Surprising, but true. Tribal village Edamalakudy, a 40km drive from mountainous Munnar, Kerala, has been lockdown-ready for ages. They made health a priority right from the beginning. The place
is home to the reclusive Muthuvan tribe of 2,600 members living in 26 settlements over 35,000 acres of forest on the Tamil Nadu-Kerala border. They do not believe in communicating with the outside world.
This habitual seclusion allows them to follow social distancing automatically since their hamlets are spread far and wide in the Idamalayar Reserve Forest. Outsiders have to walk at least eight km through thick jungles to reach Edamalakudy. It is no wonder that this first tribal grama panchayat in Kerala has not reported a single case since Covid-19 hit India in 2020. Though development is a foreign word to the Muthuvans, they were aware of the consequences of Covid-19 infection. With limited resources, the tribal hamlet was able to chalk out a perfect containment plan for the entire village.
“When the first Covid-19 case was reported in Kerala, our panchayat officials called a meeting with the poru moopans (hamlet elders) of each settlement to brief people about the pandemic and the necessary precautions the community has to adopt to stay safe and healthy. The officials also provided Muthuvans with sanitisers and masks. Absence of sophisticated health care facilities, road connectivity and availability of basic amenities pose a threat if adequate precautionary measures are not taken,” says R Varghese, the panchayat secretary.
The Muthuvans took a conscious decision to go into self-lockdown by restricting outside travel and blocking all outsiders, other than panchayat and health officials. To collect food and essential items, the tribals have to take hired jeeps to Munnar. In the early days, someone from each family would go once a week to buy items they need. Now with rise in Covid-19 cases, two or three persons go to Munnar to buy provisions for the entire hamlet. “They stay in quarantine for 14 days after they return,” says Varghese. The jeeps stop at Pettimudi, from where they have to walk for around 20km carrying their purchases.
Since the community is adamant about not letting interlopers into their village, the Forest Department has stopped issuing passes. A time came where the members didn’t encourage the entry of even the panchayat officials. “When a few members of the community experienced mild symptoms, they went to Devikulam. They were negative,” explains Varghese.
With the second wave hitting the state, the Panchayat officials set up a second meeting with the hamlet leaders and urged them to stick with their containment plan. Reports of a few migrant labourers in nearby Pettimudi being infected with Covid-19 are a matter of concern for both officials and tribals. “People on their way to Munnar to purchase essential commodities have to cross Pettimudi.
Apart from their effective containment plan, officials believe that the Muthuvans’ lifestyle is responsible for keeping Edamalakudy a zero Covid-19 village. “The community depends on farming and are mostly vegetarians. The clean air and water contribute to sustaining their immune system,” adds Varghese. Local politicians have been vocal about road connectivity from the village to the city for emergency healthcare to reach. But this is also what keeps the Muthuvans ‘stay home, stay safe.’
“The Muthuvans are mostly vegetarians. The clean air and water contributes to strengthening their immune system,” R Varghese, panchayat secretary