Education stops midway
Veerankudi is currently devoid of any children attending school. Children from the colony have to reside in hostels designed for Scheduled Tribes with separate accommodation from boys and girls at Vachumaram and Athirappily. This arrangement allows them to continue their education from lower primary classes onwards.
Social worker Latif highlights the issue that despite several projects aimed at tribal students, none of them is continued. Simil Gopi says the dropout rate is high in Kappayakudi, possibly due to children facing difficulties in adapting to a different environment and the challenges of staying away from home.
Even slight variations in language can be a hurdle for them. In these conditions, children should have the right to continue their studies and be allowed to return home daily.
No relief in this camp
During the 2018 floods, all the five streams running through Veerankudi were in spate. Veeran was rescued by the colony residents after clinging to a rope hung from above and was taken to the relief camp in Malakappara. Residents recall the hardships they faced then, with a severe shortage of clean water and food. This experience was the reason why they are reluctant to return to the relief camp. In 2022, when there was a major landslide threat, colony residents were initially unwilling to move to the community hall. They eventually agreed after authorities convinced them of the danger.
Embittered by unkept promises
The people’s wrath and anxiety due to the failure of the authorities to keep their promises are clearly visible. The plight of the people in nearby Arekappa is no different. They face the intrusion of elephants and wild animals and the frequent landslides take away acres of their precious holdings. A proper pathway is their only hope for the next generation, says the tribe’s headman.
The life of Muthuvans
The Muthuvan tribe earned its name from the practice of carrying their children on their backs. While some of the aspects of their culture and tradition have evolved over time, they still hold on steadfast to some of their customs.
Small pents or huts dot the stepped lands of Veerankudi. Boys typically start living in these tiny huts around the age of 10, and continue to do so till they get married. There are separate such ones for girls and women to stay during their menstrual cycle. Such traditions have persisted over time, as Viji explains in a mixture of Tamil and Malayalam.
The gender ratio among the Muthuvan tribe is much lower than the national average. Muthuvans typically prefer to keep to themselves and are hesitant to interact with outsiders. Some Muthuvans also reside in Adichilthottil in Thrissur district and have the unusual practice of moving out every six months, a tradition the Muthuvans of Veerankudi find it hard to accept.
(The legal framework for rehabilitation exists, but the critical question is who will take the initiative. This will be explored in the next and final part of the series.)