Dalit girl hostel for sexual exploitation

Agony of 'unwed child mothers'
By G. Prabhakaran

PALAKKAD, JULY 2. The shocking revelations of sexual exploitation of some inmates of the Government-run Agali Tribal Girls Hostel in the tribal heartland of Attappady in Palakkad district resulting in a few of them becoming pregnant has rocked Kerala, the most literate State.

The sex racket thriving in Attappady for some time now has thrown up the unique problem of `unwed child mothers' from among the 25,000-strong tribal population living in 174 hamlets (Ooru) in the high ranges of Western Ghats.

The unfortunate incident came out when one of the inmates of the tribal girls hostel gave birth to a child after she returned to her home at Chemmannuar hamlet from the hostel during vacation. On inquiry it was found that another inmate of the hostel is also waiting for her turn to deliver at her home after her return from the hostel. Two other girls who were also pregnant reportedly got it aborted.

The girl who delivered a child last month in her complaint to the police said that five other girls of her hostel were exploited sexually by outsiders with the help of some of those who were in- charge of running the hostel. These girls were taken out of the hostel to a nearby theatre for late night show and there they were allegedly handed over to the sex racketeers. The police arrested one of the youth accused but others are still at large.

The political interference, official apathy and the helplessness of the tribals helped the culprits to go scot free despite their involvement in the gruesome incidents of exploitation of the minor girls sexually.

The most unfortunate part of it is that the State Government was aware of the various types of undesirable things going on in the Agali hostel and other pre-metric hostels in Attappady almost a year ago. A circular sent by the Director of Tribal Development Department of the Kerala Government in July last year to the Integrated Tribal Development Project (ITDP) Officer and other officials concerned had warned of stern action against them if the deplorable situation in these hostels continued.

A Committee of Kerala Legislative Assembly also studied the problem of `unwed mothers' among the tribals as back as in 1997. They submitted a report to the Government recommending various steps to tackle the problem but no action was taken on it or against those responsible for ruining the life of large number of tribal women.

The shocking news of `unwed mothers' came at a time when the tribal area of Attappady was faced with the problem of largest number of `unwed mothers' numbering over 400. A recent survey has identified 345 `unwed mothers' among the tribals.

The survey, conducted by `NAMU', a tribal voluntary organisation, has also found that some `unwed mothers' have more than one child. They are comparatively young, in the age group of 18 to 25. The number of `unwed mothers' is high among the most backward Irula tribes, who lead a miserable life with no job or land to cultivate. The non-tribe men who exploited them have deserted and some of them left the area. This has forced some of them to take to prostitution. Some have become drug addicts and some others have gone mad unable to bear the agony, the survey said.

The 25,000 tribal population of Attappady, the second largest in the State after Wayanad, is unable to resist the inhuman exploitation seem doomed to extinction. They are faced with the problem of acute poverty and starvation and various types of diseases. All sorts of oppression and abuse including the official neglect are killing them.

The tribals who faced the destruction of their habitat on the wanton destruction of forest lost their agriculture land due to the influx of settlers from outside since 1960s. When they lost their fertile land they lost their resource base and they could not recuperate. As a result of this all the Governmental efforts for development have become a farce.

In the socio-political front also the tribal people lost their stand. They lost their majority in the population counts which significantly influenced political decisions. In the day to day administration too tribals were sidelined. The political institutions dominated by non-tribals have become stumbling block that humbled the feeble rumbling of the tribals at their thumb points. Thus they stand virtually alienated from their traditional surroundings and sources and pushed into a semi- modern life. That made everything difficult for them.

Thus the tribals of this area become the most exploited and marginaslised section. Abuses and atrocities on tribal women increased day by day. This has brought the present shameful situation of having large number of `unwed mothers' followed by a more serious social problem of `unwed child mothers' in Attappady.

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