From time immemorial, man has had a solid association with his surroundings and nature. Primitive man constantly pondered about natural marvels like mountains, rain, thunder and lightning, which caused fear and awe in him. Most of the social establishments of today like religion, society, family and so on have advanced from the impact of such sensations. In the current period as well, man is not free from the impact of nature’s domain. Looking through the sociological perspective, a sociologist can comprehend numerous examples and practices 11 that emerge because of the impact of natural courses of action. This type of analysis also helps us to understand how indigenous communities are affected when they are invaded by the culture and practices of outer world.
Attapaadi region of Kerala is one of the few places in India where human settlements were established from time immemorial. The tribal people who live in the region have a known history which goes into the ballpark of 4,000 years. These tribes, to name a few Irula and Kurumba, depended on woodland assets as their means of livelihood. Most of their resources for survival were directly collected from the forest and they widely followed the barter system to meet their requirements. Their lifestyle was very much different from that of the so called civilized societies and was very much interconnected to the ecosystem in which they lived.
For instance, they offered prayers before killing an animal for food and planted many saplings once a tree was cut. Their diet mainly comprised of animals like rats, snakes and small birds. In most of the times, they remained within the forests and came rarely to the outer world. Though their primary source of resource collection was forest produce, they ensured that it didn’t affect the harmony and balance of the nature. In other words, they followed a life based on the principles of environmental sustainability. This in turn influenced the day to day activities of such tribal communities. However, the intervention from the part of external forces like government agencies, NGOs, social welfare organizations etc created an imbalance in the lives of tribal communities and forced them adapt to the new living conditions which were very strange to them.
From the time of Land Reforms Bill (1959), there was an organized move to bring the indigenous communities out of their natural habitats or forests into the outer world in the name of civilization. When politicians saw this as an opportunity for vote bank politics, many social reformers and activists supported this initiative assuming that any such move will civilize the tribal communities. A portion of land acquired from feudal lords under the Land Reforms bill was thus distributed to the tribal communities who were forced to leave their “home”.
This process of displacement and re-habitation was initially praised by the activists and social reformers. However, such activities resulted in the social degradation of tribal communities. As they were kept away from the forestry and resource management, they felt a kind of alienation and isolation from the rest of the society. Though they were taken away from their natural habitat in order to civilize them, they were not accepted by the outer world as human beings. This displacement also resulted in a situation of serious unemployment among the tribal people. Though they were provided with land, government machineries failed in helping the tribes to get adapted to the new environment. Agriculture and animal husbandry, practices that were very new to them, created a kind of panic and confusion among the people. This in turn resulted in the growth of poverty among the community.
As a result, many tribal men and women were forced to involve in anti-social activities like drug trafficking, prostitution, mafia teams etc. Thus, displacement of tribes, an act intended to yield positive output, resulted in the social and economic degradation of the entire community. Today, tribes in Attapaadi region of Kerala face social problems like high mortality rates (28.97 per 1000 births), teenage pregnancies (39 cases), undernourishment, and reduced life expectancy rates (53 years). This social phenomenon forces us to revisit the entire concept of civilization and development and how it must be applied to various social circumstances. When we define these broader ideas, there must be space to accommodate various aspects of human life. Any attempt to understand these notions through a narrow mind set will result in serious social impacts like which happened in the case of tribal communities in Attapaadi.
-Contributed by Jiss Palelil
Picture Credits: rediff.com