tribes are one section of Malayali society who doesn’t benefit from the flow of foreign funds.

Compared to Kerala’s literacy rate of 93%-94% (census 2011 data), there exists a wide literacy gap of at least 20% when it comes to Scheduled Tribes. The fact that only 1.1%-1.5% of tribals are involved in household industrial work and more than 40 % are engaged as agricultural labourers is testimony to the fact that they don’t generate much wealth out of their vocations.

Grim Realities: Health Issues

The Attapady tribal belt of Kerala is infamous for its high child mortality rate. This includes infant mortalities, neonatal deaths, intrauterine deaths and spontaneous abortions.

Clearly, there exists a case of severe malnutrition among the children as well as lactating mothers.

The rural nature of tribal dwellings invokes reluctance among health professionals to serve in such tribal hamlets leading to poor physical and human infrastructure.

The liquor shops and easy availability of drugs in the vicinity of tribal areas is a matter of concern. These are mainly run by a profit-oriented liquor mafia to syphon off daily wages from them by easily making liquor and drugs available in proximity. By purposefully inculcating the habitual use of these demerit goods, the community is being drained of their wealth and health.

Further, incidences of corruption and misgovernance need thorough check because it is odd to see why a high performing state like Kerala is not able to take care of a minuscule fraction of its population. Central government funds for various tribal schemes are clearly not reaching the intended beneficiaries.

So..Why Was Madhu Killed?

Madhu’s problems seem to have been closely linked to those of Kerala’s tribals. A visibly weak man with protruded rib cage and a  small, fragile body, Madhu was accused of theft.

The local villagers found a packet of rice, eggs and other eateries with him. Despite him being mentally unstable, he was assaulted. This serves as a terrific blow to the false pride of Keralites, for we had often wondered why instances of mob violence are so prevalent in other states of India. Looking within, today we found a caste-wall and violence by a mob on a poor tribal man who was probably also stereotyped as being a thief owing to his colour and filthy clothes. The ‘pride’ backfired on us. But a matter of hope is the fact that every section of the society stands united for the victim.

As far as the plight of tribals in Kerala is concerned, the failure of repeated governments is worrisome. One alternative can be to include tribal areas within Kerala under Schedule 5 of the Indian constitution. This is expected to provide the community with the necessary autonomy to decide their course of development. More Madhus will only create a section of rebels among tribals who get lured by Naxals and proponents of armed struggle.

The absence of sufficient understanding among the locals and of tribal imaginations and culture is visible from the alien treatment meted out to Madhu. While we shall follow our decade’s old policy of allowing tribals to ‘develop in their own way’ it should be comprehended with a better connect and support. This writer proposes radio FM channels (in tribal languages) and dedicated time for tribal programmes in regional and national broadcasters. This will also enable us to get a fair idea of what support they need apart from helping to fight the militant elements.