The Yeravalar tribe has been in the news for years now, known especially for Mailamma, who struggled against the Coca Cola factory in Plachimada, Kerala which was polluting nearby natural resources. The tribe is also found in Tamil Nadu, and the ones living near the Aliyar Dam are also struggling, but for a different reason.
In the 1960s, the tribals from the Yeravalar community helped build a dam called Aliyar to support irrigation for Pollachi and nearby places. Since then, it has also been used to generate hydroelectric power and has turned into a popular tourist attraction. With a beautiful park, a garden, an aquarium and a mini-theme park in the proximity and the scenic location amidst the Anamalai hills, the dam serves the tourists well. However, the Yeravalar people who helped build the original dam were forcefully displaced from its vicinity.
The dam that we see today was only built after the tribals were displaced from the area. The Yeravalar tribe planted and harvested the crops like ragi, pheasant and corn during their lifetime while they were still living around the Aliyar dam. They usually engaged in ploughing as a source of livelihood and that was the primary form of agricultural labour they used to do.
In earlier times, tribals used wood, iron and rope to make the necessary tools for ploughing. Recently, however, our ploughing jobs have been reduced drastically due to development and increased use of machinery in agriculture. We engaged in a lot of cultivation when our tribe lived in the mountainside.
Thus, we only ate naturally cultivated food crops. The food of the Yeravalar tribe usually consists of items purchased at the local fair. We can’t afford to buy expensive food, even fruits are too costly. The tribe has been plunged into poverty. It is very difficult to find even a month’s work, people now work only 3-4 days a week. Nowadays, even our day-to-day needs are not being met. We have been replaced by machines and therefore finding work is an impossible task.
The elderly of the tribe say that when they lived in the mountains, they did not face any of the problems they are facing today. Now the tribe has to earn their living doing daily wage labour like cutting weeds and planting.
In many parts of India, tribals are facing severe unemployment and displacement. The Aliyar dam is just one such project. I hope steps are taken to ensure that no community is forced to face poverty and loss of their land and forest resources.
About the author: Satya belongs to the Yervalar community from Kakavothiparayam village in Pollachi district and speaks the Yervalar language fluently. She is an avid nature lover and also likes watching television and teaching the children of her community about her language.