VAZHACHAL : A tapering road through an elephant corridor takes you to Mukkampuzha colony, a tribal habitat located deep inside the forest under Vazhachal division. Bamboo reeds and proximity to Poringalkuthu Dam attract elephant herds to the colony day and night despite the solar fencing installed by the Forest Department. A damaged water tank bears testimony to the elephant menace.
It is one of the many hardships they have to endure, yet the 4,000-odd tribals prefer the joy of living close to nature. And when almost everyone in the state is busy engaged in polls-related discussions, tribals here are busy scouting the honey bee colonies in deep jungle. For they believe elections do not make much difference to their lives, but honey does.
“What good can elections bring us? We’ve to strive for our livelihood. Politicians give tall promises and vanish after polls,” said Sasidharan of Vazhachal colony.“You see our houses. It’s leaking. There’re no doors. The Tribal Development Department has been awarding work to the contractors, who use low-quality building materials.
We’ve decided to refrain from voting this time unless the politicians assure us of providing us good houses and land for cultivation,” he said.“There’s land available near Vachumaram tribal colony. If they provide it, we can do cultivation and earn a living,” said Shaju.
Lack of higher education, potable water affects colonies
He is a CPM branch committee member and most tribals supporters of the party, but that does not stop them from saying the politicians have betrayed the tribals. “The colonies also face issues like scarcity of drinking water, which need to be addressed,” said Sivan, a tribal watcher at Vachumaram.
A lack of proper higher education too stops the colonies from making the desired progress.
“There’re many youngsters who have studied up to Class XII here. But they’re not interested in going to the colleges. Some of them go to the nearby towns to work as labourers in the construction sector,” said Sivan. Vazhachal Range Officer T Ajikumar said: “The tribals prefer to live in the forest and are not interested in luxuries. But some outsiders exploit them by providing alcohol.
Many youngsters here are alcoholic. As it’s honey harvesting season, many tribals said they won’t come to vote this time. We’re conducting an awareness campaign in the forest to motivate them to cast their votes.”Divisional Forest Officer (DFO) S V Vinod, who won the Chief Minister’s Award for saving the lives of tribals during the devastating floods, said they are caught between their ethnic identity and the changing world.
While development has brought concrete houses that protect them from wild animals, they want to live in harmony with nature. About 90 per cent of the tribals here belong to the Kadar community. Others include Malayarayas. They catch fish from the Chalakudy river and Poringal dam to earn a living, he said.
HONEY HARVESTING SEASON
The honey harvesting season has just begun and an air of excitement prevails in the tribal settlements of Pokalapara, Mukkampuzha, Poringal, Vachumaram and Vazhachal.Youngsters set off for the deep forest on a two-week quest, trekking the treacherous forest paths where elephant herds, wildcats and scary bear roam. They set up thatched huts in the rocky areas and scour the forest for honey.
“Some big combs will have up to 40 kg of honey. With a single kilogram of wild honey fetching up to `450, we earn enough to sustain lives during the harsh monsoon season. We collect tubers, frankincense and honey and sell them in the market. The Vana Samrakshana Samithi formed under the Forest Dept also helps us sell the forest produce,” said Pokalappara colony mooppan Subramanian.