Hearing of a 64-year-old's tryst with Maoists and visiting Vietnam and Cambodia in India

Aralam, the tribal settlement located next to the Wildlife Sanctuary in Kannur, is replete with many curious tales.
Radhamani with Velayudhan, Iritty Block panchayat president.
Radhamani with Velayudhan, Iritty Block panchayat president.(Photo | ENS)

"Sounds like some run-of-the-mill experience, right? I was cool and didn't feel a bit scared at the time. In fact, we even cracked a few jokes when they asked about spotting wild boars around the house. I told them to give me the rifle, and I'll shoot them dead. But let me tell you; once they went back, I was inexplicably overcome with fear. My heart started pounding so hard that I couldn't even ring up my kids."

64-year-old Radhamani of Aralam settlement in Kannur had her first tryst with Maoists about five years ago. Not that she hadn't heard of the armed guerrillas roaming through the forest fringes of the Kerala-Karnataka border. But truth be told, she never expected to see a few of them landing at her house on a fine, uneventful evening.

It was about 7.45 pm. She was alone at home, tuned into her daily dose of television soaps, and dinner was getting ready. Someone called out from outside. It was a female voice, that she later recognised as that of Jaya, a Kannada-speaking woman.

As she opened the door, Radhamani saw two women, followed by two men - all of them dressed in green, with backpacks and none wearing caps. She quickly identified them as Maoists.

"It was not a scary experience at that moment. When asked the reason for the visit, she said they were just passing through. The woman, whom I later identified as Jaya, asked me for some rice first. Though they asked me to hand over the phone, I didn't. Instead, I kept it switched off. They didn't let me call anyone. Looking back now, it sounds foolish," says an emotionless Radhamani.

The Maoists remained in the house for sometime and asked for food. She was alone at the house and Radhamani hadn't cooked much. She took them to neighbouring houses.

"They wanted a whole set of things from me, including rice, soap et al. In fact, I flatly refused to give some of the stuff. They asked for food. I hadn't cooked for many. I went to the neighbours' houses and they came along. Only when we entered the houses, Suresh and Rajan realised that Moists had come. They might have been scared. We did however manage to give them food.

"In between, the four of them opened their bags, charged their phones, collected food and other supplies. That's when I saw rifles in their bags; They had small guns too. When they asked about wild boar attacks, I even cracked jokes with them. If I remember right, they went back after a couple of hours," she recalls.

Radhamani had earlier lived at Kundapur in Karnataka and had returned to Kerala, only after her husband Vijayan died 17 years ago.

The four-member group had people speaking different languages including Marathi and Kannada. Radhamani could communicate with Jaya, who she believes may be about 37-40 years old and who was garrulous all along.

After they went back, Suresh rushed to call his wife Bindu. Radhamani wanted to call her children but apparently someone had told her not to. Her three children - Unnikrishnan, Gopakumar and Sreekumar - are manual labourers and stay at different places.

"It's only when they went back, I felt this gradual feeling of fear sinking into my bones. I was so worried whether they'll come back, and couldn't sleep that night," she said.

Radhamani had a tryst with Jaya later, when she went for an identification parade at Thalassery Jail, after some Maoists were caught. It was quite brief and passed uneventfully.

Aralam, the tribal settlement located next to the Wildlife Sanctuary in Kannur, is replete with such curious tales. The settlement has 12 tribes including Paniyar, Karimpala, Kurichyar, Kattunaikar, Kani and Mavilans.

Traversing into the deep interiors of Aralam opens up an altogether new world, with colonies with names such as Vietnam and Cambodia. These were named after the two countries at a time, when global politics had centred around the Vietnam war. About 20 families of Kurichyar tribe - each of whom were given five acres - were accommodated in the Vietnam colony in 1985, while the Cambodia colony has about 80 families.

Kids in Aralam share Kerala's love for football.
Kids in Aralam share Kerala's love for football.(Photo | EPS)

The tribals in Aralam come face to face with death on a regular basis. If wild tusker attacks are a regular affair, getting caught in the fire exchange between forest officials and Maoists has unfortunately become more regular these days.

Sixteen people have fallen victims to wild animal attacks here since 2018. Two decades ago, the Aralam farm had 3,335 tribal families. Now, only 1,717 families remain, as the remaining chose to move out seeking better living conditions.

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