Those living here are the most impoverished, under nourished and illiterate among the population of my state of Kerala. Most of them inhabit areas in and around forests. They live by gathering food from the forests or by crude cultivation in small patches of land adjacent to forests.They used to hunt wild animals before. But with strict anti hunting laws adopted to preserve wild life they are not allowed to do that now.
I am talking about tribal people living in Attappady region of my district. More than 90 % of them are below India’s officially recognised poverty line. Most of them never get two square meals a day. Deaths due to under nutrition are common here. This comparative graph on Human Development index tells you the abysmal state.
The other day in a hamlet in Attappady a deer was found dead, presumably killed by dogs. Four hungry tribal youths cooked and ate the meat. Now they are languishing in a far away jail after being arrested and tortured for possessing wild meat.
Resentment is brewing in Attappady against the incarceration of four tribal youths of the Bodichala hamlet who were arrested by the Forest Department last week on the ‘false’ charge of hunting a deer.
Irula tribals Thamindan, Natarajan, Rangan, and Ramachandran are languishing in the Palakkad sub-jail as the charges against them are non-bailable. Tribal organisations and rights activists claim the youths had cooked and ate the flesh of a deer killed originally by stray dogs roaming in the region.
According to tribal elder Kakki, forest officials had unleashed terror in the Bodichala tribal hamlet in the last nine days alleging that the whole residents tried to protect the youths who killed the deer. Kaki said he was subjected to extreme torture at the local forest office for several hours by guards who alleged that his son too was part of the gang that killed the deer.
The officials said they had detained Kakki only to force his son to surrender. However, the officials later dropped the plan to arrest Kakki’s son. The whole tribal settlement said the officials had falsely implicated the youths in the case as the deer was killed by stray dogs.
Thomas Xavier, a local social activist, said the deer was roaming around the settlement for more than one month and it looked very weak. The youths had found half of the carcass of the deer one evening in their premises and took it home to make a dish.
However, Mannarkkad divisional forest officer K. Jayapraksh claimed that the deer was killed by the youths after catching it with a primitive trap. He said possessing meat of wildlife constituted a crime even if it was killed by stray dogs.
Attappady block panchayat president Easwary Resan said the tribal youths were implicated in the case by certain officials who were having an anti-tribal mindset.
‘‘Possessing meat of wildlife may be an offence. But most tribal people are unaware. And what is the justification for subjecting them to severe custodial torture and invoking non-bailable charges against them,’’ she said.
In India the law and order machinery acts in strange ways. Many a time it oppress the most poor and marginalised communities while shielding the rich, powerful and the famous from punishment.