Tribal dies due to starvartion :
Kundala tribals to occupy Minister’s land
Thiruvananthapuram, May 4 : As the indefinite hunger strike started by Adivasi leader, Ms. C. K. Janu, entered the seventh day today in support of Kundala tribals’ (near Munnar, Idukki district) prolonged struggle against setting up of Government Engineering College on Adivasi land, they declared that the next phase of the stir would be forcible occupation of land to be started on May 7th with seizure of “surplus land” occupied by the State Education Minister Mr. P. J. Joseph.
This declaration was made at a human rights convention held yesterday at “Aiswaraya” Auditorium in Thodupuzha, in support of Ms. Janu’s hunger strike since April 28. The convention was inaugurated by sitting MLA, P. P. Sulaiman Rauthar, who is contesting the Idukki seat as LDF rebel for the May 10 elections.
At the convention, M. Geethanandan, Convenor of Kundla Tribal Land Protection Forum which is spearheading the agitatiopn, said that one tribal of Kundla Muthuvankudi, Pechi Muthu (62), had died out of starvation. Recalling the attack launched by goondas of the private estate owner, with the backing of ruling CPI and trade union leaders, against the tribals engaged in the anti-Engineering College struggle on March 27, Geethanandan explained : “As a result of this massive terror, all the tribals had ran away to safety from their settlement, which forced the ailing Pechi Muthu to remain alone in his hut. Without anybody to look after or to provide food, he starved for days together. Since all the terror-stricken tribals were hiding away, his dead body remained unattended for long until they returned home.”
As was reported earlier on this site, the agitation started with the Government deciding to start the Engineering College at the Kundlakudi Muthuvan tribal settlement. From the very beginning, the tribals were opposing the move demanding shifting the college elsewhere. The Government, however, did not heed it and went ahead with construction of the college building on the cattleshed premisesof the tribals.
Following the two-day convention of Adivasis on March 24-25, the Adivasis demolished the college building and reoccupied the place. Soon after this, the Education Minister P, J. Joseph said at a Press Conference at Kottayam that the Government would shift the Engineering College from Kundlakudi to Munnar. However, on March 27, the goondas of a private estate owner, supported by local leaders of CPI and its trade union wing, AITUC, launched a massive attack on the Tribals spreading terror in the entire area. While no action were taken against the culprits, the police arrested and sent to prison a number of Tribals on the charge of demolishing the “Government building”.
Several agitations, including holding of hartal in Idukki and Kottayam district, failed to make the government heed either their demands or to initiate positive steps in tune with the Education Minister’s assurance that the college would be shifted from the tribal settlement. It was in this background that Ms. C. K. Janu launched her indefinite hunger strike on April 28 at Thodupuzha in Idukki district, the seat from where Minister Joseph seeks re-election as ruling LDF candidate - belonging to Kerala Congress (Joseph) group – a constituent of CPI(M)-led LDF headed by Joseph himself. Janu’s demands are : restore tribal lands to its tribal owners; rehabilitate all the landless tribals; the Education Minister should do justice by shifting the proposed Munnar engineering college from the Kundla Muthuvan tribal colony; drop all the cases registered against the tribals related to their March 24-25 land struggle; pay suitable compensation to the tribals whose properties had been destroyed during the March 27 attack on them; and, to arrest all those who were responsible for unleashing the March 27 terror in the whole area.
Presiding over the inaugural function of Janu’s indefinite hunger strike on April 28, K. Panur, Chairperson of Confederation of Human Rights Organisations (CHRO-Kerala) said that the ongoing attacks on tribals and other weaker sections is a proof of lack of social conscience among all party-politicians in Kerala. “They are not willing to condemn the anti-tribal attacks since they lost the social conscience. Politicians of all hues and varieties drastically shifted their position as if their duty was to protect the vested interests of the rich and the powerful encroachers. The joint move made by all party-politicians in meeting the President of India with a plea to approve the 1996 Tribal Land Amendment Bill, which counter the basic interests of all tribals, is an example of their present attitude. It also showed that all except Ms. K. R. Gouriamma in the present Kerala Assembly are anti-tribal supporters and that party-politicians are unwilling to safeguard the interests of the exploited social segments”, Panur said.
The CHRO Chairperson, K. Panur, a retired Deputy Collector , who wrote several notable books on Kerala tribals, recalled that the Kerala Legislative Committee had itself identified thousands of acres of land encroached upon by Tatas in Munnar area of Idukki. “That the government is unwilling to take even a small piece of that land for the engineering college amply shows that the present politicians are Tatas’ slaves. How can anybody justify the norm that Tatas’ land should not be touched while tribal land alone can be taken for the engineering college?” Panur asked.
Inaugurating yesterday’s human rights convention in support of Ms. Janu’s hunger strike, Sulaiman Rauthar said that none can impose the so-called development and progress upon the people which, on the other hand, should be accepted by the people themselves. “The Education Minister Joseph has tried to impose development upon the chest of Adivasis which they do not want. The government’s apathetic attitude towards the hunger strike launched by Janu is highly deplorable, despite it had completed six days. After all she is not only a known Dalit leader of Kerala, but also a woman. This is criminal dereliction of duty on the part of the Government”, he said. Terming the Adivasi struggle as one “against the arbitrary actions of the Education Department within the very constituency represented by the Education Minister himself”, Rauthar appealed to all progressive-democratic sections to support the stir.
It is to be recalled that Sulaiman Rauthar belonging to the Janata Dal (S) constituent within ruling LDF, is the lone sitting MLA contesting the polls as a rebel candidate following denial of tickets to him. Rauthar alleged that JD(S) State President and former Union Minister, M. P. Veerendrakumar, had done it in collusion with Education Minister Joseph. Although JD(S), headed by former Prime Minister Deva Gowda at national level, stands for social justice, M. P. Veerendrakumar and his family members had encroached large areas of forest land in the tribal district of Wayanad. The then Wayanad Sub-Collector, Marapandian, IAS, had officially written to the government in 1988 exposing this encroachment at Chingeri forest area demanding a high-level indepth probe into the whole episode including cutting of trees worth crores of rupees. However, no action has so been initiated during the past 13 years. Veerendrakumar, a leading businessman and coffee plantation owner, also controls the second-largest circulated Malayalam daily, “Mathrubhumi”.
One of the notable persons who spoke at yesterday’s human rights convention was former CPI-M leader P. U. Devassia, who along with veteran CPI-M leader, late A. K. Gopalan, had launched the surplus land agitation in Idukki long ago. “I will be in the forefront of Adivasi struggle to capture the surplus land of Education Minister Joseph who had encroached the Adivasi land for the college”, Devassia declared at the Convention.
Several other social organisations also have come forward in support of the Kundla Adivasi struggle. C. K. Vidyasagar, President of the dominant Eazhava backward caste body, SNDP, who called upon Ms. Janu yesterday asked the government not to play with her life. The government should immediately rectify the Education Department’s action of encroaching the tribal land and rehabilitate the tribals, he demanded. Scores of Adivasis from all over the State and neighbouring Tamil Nadu, apart from leaders of Dalit, women and other social organisations, are pouring into Thodupuzha to personally extend their support to Ms. Janu.