Mysuru: Tribal cry shatters Diddalli's peace

Evicted tribals living in huts without facilities or food.

Mysuru: Deep inside a dense forest, Bojamma, 60, rested her wrinkled face on her hands as she sat on the mud floor in a hardly 6ft by 6 ft hut before the Diddalli tribal school. Occupying the tiny space with her were her husband, son and daughter, their spouses and three grandchildren.

The cramped surroundings and lack of amenities were clearly telling on the agitated and upset family. But the poor living conditions were not confined to Bojamma’s family alone, but were common to the 574 families comprising over 3,000 tribals, including a 1000 women and over 50 children, who were evicted from the reserve forest by the forest department on December 7.

Heavy police presence has turned the reserve forest into a fortress, with visitors, except for civil servants and elected representatives, being stopped at the Maldare checkpost, about a km from Diddalli. When DC gained special permission to enter the site of the tribals’ protest for 20 minutes, the scene there was anything but pretty. “The women did not even have access to toilets at the tribal school till Wednesday night,” said a tearful Bojamma, adding, “Does the government want our tribal fraternity to remain bonded labourers in coffee plantations forever, without land or a house of our own? Are we not entitled to the freedom gained in 1947? Where have the crores released for tribal welfare gone? I have been a bonded labourer in 15 plantations in Kodagu for 50 years, working 10 hours a day, with bare minimum pay and suffering verbal abuse and physical torture with guns pointed at us. I don’t want my children or grandchildren to suffer the same fate.”

Tribals reject food, go on fast
Although the government set up a “ganji kendra” to provide food to the tribals evicted from the reserve forest at Diddalli, they opted to go on a hunger strike on Thursday, protesting the imposition of prohibitory orders and installation of CCTV cameras in the area.

“We are not beggars. We are not here for their food. We want land for farming and sites for tribals who are living in line houses in coffee plantations of Kodagu. We will die here if our demands are not met, but we will not move. We are not thieves to be watched all the time,” said tribal leader Muththamma.

Several activists led by actor Chetan too staged a protest in support of the tribals before the office of Deputy Commissioner in Kodagu. But DC Richard Vincent D Souza refused to consider their demands and justified the imposition of prohibitory orders. “We have imposed section 144 to prevent external forces from instigating the tribals and to maintain peace,” he said, adding that alternative land had been identified for tribals and there was no question of letting them returning to Diddalli, which was in a reserve forest.

( Source : Deccan Chronicle. )
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