Kerala, where no party has adopted the Adivasis

Kerala: The mob killing of a 27-year-old mentally challenged youth in a tribal settlement at Attappady has put the spotlight on the treatment of Adivasis, who account for 1.15% of the population in “progressive” Kerala.

What happened?

On February 22, a mob beat up Madhu of the Kadukumanna tribal hamlet at Chindakki, located in the buffer zone of the Silent Valley National Park, raising questions about the State’s social and economic equality indices. A few among them also took a celebratory selfie, which went viral on social media. The crowd had tracked down Madhu deep in the forest, accusing him of a petty theft in the village market, and thrashed him for several hours before hauling him through the village lane and handing him over to the police. Madhu collapsed and died in the police vehicle.

The post-mortem report showed that he died of internal bleeding caused by the blows, especially on the head.

Is there a lack of tolerance?

Tribal organisations and social activists said the murder was yet another instance of the anti-tribal attitude of the settler community in the tribal heartland of Attappady. However, social scientists said the incident pointed to a disturbing trend of persons who do not satisfy the “values” of Kerala’s predominantly middle-class society becoming targets of violence. Two months ago, a migrant worker from Bihar was subjected to mob brutality in the northern district of Kannur.

The reason, according to reports, was that the man had in his purse a picture of two children with a fair complexion. Unfortunately for him, there had been a mass hysteria in the State at the time, triggered by a social media campaign, of child-lifters on the prowl. All the descriptions on social media targeted migrant workers, especially those from north India. The latest in a series of assaults happened in a coastal hamlet in Thiruvananthapuram, the capital, where a transgender was beaten up, and videographed on mobile phones by a crowd accusing her of being a child-lifter. At least half-a-dozen incidents of attacks on transgenders have been reported in the past year.

Why are tribals a target?

Experts say the mobs have no specific religious, cultural, social or political identity. The 16 persons who have been arrested in connection with the Kadukumanna incident belong to different faiths and have different political affiliations, the only binding factor among them being a shedding of inhibitions as they came together to form a mob that tracked down Madhu and thrashed him.

For the tribals of Attappady, mob violence is nothing new. They have been experiencing it right from the 1950s when large-scale land alienation started at the initiative of settlers talking both Tamil and Malayalam.

The migrants from western Tamil Nadu and central Travancore made the indigenous people a minority in the region. Tribal activists say that in the rain shadow region, where fertile land, drinking water and other basic requirements remain scarce, mob violence always targeted the marginalised and dispossessed. Though successive governments have spent crores of rupees on tribal welfare in Attappady, there has hardly been any attempt to adopt them and keep them safe from violence.

As the tribals remain unorganised, political parties have always remained more sensitive to the needs and aspirations of only the settler community.

What lies ahead?

Kerala’s society may have to do some hard introspection on changing mindsets and, perhaps, launch an intense campaign to bridge the divide between the powerful, predominantly middle class, local communities and the most vulnerable people like tribals, Dalits and migrant workers. Social scientists say strong legal action must be taken against the culprits, apart from sensitising law enforcing officials to the need to act beyond racial and linguistic considerations.


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