This post has been self-published on Youth Ki Awaaz by Adivasi Lives Matter. Just like them, anyone can publish on Youth Ki Awaaz.

Who Are The Irular Tribe, The People Who Face Injustices In ‘Jai Bhim’?

More from Adivasi Lives Matter

Much of the movie Jai Bhim is about how the Irular tribe of Tamil Nadu is marginalised in society. It has realistically portrayed how tribal communities are routinely exploited by other communities and by institutions that misuse their powers. It has very honestly shown real events and has sown the seeds of change.

Jai Bhim has not only left its viewers in tears but also made a huge impact on their minds. The movie has captured the world view of the tribals, which has been incomprehensible and mysterious for others to understand. The injustice done to them is completely expressed through the scenes, dialogues, music, silence and emotions.

Irular settlements outside a village without basic amenities. (Image provided by the author)

People living in the plains believe that tribal people live only in the mountains. Therefore, they are unaware of the tribals residing in their own vicinity, such as those shown in the movie.

The Irulars in the plains worship the common resources found there, such as land, water and the goddess Mullai Nilam. In some areas, they call themselves Villiers. Anthropologists believe that these people have nothing to do with the Irulars living in the forest, but they fail to realise that the two share similar worldviews.

Today, Irulars have lived for generations on the outskirts of the city, isolated from other communities. They live in low-density areas such as places with water sources, beaches and small dunes.


View this post on Instagram


A post shared by Youth Ki Awaaz (@youthkiawaaz)

The Irulars living in most districts of Tamil Nadu continue to follow ancient practices unique to their community. They are humble people who rely on procuring common resources from the plains for sustenance such as hunting, rat-catching, snake-catching, herbal medicine and fishing in water bodies.

The Irulars are those who not only do not produce anything for the market but also have no faith in ownership. But in the context of globalisation, especially for the last generation (25 years), the lands and natural resources that had depended on these tribals have fallen into the hands of big bosses, thereby strangling the livelihood of the Irular community.

The ancient cultural beliefs of the Irulars has been branded by others, including the state, as “uninterested” in development, reactionary and ignorant. It was then that over time the Irular community living in Tamil Nadu became enslaved for the rest of their lives through bondage by taking payment on credit at various work sites.

Irulars who had worked as slaves were rescued from sugarcane farms in the Sivagangai district. (Image provided by the author)

Violence, cruelty and sexual harassment against them in various places such as brick kilns, rice mills, stone quarries, sugarcane mills and factories are incalculable. Even a thousand movies like Jai Bhim would not do justice to them. The phenomenon of continued denial of all rights, including education, is because the Irulars living in the plains are still unable to obtain their community certification.

In the movie, when jewels were stolen in the Panchayat leader’s house, Rajakannu told the wife of the Panchayat leader that he also belonged to the same village and hadn’t stolen the jewellery. The wife of the Panchayat leader questioned Rajakannu, “Are we both equals?”

This dialogue shows the cruelty that is practised. This is how Irulars are kept out of the village in many places. Many Irulars settlements are mere dwellings separated by the village boundary and without a land certificate for their dwelling hut. As a result, the Irulars in the plains are most vulnerable to natural disasters such as heavy rains, storms and droughts.

Essentially the Irulars are like other inhabitants who live by the principle of prosperity and equality. Even in their workplace, men, women and children work together as a family and contribute on equal terms. Husbands and wives never want to be separated for their work. They have consensual marriages with the person they love and have no practice of dowry.

Such is their trust in each other that their huts do not even have doors on them. There is no domestic violence, no lying and no gossip about others.

jai bhim poster
Jai Bhim embodies the cultural virtue of the tribals.

The Irulrars are also great storytellers. They tell tales of their traditional knowledge, experiences, culture, history, beliefs, art, biology, mastery and tragedies. Everything we hear is stored in memory trays as footage. Especially from the old to the next, the chain will move smoothly for the young. It is this vibrant discourse that keeps the tribal knowledge intact.

