NILAMBUR: The district administration in Malappuram has decided to start a major drive to overcome the serious problem of malnutrition among the primitive Cholanaikkar tribes living in the Nilambur forest region under Karulayi range. The initiative kicked off after a survey revealed that the majority of the tribes are anaemic and have vitamin and nutritional deficiencies.
The Cholanaikkars are endangering their own lives by the quaint food habits they follow. They believe a cup of black tea and tobacco is enough to survive the day, even though the state is providing them adequate food supplies. Their insensible eating habits and reluctance to cook are the main reasons behind the increasing number of health issues. The tribes follow a strange eating pattern which only includes a one-time meal. They take a cup of black tea for breakfast and skip lunch.
“Cholanaikkars prepare some rice for the night and have it without any curries. We have supplied them enough food supplies but they are unwilling to cook and eat,” V Faseela, coordinator of Mahila Sakaksha in Karulayi panchayat said. Cholanaikkars are one of the last remaining hunter-gatherer tribes who enjoy living in caves situated in deep forests. The number has fallen to 214 from 384 recorded in the 2001 census. They are scattered in the deep forest in the Karulayi range in around 10 settlements.
The health department, in a recent study, has found that around 70% of tribes have serious health issues like malnutrition and vitamin deficiencies. “We conducted a health check-up recently among few habitats of the Cholanaikkars in Karulayi forest. The data was a shocking revelation that around 70% of 72 tribes were anaemic and had severe nutritional deficiencies. Even if the study is conducted in every Cholanaikkar, there would not be major change visible in the data. They have to change their eating habits to overcome the health crisis. For that, they should get a chance to eat different kinds of food to change their eating habits. Till then, they would remain complacent with the same eating pattern. The most terrifying fact is that children and pregnant women in the settlement also follow the same routine,” Aji Anand, junior health officer working among Cholanaikkars told ‘Express.’
The district administration has assessed the situation in the tribal settlements after a few cases of malnutrition among Cholanaikkar tribes were reported recently. The people working among the tribes informed the District Collector that the health issues can be controlled only by changing the food habits of the tribes. The District collector K Biju has proposed an elaborate plan to change the dietary habits of the tribes.
“We will select few members from the community and train them in cooking vegetables and food grains. The district administration will use these trained people in helping others to cook the food supplies they get from the government. We are planning to reach out to every settlement in the forest with the programme to change the eating habits of the Cholanaikkars”, the District Collector said.
The district administration is also planning to improve transportation facilities in the forest to reach out each habitat. Some are as far as 45 kilometres deep in the thick of the forest from the nearby town.