Silent genocide- Kerala health model has failed in tribal heartland


STAFF REPORTER

: Ekbal

B. Ekbal says the Kerala health model has failed in tribal heartland.

B. Ekbal says the Kerala health model has failed in tribal heartland.

B. Ekbal, public health activist and neurosurgeon, who headed a six-member medical expert team appointed by the Communist Party of India (Marxist) to study the health problems faced by the tribal people of Attappady, has said that “what the team saw in this tribal heartland is silent genocide.”

The team has been sent to study the problems and suggest remedial measures as 48 tribal infants died of malnutrition during the past 16 months in the hill region.

Addressing presspersons here on Tuesday, he said: “The tribal population is facing extinction in Attappady. If the government does not intervene to stop this genocide, it will remain a black mark on Kerala society.”

He said such a grave situation had not developed suddenly, but over many years. So no particular government or political party was to blame.  Everybody was responsible for this deteriorating situation.

He said the medical team, during its two-day visit to the tribal hamlets, found that 99 per cent of the tribal women were anaemic. Almost all tribal children were malnourished.

Dr. Ekbal said the Kerala health model had failed in Attappady. He would no more speak about the model, which claimed that the State had achieved health standards on a par with those of some developed nations. But in Attappady, the health standards were much below the average health indicators of India. The infant mortality rate in Attappady was 66 per 1,000 births as against the national average of 40.

He said intervening in the health sector alone would be insufficient to address the grave situation in the tribal area. An integrated approach covering other sectors too was required.

He urged Chief Minister Oommen Chandy to appoint a young, dynamic IAS officer to coordinate the works of various departments in Attappady to implement the various special packages announced by the government.

No coordination

He said that what one could see was total anarchy in Attappady. There was no coordination among the various departments and the three grama panchayats to take urgent steps to provide relief in this emergency situation.

He said that tribal people were supplied the Matta variety of rice through ration shops, which they did not eat. They should be supplied their traditional food. Thus, there should be structural changes in the rationing system. Nutritious food such as milk, egg and bananas should be directly supplied to the Anganwadis. Accredited social health activists, Anganwadi workers and Integrated Child Development Scheme promoters should be given reorientation training to take up new challenges in Attappady.

The Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme should be restarted in Attappady to provide employment to the tribal population. The tribal people should be brought back to their traditional agriculture, which had ensured food security to them.

The Right to Forest Act should be implemented in Attappady to provide land to landless people. It was only in Kerala that the Act had not been implemented.

 

 

Fearless, tribals will fight for their rights


  Kerala

ATTAPPADY, May 7, 2013

 

Krishnadas Rajagopal

Suresh (centre) and Murugan along with their
grandmother at Edavani ooru in Attappady. Photo: Thulasi Kakkat
Suresh (centre) and Murugan along with their grandmother at Edavani ooru in Attappady. Photo: Thulasi Kakkat

“Endengilum kittiyo, saare? (did you get anything, sir?)” 18-year-old Suresh K. asked section forest officer Lavakumar E.R.

The teenager’s grandmother, Nenji, stifles a laugh, proud at Suresh’s open challenge to the Forest Department team whicht had just come out of a clearing in the forest at Thazhe Budhiyoor, a Kurumba hamlet nestled in the Nilgiris range.

Mr. Lavakumar’s team of three is heading back after a routine patrol.

The Forest official takes this correspondent aside and says: “Do you know there are fewer men than women in these hamlets… Why? The men die young of drinking. In every house, there is illicit hooch buried under the ground, but how can we go inside with all the laws protecting them. Of course, there is no ganja cultivation now,” Mr. Lavakumar said.

Suresh overhears him and throws a second challenge at the officer: “Sir, earlier our fathers were scared of you people. They would run inside when they see men in khaki. Today, that’s not case… we know that we have done no wrong; we don’t have to be afraid.”

Mr. Lavakumar, whose face crinkles into a smile, walks away.

Suresh is the new face of the Kurumbas… the next generation. Like his elder brother, Murugan P., he talks repeatedly about the confidence education has given him; the right to question authority. He is doing his first year of travel and tourism course at the KPSMM Vocational Higher Secondary School at Varode in Ottapalam. “I am the only tribal youth from Attappady in my school. There is no hostel facility there. So I went to the Palakkad District Collector’s office and asked him to help me. Now I get monthly stipend of Rs. 1,500 towards room rent. The going is tough, but I have to finish the course,” he said.

But, for Murugan, it has been tough from the very beginning.

“I was seven years old. I wanted to go to school. My ooru people did not take me seriously. I would rebel when they made fun of my wish to go to school. One day, my cousin Manickyan decided to take me to the Kookampalayam LP School. I still remember it was the school assembly, and I didn’t know where to stand. The hostel for tribal boys was near Thavalam. It was like a cattle shed. Every week, one or two children would run away home to their ooru,” the 23-year-old said.

Today, he is a daily-wage teacher at the Government Tribal Welfare LP School. He earns Rs.8,000. He is doing a distance course from the University of Calicut in M.A. Sociology and wants to appear for the University Grants Commission examination.

“I come home to Edavani ooru every weekend, not as a runaway from the Kookampalayam school hostel when I was a child, but as a teacher who wants to give something back to my ooru,” he said. The brothers have even been able to influence their mother, Mari, who enrolled as an anganwadi helper.

The ooru, one of the most remote hamlets in Attappady, has two of its children doing graduate courses in Physics and Economics.

There are 30 government educational institutions in Attappady, of which 18 are lower primary schools, 4 upper primary schools, 7 high schools, 4 Plus Two schools and 2 vocational higher secondary schools. There are 16 hostels for Scheduled Tribe children.

But Murugan’s cousin, Manickyan K, a Malayalam teacher at the Kottathara Government UP School, says tribal children study till class 10, after which they discontinue. “We call this phenomenonkozhinju pokku (withering away). Finance is a problem, hostel accommodation in Attappady is also an issue.

Panali M, who contested the Pudur panchayat elections last year and lost by 16 votes, says the Scheduled Tribes Promoters do not talk about the children’s problems at the ooru council. Most of them are “yes men”, he says. They are supposed to take care of the ooru’s children, visit them at the hospital or at the hostel. They don’t.

 

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