Friday, March 2, 2018

The dingy ,stinky "Other"

SreeNair | 8:08 AM | |
M
adhu a 27-year-old tribal youth has been brutally assaulted and lynched to death on Thursday evening by the irate upscales of Kaduku Manne ooru , a hamlet in Attapady region in Palghat district, Kerala.He is alleged to have stolen some grocery from the neighbourhood provision shops .

Madhu the tribesman was a frail, illiterate, mentally ill and a destitute living in a cave on the fringes of the forest. He was hounded and made to walk 4 miles from his hideout with the heavy load on his shoulder-beaten body-mind all the way, battered, his ribs splintered and tied by the worn-out rag he wore. He was handed over to the police and declared brought dead on reaching the Government Tribal Specialty Hospital at Kottathara. The frenzied mob feted in the selfie - the photographs of which emerged in the social media- that flew the netizens off the handle. The incident had sent shock waves across the state.

Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan described Madhu’s death: ”This heinous act is a blot on Kerala’s progressive society. But I want to assure you that strict action will be taken at the earliest against all the culprits to ensure that such crimes, especially against people from communities that were long marginalised, are not repeated."

Finance Minister Isaac wrote an emotional post. It said: “The innocence in Madhu’s eyes and the images of the merciless mob that killed him would haunt Kerala for a long time. Let’s stop talking about the high social and political consciousness of the state."

Malayalam superstar Mammootty has taken to social media to condemn the incident: “I will not call him adivasi, but my brother. The mob has killed my younger brother. If you think as a human being, Madhu is your son and brother. Above that, he is a citizen like any of us, who has his rights. One who steals food to feed his hunger shouldn’t be called a thief; poverty is created by society,” Mammootty wrote in Malayalam.

Author KR Meera came down heavily on the attackers, sharing a poem that she wrote on the incident: “Next time, ensure that you take more people along, burst crackers outside the cave and threaten him. And when he comes out all frightened, catch him with a trap. Tie him upside down, collect water in a big vessel and light fire to it. From the carry bag, take the rice and boil it. Light the beedis and wait.

Actor Joy Mathew also took to Facebook to condemn Madhu’s killing, saying that the state of Kerala must hang its head in shame."

“They beat him to death, accusing him of robbing a shop for items worth Rs 200. Since Madhu is not part of any political party, there will be no one to fight for him. But we should all feel ashamed thinking about that Malayali who took a selfie and celebrated, just moments before Madhu was beaten to death,” Joy wrote.

Social activist Rajendra Prasad, president of Thampu, an NGO that works with Adivasis in Attappady, said Madhu’s death should be considered as part of broader social ills. He said several Adivasis in Attappady had become mentally ill after they lost land and became jobless. “Madhu’s Kurumba tribe has close to 4,000 members and starvation is a big issue among them. Most of them live in the forest, and come to the plains once in a week to buy food.”

Adivasi Gothra Maha Sabha leader Geethanandan said that Advasis in Attappady were vulnerable to attacks.Settlers are all too powerful and they have the support of the powers-that-be.

Adivasis once constituted 90% of Attappady’s population (1951 census), but their numbers steadily started dwindling with the arrival of settlers from across Kerala and Tamil Nadu. According to the 2011 census, Adivasis comprise just 34% of the population in the area now.

Adivasis in Attappady mainly belong to three tribes – the Irulas, Kurumbas and Mudugas – each with their own distinctive lifestyle, culture and food habits. The Kurumbas are found closer to the forests while  others occupy the plains. Each community lives in colonies of 60 to 100 families known as oorus or hamlets. At present, Attappady has 192 Adivasi hamlets.

The tribal hamlets are infested with infant deaths, mal-nutrition, liquor and starvation. They hog occasional media glare when deaths visit them and soon be swooned into oblivion. It is shocking that such things happen in the digital era of 21st century. Illegal settlings, deforestation, embezzling tribal welfare schemes and flagrant exploitation have kept them historically sidelined and silenced. The mainstream that swaggers on being civilised has the bloodstains on their palm. When the galling storeys of the death of the marginalised ‘other’ come to the fore, we delightfully devour it with the raging lexicon of the debates of the social scientists and brainstorming sessions of the intellectuals.

The society needs to make a reality check, an audit on the fallen trees that made the wooden crosses stand tall in the settlements, the ghost of denuded forests and the razed hillocks, broken-eyed rivulets, hunger-stricken stomachs still there. The Government is duty bound to rein-in the crowd that exterminates the ‘other’. Much pep-talking, pampering and keeping in good humour do not salvage the situation.

The painful death of the Adivasi youth that occasioned by the hate-game on the ‘other’ played by the mainstream raises many a question. Also, It gives us the window –at this historic juncture- to make reparations.

Do the mainstream and the Governmental machinery have the grit and grace to look in the face of it?

Renowned Malayalam poet and humanist SuagathaKumari laments:” We taught them to beg, boozed them, dazzled them with Ghanja, tried to corrupt their women with impunity. We were valorous, unkind, thick-skinned and impious”

We dodged the onus of making his stomach full, but gave him bellyful of sermons, homily and platitudes-his just desserts -and consigned him to the netherworld.

Attappadi is the African replica of the Gods own country. We are in the American route of the annihilation of the aborigines.Attappady, the tribal belt in Kerala– a blot on the glorious human development records of the state.-too big for the britches.

Malnutrition, birth defects and poor maternal health continue to afflict the tribals, with a recent report putting infant death toll at 14 in the last year. The report said, in 2016, eight children died of birth defects in the region.Health officials confirm that fetal deaths also remain high in the region and six deaths have been reported so far this year. In the previous year, the number was eight.Lack of nutrition among pregnant mothers and adolescent girls are the main cause of the high infant mortality rate. The government has been implementing many schemes including the community kitchen in which nutritious meal is supplied for free.A team of experts from the National Institute of Nutrition (2013) visited Attappady tribal area for studying infants or children deaths and reported that the infant mortality rate (IMR) there was 66 as compared to 14.1 deaths per 1000 live births in the rest of the state. Attappady is a tribal block established in 1962 and located east of the Silent Valley in the Western Ghats, one of the world’s most famous biodiversity hotspots. Yet the tribal community, there, are victims of state apathy. Among Adivasi children of 12 months or less, 9.1 percent are severely underweight, 32.2 percent suffer from severe stunting and 7 percent suffer from severe wasting.

Attappady can be called Kerala’s “sub-Saharan Africa,” said the Ekbal Committee (2013) observing that most women had undergone abortion more than once and almost all children examined suffered from anaemia and malnutrition.

“The continuing deaths expose the hollowness in the government’s flawed vision on tribal welfare. What is happening in the region is a combined effect of poverty, lack of employment, land alienation, failure to provide forest rights, loss of traditional agriculture and loss of indigenous food. There must be a comprehensive vision to address the tribal issue of the region,” says tribal activist K.A. Ramu.

Madhu was prey to the incessant violence both explicit and implicit that are orchestrated nationally on the downtrodden, subaltern and the tribal.

Madhu’s death could be a one-off incident-sure not be the last- but a pointer to the harsh reality of deaths due to starvation that still prevails in Attappady, the only tribal block in the state, and yet, neglected by the state government.

Kerala is staring at the “silent genocide.”

“Sadly enough, the most painful goodbyes are the ones that are left unsaid and never explained."― Jonathan Harnisch,Frek


 

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