Recounting the tales of displacement, injustice and marginalisation
Just like the forests and the water that flows through the Chalakkudy River adjacent to their settlement, the Kadar community in Vazhachal has stories to tell.
KOCHI:"We used to preserve the forests. That was how we lived. Now the government owns the forests. Things have taken a turn that we eventually have become the government's property," says Geetha Vazhachal, sitting in front of her house at Vazhachal. She is the 'ooru moopathi' (tribe leader) of the Kadar community in Vazhachal. In fact, she is one of the two women tribe leaders in the state.
Just like the forests and the water that flows through the Chalakkudy River adjacent to their settlement, the Kadar community in Vazhachal has stories to tell. Of displacement, injustice and the process of being marginalised. Yes, the stories of any marginalised community ever recorded.
Sitting on the small sit-out of her house, Geetha, who is also a anganwadi teacher, settles in to narrate her history to Express. "The Kadar community were originally from Parambikulam," she says. "They used to collect goods from the forests. When the river and forests were exploited in the name of development, the community was displaced. From there, the community moved to Peringalkuth. Not long after that, they were forcibly displaced from there too. The community eventually reached Vazhachal which has become our home to date."
The community's history fast-forwarded the conversation to the disputed Athirappilly hydroelectric project. "The environment impact assessment report submitted by Water and Power Consultancy Service Ltd and Tropical Botanic Garden and Research Institute was not accurate," says the tribal activist. "The report made arguments such as there was no human settlement near the 5-km radius of the proposed site. Though we were able to prove this wrong in court, it saddened me deeply. I have since come to realise that there are exterior forces trying to eradicate my people."
The Kadar community in Vazhachal now constitutes 74 families residing in the 69 houses in the settlement. Though the community traditionally does fishing and collects goods from the forest, most of the people in the settlement work for the Vana Samrakshana Samithi in the Vazhachal Falls. "There are still a few who cross the river to go to the forest," says Geetha.
Though the community now has the right to the forest, they have no property of their own. "Our settlement is protected so that we don't get displaced. But we don't have a claim over it. It seems like the government feels that we should live on it and not have a claim over the land," says Geetha.
The 30-year-old 'ooru moopathi' is all set to record the history of her community in her upcoming book.