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COVID-19 Is Severely Affecting Tamil Nadu’s Paliyar Tribe Despite Their Resilience

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Translated from Tamil by Nisha Felicita 

COVID-19 is one of the deadliest diseases plaguing the world today. Millions of lives have been lost due to the impact of this pandemic. The death toll is rising so much that people are running out of places to bury their dead. People across the world are patiently waiting for a cure and vaccination to COVID-19.

Many of us live a life closely linked to consumerism and destroying Nature to be able to provide for ourselves and our luxuries. Many forests are being cut down to build industries and residential apartments. With more than a hundred families living in the same building, these environments are particularly favorable for the outspread of COVID-19. One of the effective ways in the world population can prevent contracting this deadly disease is by maintaining and following social distancing — something which is difficult in cities with large populations and crowded spaces.

The Paliyar Community’s Resilience During the Pandemic

My Paliyar community, which lives in the forest and survives on resources from the forest, is healthy and fit. Along with eating fresh produce from the forest, we also procure medicines from the forest itself and have extensive knowledge of medicinal plants. Good health and strong immune system of the villagers has kept them hale and hearty through this pandemic.

Kaduguk Keerai (Green Mustard Cabbage), one of the vegetables that Paliyars eat to stay healthy | Image Source: Food Is Medicine For The Pulaiyar Tribe Of Tamil Nadu

Earlier, the Paliyar tribe used to live in rock and mud caves far away from each other. One could find two groups of tribals living mountains apart. In some areas, even today, the Paliyar people are living in remote villages in the mountains, isolated from others. We don’t gather all the time, but only on special occasions such as weddings, festivals and important ceremonies. This made it easier for us to adhere to the norms of social distancing and nobody in my village broke this rule.

Destructive Impact of the Pandemic Despite Resilience

Despite the resilience of the Paliyar tribals, some glaring problems have come up. Many tribals are being forced to leave the forest, and are being displaced due to development projects. This means they have to live away from the same forest that has been their lifeline for generations. When tribals are displaced from forests to other areas, it becomes difficult for them to get food, since the forests are the source of our food. Due to this, it has also been difficult for displaced communities to get food during the lockdown. A once thriving community, Paliyars, who have now been displaced, are starving.

The severe lack of healthcare in tribal villages in Tamil Nadu has also become evident. Although we rely on traditional medicine to cure ailments, during a pandemic of this scale, healthcare is essential.

Harvesting fungi is one of the main sources of livelihood for Paliyar tribals | Image source: Harvesting Tree Fungi Is A Way Of Life For These Paniyar Tribals In Tamil Nadu

It has also affected the livelihood of tribals who depend on selling medical plants and minor forest produce for survival. With no access to forest, how will they cope?

Moreover, the new amendments to the EIA will further give rise to more aggressive development projects, something that will affect a huge number of forest areas in India that are home to tribals.

75 youth groups sign letter against the recent Environmental Impact Assessment draft | Image source: DTNext

The pandemic, coupled with the mass environmental destruction and displacement of tribals, will have a devastating impact on tribes who once lived in a healthy environment, isolated from others. I hope the Government will put the health of the tribals before development projects to help us stay healthy and avoid the destruction caused by the pandemic.

Note: This article is created as a part of the Adivasi Awaaz Project, with the support of Misereor and Prayog Samaj Sevi Sanstha.

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