KWC's farcical show on Tribal woman
The Kerala Women's Commission (KWC) has repeated the show once again. This time, in the name of the vitally needed empowerment of Adivasi women. The show was in the form of a Workshop on March 3. It was held in Kozhicode city, where there was no tribal settlement, to facilitate the convenience of KWC members and the guest speaker. Predictably, there was thin attendance of Tribal women, especially none from far away Wayanad Tribal District. Also, the venue for the customarily repeated show at State expense was a little known private wedding hall, as if to ensure that none could easily reach there even if one wants to. There was no tribal, leave alone tribal woman, on the stage. In fact, the KWC itself do not even have a name-sake tribal woman among its numerous members, all of whom with strict political affiliations to various parties.
None knew the exact purpose of holding such a Workshop at the fag-end of the KWC's current term, which will expire within a couple of months. However, widely publicised as "a state-level workshop" on problems of Adivasi women and their empowerment, it in fact concluded with sort of empowering the KWC itself on the need to take a decision to draft a detailed project report for the "total upliftment" of tribal women - social, educational and economic. The political empowerment aspect was, as usual, missing from these goals perhaps due to the politically divided KWC membership structure and since election to State Assembly is due next month. It was also decided that the detailed project report with valuable recommendations would be submitted to the Government without, of course, specifying when.
The organisers claimed that the workshop was a continuation of a similar exercise organised at Wayanad last month. It also coincides with the inauguration of a vocational training centre for Adivasi women in Wayanad on the same day by the SC/ST Welfare Minister, K. Radhakrishnan. That left one to wonder why the Workshop itself was not held at Wayanad which would have ensured participation of tribal women besides the Minister. The organisers also claimed that the Workshop coincided with the International Women's Day on March 8 and the observance of Women Empowerment Week from March 1.
The main speakers were : KWC members, Ms. Noorbeena Rasheed (Muslim League), Ms. M. Kamalam (Congress), and Ms. T. Devi (CPM), apart from Director of "KIRTADS" Viswanathan Nair. All of them spoke on the different problems faced by Adivasi groups in Kerala, stressing that a lot still needed to be done for the uplift of Adivasi women. There was also group discussion of the few tribal women participants, and none of whom were from Wayanad. The organisers explained that women from Wayanad could not come due to the SC/ST Welfare Minister's programme there!
It is to be recalled that the major problem confronting Adivasi women in Kerala was sexual exploitation committed by the powerful settler-encroachers from plains to tribal belt. It resulted in growing number of unwed mothers among tribals. The epicentre of this phenomenon is Thirunelli area of Wayanad, where an estimated 400 unwed tribal mothers are still crying in silence for justice. Numerous official trips by Minister for Women's Welfare, Ms. Susheela Gopalan, Assembly Committee for Women's Welfare, apart from the KWA, to the area could do precious nothing to mitigate the sufferings of the tribal unwed mothers. The same phenomenon prevails in other tribal areas like Attappadi. Last year, a tribal school girl staying in the Government-controlled tribal hostel at Attappadi returning home on vacation as fully pregnant had created much sensation in the media.
This is not the first time that the KWA is landing itself into controversy through its farcical actions, especially in matters related to the marginalised sections. It earned the ire of the entire Muslim minority for organising a highly controversial seminar at Kozhicode a few years ago to discuss the so-called anti-women clauses within the Islamic Personal Law, Shariat. Soon after this, KWA Chairperson, Ms. Sugathakumari, was given a reception at Guruvayur temple town by an RSS front organisation, while the CPM weekly, "Deshabhimani" devoted its cover page for her. When the CPM goons of Nadapuram in Kozhicode molested a Muslim women and her 8-year old daughter in January amidst the orgy of anti-Muslim violence unleashed by them, Sugathakumari refused to visit the place. It led to open diatribe between her and KWA member Noorbina Rasheed. Although the shocking incident took place in January 2nd week, the KWA members could make the "official" visit to Nadapuram only on March 2. A couple of years ago, a Dalit woman in Pandalam (Pathanamthitta District), alongwith Kerala Dalit Panther leaders, lodged a complaint with the KWA against harassment from her neighbour belonging to upper-caste Nair community. The KWA promptly refused to accept the complaint saying that complaints on caste-based harassment were not entertained by them. When this incident was quoted as a passing reference in an article by this correspondent in popular Malayalam weekly, "Kalakaumudi", prompt was the KWA action in the form of serving notices of dire consequences to its Editor, NRS Babu, and me.
The guest speaker Dr. N. Viswanathan Nair, Director of Kerala Institute for Research, Training and Development of SCs and STs (KIRTADS), made a pertinent point that neither the police nor our law could properly understand and grasp the life-styles of tribals. "The tribals themselves had amecably solved all their legal problems long ago. However, the number of encroacher-settlers in Adivasi area multiplied by three fold than the tribal strength during the past twenty-five years. This had pushed the tribals into minority in their own ancestoral belt. Rampant crimes committed by the settlers remain outside the reach and purview of the traditional power wielded by tribals. This is the major reason for all the fresh problems in Tribal belts today", he said. According to him, the only solution is to solve all problems related to tribals within their own settlement ("ooru") by giving them due legal recognition at local Panchayat levels.
Once again, hundreds of unwed tribal mothers in Kerala's high-range forests are left with nothing to celebrate, except haplessly cursing their fate, during this year's International Women's Day. Can we hope that all those sophisticated elitist champions of Women's Reservation Bill may at least empower themselves with some adequate lessons of social justice confronting their own sex within the marginalised social segments from the ongoing Women Empowerment Week "celebrations"?