While the foreshock of the parliament elections brings tremors to political India, all eyes are upon the southernmost tip of Deccan Plateau in the north-east region of Kerala. Wayanadu often termed as a paradise on earth, is a land without equal that attracts a number of tourists from across the world that includes historians inquisitive of the past of human being on earth. Stretching back to the Neolithic Age, Wayanad has a history the whole world was curious about and that which has brought answers to a number of questions about man’s journey from caves to the so-called civilized man. The land has been the centre of attraction also because of a few tribes that the changing governments were trying to renew. Nevertheless, all efforts have not only resulted in wear and tear of a huge fund but have wasted the enormous efforts of a number of people too.
It was on the bank of the river Karappuzha a tributary of the Kabini River, I meet Rajesh, a tribal young man who was standing outside a pump house at around four in the afternoon, surprisingly with a toothbrush in his hand. Curious to know about him I inquired Swami Omkaranda of Advaitashram his whereabouts. A person hailing from the region and in Poorvashrama the son of a social reformer of the past M.P. Narayanan Nair, he had a lot to share, perhaps a different story that we have been hearing from the government and media where I could read the tragic fall of the modern society in protecting the timeless culture that the region and perhaps the whole nation behold.
Rajesh is a young man from the Paniya community, the largest scheduled tribe in Kerala concentrated in Wayanad region. The leading tribal community in Wayanad, they are the most backward and downtrodden too holding very little land and having little amenities of life. Nevertheless, I was surprised to see the background of Rajesh who is also an unemployed graduate in Political Science pushing ahead his life with an irregular income of a labourer. His brother another educated young man who was in the district football team is jobless too while the opportunities for tribal men are bountiful. While the reason for their unemployment was not clear, the rest of the information was pointing towards a few grave concerns regarding the whole tribal community in Wayanad.
While government jobs are status symbols across the country that ensure a dignified life as a civilized man, the employment of a man from tribal communities often leads to abandoning their own rich surrounding, culture and tradition. When we look at the employed tribal people so, we often see them keen on settling in urban landscapes and disregard their own original habitat. As a result, the possibility is that the whole of civilization would get just vanished in the oblivion. Apart from this, there is a massive psychological trauma that has resulted from the cultural conflicts connecting the tribal men to modern times and the same is leading to serious socio-cultural issues.
Today, a healthy community that sustained their living with resources from the forests, has become the miserable victims of consumer culture. The unhealthy lifestyle of an average Keralite for whom alcoholic drinks are to some extend status symbol in the society has also its adverse effect in the lives of those people who has once enjoyed the pure natural resources. It is a shocking fact that a survey conducted jointly by the Excise department and volunteers of an NGO in 24 tribal colonies of 10 Grama Panchayats has found that close to 90 per cent of tribesmen had the habit of consuming alcohol and many needs de-addiction treatments to bring themselves back to normal life.
We have our own definitions of a civilized man – perhaps a man with well-cropped hair, wearing a branded modern costume, who speaks a standard language and who behaves in a way that we consider appropriate in terms the very word civilized is defined. When a particular action brings happiness to someone, the same action would evoke another emotion in another life. When even the definition of ‘happiness’ varies from person to person, I earnestly believe that we need to analyze how far we do justice to our own selves while dragging these ethnic groups to be a part of the so-called civilized world. They were blessed with abundant natural resources, they had a set of rules that bind the members of their community tight and they have a way of healthy living connected to Mother Nature. However, unfortunately, we have been trying to imprison them within our own concept of the cultured and bind them with the chain of our own ignorance of the world.
An action to make a tribesman the so-called civilized would spoil the entire tradition that he beholds and a collective effort to make tribal people would end up in the disappearance of rich culture and tradition. Instead of this, the effort should be to conserve their abundance by protecting their neighbourhood, by further motivating them to continue practising their age-old wisdom in a way they did in the past, however ensuring ample return so that they will lead a better life. It is stupidity to introduce the venomous modern medicines in a community that has answers for diseases even the modern systems doesn’t know.
I was surprised to see a man practising a method where a single time application of a secret herbal mixture binds bones within a few hours. Even from distant places, so-called modern men reach out these tribal colonies seeking remedies for the illnesses for which the modern system of medicine doesn’t have solutions! I know a number of people so, travelling back from the Western-Ghats with renewed health. However, the governments are busy conducting health camps and feed them with chemicals that will cause serious repercussions for even the generations ahead and that which would make them permanently sick! Do we need this?
We have wasted more than a half-century studying the conservation of these precious tribes and trying to bring them up by applying the solutions we have found. Instead of enriching the communities, such attempts have made a number of people especially politicians rich in their lives; however, it is nothing but a disaster that we can see in tribal colonies today where we see a number of people even ending up their life in suicides. I earnestly believe that there should be rather a holistic approach while addressing this issue, which is rather the question of the survival of a few communities that are on the verge of extinction.
Rather than making attempts to convert a tribal community to the ‘civilized’, there should be attempts to take the tribal communities back to their original environment. Instead of providing them with funds without teaching them how to make use of it, they should be made self-sufficient by earning their livelihood with their own traditional labours but ensuring a decent return from the same. In lieu of providing them with new settlement solutions, they should be guaranteed security in their own territory. Most importantly, rather than making them civilized in our terms, they should be made guardians for their own ingenious culture that was once upon a time the culture of true India!
Politicians who lack vision have been the curse to our nation since independence. While their ruling has left the country where it was a hundred years ago, it has helped just a few families to flourish day by day. As Mrs Rati Hegde pointed out in her recent article about the Rahul Gandhi’s Minimum Income Scheme, if ever Bharat had the misfortune of having the Congress come to power, we can be assured that not just the scheme but the flock of cropland birds would once again destroy the whole yield of past five years that Narendra Modi led NDA government has blessed our country with. Whether Rahul Gandhi, the juvenile captain of the sinking boat of INC, contest in Wayanad or not, I am sure it wouldn’t make any difference in the lives of those innocent people in Wayanad, but a visionary leader dedicated in the service of the nation can only bring a massive change in the community.