Non-tribals like me are proud and happy of the Keeladi excavation that celebrates Tamil history. But we refuse to celebrate the tribals who live before their eyes. The people and the government have failed to provide a dignified life to the tribals living in our vicinity. The movie truly establishes this fact.

We close our eyes and hearts to the injustices perpetrated against the tribal community but we act completely differently when our language is oppressed, when we are subjected to racial violence and when there is cultural colonisation.

Jai Bhim embodies the cultural virtue of the tribals, something that cannot be detached from their biological virtue.

Irular women of the Ariyalur District are expert snake catchers. (Image provided by the author)

The Mahabalipuram Masi Magam festival is one such example of how culture and biology mix. In this festival, people celebrate the pregnancy of animals. Irulars do not harm animals when they are pregnant. They also claim that they can tell the species of a snake by its smell even before they have seen it.

The Irulars are largely distrustful of the government’s administrative structures. It may even be the frustration of constantly being deceived. This is why they don’t even trust the police and the courts, as they are mistreated most times.

Four thugs once sexually abused a tribal girl in the presence of her parents near Bodi in the Theni district. Three days after the incident, I asked them, “Why did they not tell us what had happened before and why they haven’t gone to the police station?”

The parents replied that being born in a marginalised society, they are used to it and they can’t do anything to the abusers as they are well supported and this is where their destiny lies. The parents innocently asked how they would go to Theni to see the collector.

This is how these people do not even know where to go and seek justice for the atrocities committed against them. In other words, they think that even the injustices inflicted on them will be overcome as a rule has already been decided for them.

It is a fact that people who have learned from the tribes that the inhabitants are the commoners are the ones who live as role models for the left. That is why people with leftist ideology are always supportive of the cause of tribals. The activities of the left for the tribes are invaluable.


View this post on Instagram


A post shared by Youth Ki Awaaz (@youthkiawaaz)

At the same time, the voice of the tribal people who must recognise and ensure the leadership of the tribal movements and its leaders is not absent.

In the film, Rajakannu’s brother told him, “We will confess to the crime as I cannot bear the beatings by the police.” Rajakannu wanted his brother to accept his pain and said that their injury and pain would heal someday, but the charge of theft would not change no matter how much time passed.

Rajakkannu Irular showcased the tribal nature and culture at the moment of death by refusing to be falsely convicted of theft. Yes, these people have given more meaning to Dr Ambedkar’s famous line, “the society is superior to me”.
It is only when we acknowledge the injustices perpetrated against the tribals that things can change for the better. Adivasis have made sacrifices throughout history to protect nature, but they have only been met with exploitation and injustice.

Jai Bhim as a movie has showcased this slice of history. Tribals need to document their lives. They need to record aloud their biographies and the injustices and struggles inflicted on them. Only then can tribals certainly live in peace. It can be made possible by our initiative “Voice of the Tribals”.

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

You must be to comment.

More from Adivasi Lives Matter

Similar Posts

By Sofia Babu Chacko

By Sumit

By Piyush Shaw

    If you do not receive an email within the next 5 mins, please check your spam box or email us at

      If you do not receive an email within the next 5 mins, please check your spam box or email us at

        If you do not receive an email within the next 5 mins, please check your spam box or email us at

        Wondering what to write about?

        Here are some topics to get you started

        Share your details to download the report.

        We promise not to spam or send irrelevant information.

        Share your details to download the report.

        We promise not to spam or send irrelevant information.

        An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

        Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

        Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

        The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

        Read more about his campaign.

        Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

        Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

        Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

        Read more about her campaign.

        MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

        With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

        Read more about her campaign. 

        A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

        As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

        Find out more about the campaign here.

        A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

        She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

        Read more about the campaign here.

        A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

        The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

        Read more about the campaign here.

        A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

        As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

        Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

        Find out more about her campaign here.

        Share your details to download the report.

        We promise not to spam or send irrelevant information.

        A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

        A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

        Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

        A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform, demanding that the Government of Assam install
        biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

        Bidisha was selected in’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
        campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

        Sign up for the Youth Ki Awaaz Prime Ministerial Brief below