In this village, a room in a house becomes a tomb built over a buried corpse. And in some of the houses the little extra space in the backyard serves as the family burial ground.
However, for many unfortunate tribals in Ulkombai, like Pappamma (62) who died on Saturday, even a small patch of ground to rest in peace now eludes them.
Villagers said they were the original inhabitants of the place, but have now lost their lands to the non-tribal landlords who exploited their poverty and lent money, only to confiscate their lands for that price in the end. In the last 30 years, the tribals, who sold their lands, have became bonded wage workers to the landed gentry. The landlords started extensive cultivation there, leaving no space for the tribals to bury their dead or to even build a public toilet. The tribals then started burying their dead ones inside their houses or in the backyard, if space permitted. However, in the last few years, many have lost even their houses and some were even rendered homeless, they said.
Two months ago Express reported how a tribal man in Palamedu village was forced by a non-tribal land owner to remove his excreta using hands as he defecated in the common land taken over by a landlord.
Today, it was the dilemma over finding a place to bury Pappamma that raised the question of land alienation among tribals. However, defying odds, the tribals made up their mind to bury her in a common land where turmeric and sugarcane plants were cultivated as they believed that it was where the dead were buried thirty years ago. But the situation turned tense as the defiance met with a strong reaction from the landlords, forcing the police and the revenue departments to intervene.
The leaders of Tamil Nadu Tribal Council and Tamil Nadu Malayali Peravai took up the matter, demanding that the common lands that were encroached upon be cleared immediately and converted into a burial grounds.
In a peace meeting, the officials promised the tribals to provide a burial ground within two months and suggested to bury Pappamma at Palamedu. However, villagers of Palamedu objected to it, saying that their burial ground was not large enough to accommodate bodies from another village.
Nevertheless, they relented and agreed to bury her there.