KOCHI: After days of anxiety and anguish, a group of tribal people, who relocate d from Arakkappu colony located deep inside the Idamalayar forest, slept peacefully without fearing the marauding wild elephants and forest officers on Wednesday night. It was a question of life and death for the 38 tribal people, including 10 children, belonging to 11 families, as they left the forest where they lived for three decades.
The forest department officers evicted the families from Vaishali Cave on Tuesday night. As the tribal leaders insisted that they will not return to Arakkappu, they were taken to Idamalayar tribal hostel premises. As the hostel was locked the families had to spend the whole night in the open.
Arakkappu colony is located on the banks of Idamalayar river and is just 3 km away from Malakkapara in Thrissur district, a village bordering Tamil Nadu. There is no proper road that connects Arakkakku colony with the outside world and the residents have to climb a steep terrain to reach Malakkappara. They purchase essentials from the border village and carry them on head to the colony. They have to travel in groups as elephants, leopards and bear roam around the area. Taking a sick person to a hospital is an arduous task as they have to carry them on a wooden stretcher to Malakkappara and travel 80 km to reach Chalakudy the nearest town. To reach Vadattupara in Ernakulam district they have to row a bamboo raft for six hours through Idamalayar river.
Meanwhile, the colony witnessed a massive landslide during the 2018 floods that swept away a huge mass of land and damaged four houses.. According to Thankappan Panchan, the mooppan or head of the tribal colony, the landslide has weakened the surface soil and the families live in constant fear. "There was a landslide during the onset of monsoon and a house had suffered minor damages. Another landslide may sweep away the entire colony and nobody will survive. We left that place due to fear of life," he said.
However, only 11 of the 44 families in the colony decided to shift. "Among the 44 families 30 belong to Mannan tribe and the others are from Ulladan and Muthuvan tribe. The people who decided to stay back have land and property in the town. Their children are government employees", said Thankappan.
The families built 11 bamboo rafts, took their belongings and pets and bid adieu to the colony on July 5. They reached Vaishali cave, the location of a popular Malayalam movie near Idamalayar dam and set up tents there.
The residents had submitted a memorandum to Thrissur collector and Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan in April this year seeking to allot land at Vaishali. However, the issue was ignored as election fever as it was election time.
"Lakshmi, an elderly woman was killed by a leopard in 2019 and three people have died as they could not be shifted to hospital in time," said Adivasi Aikya Vedi state president Chitra Nilambur who arrived at Idamalayar after hearing about the plight of the families.
"There was a small shed and we managed to stay on the premises the whole night. The hostel was finally opened at 6 pm on Wednesday after our protest completed 24 hours. The families had held DFO Ravikumar Meena hostage for an hour on Tuesday night as he could provide a safe shelter. We came here as the Mooppan informed us of their plight and were protesting peacefully. But the forest staff called us Maoists and threatened to put us behind the bars," said secretary Binu Puthenpurakkal.
As the families continued the protest, Idamalayar Range Officer P S Nithin, Thundathil Range officer Mohammed Rafi and Muvattupuzha tribal welfare officer G Anilkumar reached spot on Wednesday and held talks. Finally, they were provided temporary accommodation in the hostel building on Wednesday evening.
"We have consulted tribal welfare department director P Pugazhenthi and provided them accommodation temporarily. The government will hold talks and take a call on shifting the families. There are tribesmen belonging to Mannan, Muthuvan and Ulladan communities at Arakappu. As only a few groups have decided to shift we will have to get consent from the Union government to provide them land at a new location. They will have to surrender the land, " he said.
"Our children are not able to study for the past one year as there is no net connectivity in the region. If we are allocated land at Vaishali it will be a great blessing as we will have road access, " said Thankappan.
"The tribal families erected the tents in an area with the presence of elephant herds. We shifted them considering their safety. They will have to surrender the land owned by them and give a representation for a new land. We urged them to give a representation but they have not responded. Besides only a section of the residents of Arakkappu are shifting. We have to obtain permission from the Union government and the state. The departments of Revenue, forest and tribal welfare will inspect the area and allot the land at an ideal location if the government accepts their demand, " said a forest official.