Starvation deaths of adivasis: Govt blames it on cholera
Ramesh Babu: Pulpally, July 21
THE GOVERNMENT dismisses their deaths as cholera deaths. The locals and the doctors who treated the poor adivasis claim that they died of starvation. Whom to believe? Both sides, though, agree on one thing: Three adivasis have died in the last five days and many are in hospitals.
In Marakadavu - the scene of two deaths - there has been a sudden change in the way tribals live. For the past couple of days, children here get a free bath and unused wells have got a fresh coat of paint.
The reason: Tribal Welfare Minister M A Kuttappan is visiting their village to find out the truth, that whether these were starvation or epidemic deaths.
Officials of the Tribal Welfare Department train the local youths how to behave before the minister. And the agitated youth are often pulled up. "After June 15 there was no work for us. For the last three weeks, our only food was jackfruit. For my wife Shanta (one of the dead), it all started with a vomiting. She spent nine days at Mananthawady Hospital. On the tenth day she vomited blood and died," Shanta's husband says, sobbing.
Doctors certified that Shanta died of malnutrition and dehydration. Now district and tribal welfare department officials blame cholera, conveniently overlooking the main reason. Incessant rains and a near collapse of the plantation sector are spelling doom for tribals of Wayanad district. Many youths have fled to neighbouring Kodugu district of Karnataka. Left alone in their inaccessible huts, women and children are succumbing to starvation. "Three days back Forest Minister K Sudhkaran visited us after hearing of these deaths. But we were not allowed to speak. Nobody wants to call the deaths as starvation deaths. So they float new theories and blame strange diseases," says Balakrihnan, a Paniya (a primitive tribe). In Pulpally and the surrounding areas, the main crops are black pepper and ginger. And these two are the lifelines of the adivasis.
"Last year a quintal of pepper was priced at Rs 22,000. This year it is Rs 800. And last year's ginger price was Rs 2,000. Now it is Rs 700. Since the owners are not getting any margin, they stopped works in their fields. So the immediate victims are poor tribals. "In hilly areas there is no scope for alternate employment," a wholesale trader laments. It should be remembered that there are a number of welfare schemes for the adivasis, though conveniently forgotten at present.