A land devoid of any pathway | Part 1
A life of trepidation from encounter with wild animals and reliance on nature’s bounties for sustenance; the rainy season forcing people to abandon their fields and agriculture endavours due to the ever-present and intermittent threat of landslides and mudslides; in the event of an illness, or unforeseen injuries, or burns, it is an arduous journey for hours together, transporting the loved ones along narrow, solitary paths…
While Kerala engages in dialogues concerning high-speed and opulent trains, the inhabitants of Veerankudi Adivasi Colony grapple with the absence of a comfortable dwelling, constant presence of fear and even a suitable pathway. For the people residing in the colony, situated deep within the Malakappara forests, life is an arduous and miserable journey. The fervent plea of the colony residents for a relatively secure area with proper transportation and farming without fear remains an unfulfilled dream.
Hell coexists with the travel paradise
The Athirapilli to Valpara via Malakappara route is a well-frequented one for tourists. In the heart of Malakappara, the Veerankudi Adivasi colony shelters the Muthuvan tribespeople in simple mud houses nestled amidst the dark forest flanking the main road. Despite the distance between Malakappara and Veerankudi being merely 4 km, there is no proper pathway. Instead, makeshift routes have emerged as a result of landslides. A rudimentary bridge having two rusted iron posts stands as a structure to cross the trench that was dug halfway to deter elephants. The steep descents are cloaked in moss and leeches. During the monsoon, the five streams swell significantly, making the inhabitants traverse a challenging terrain to reach Veerankudi.
In case of urgent medical assistance, one’s journey entails steep ascents, dense jungles and streams on foot, covering around 58 km from Malakappara to Chalakudy or the same distance to Valpara. The circumstances for the colony residents cry out loudly for nothing less than a comprehensive rehabilitation to improve their plight.
The history of Veerankudi
The trek to Kappayakudi, home to Arekap and Veerankudi colonies, is across several kilometers of semi-evergreen forest along the fringes of tea plantations in Malakappara. Arekapa colony comprises 37 families and is roughly 2 km from Malakappara. Veerankudi, on the other hand, has seven Muthuvan families (11 men, 7 women and 9 children). Of them, three are above 60 years of age with the eldest being Kamalamma who is over 90. These people earlier resided in Arekap colony, but were forced to relocate to Veerankudi, around 2 km further, due to an epidemic a few years ago which claimed several lives.
"We are willing to relinquish everything we have to the government; all we ask for is another piece of land further uphill," said Veeran Karinkunju, emerging from his dilapidated tin-roofed house, articulating his wish in a mix of Malayalam and Tamil. The oldest member Kamalamma, reiterates this; a demand echoed for years. The majority in the colony are children and nephews of Veeran, from whom the colony derived its name.
For many years, during the monsoon, the colony residents are compelled to relocate to the community hall in Malakappara, due to the looming threat of landslides. "By the time we return, the house and the crops in the vicinity will have been completely destroyed. And we have to start all over again. We are utterly exhausted,” laments Veeran's daughter Viji who struggles to contain her frustration and wrath.
(Veerankudi residents are resolute. They assert that they would rather perish collectively in landslides, but won’t return to the camp. More in the next part.)