Mothers Of Wayanad
By M P Basheer
30 November, 2003
been over 12 years now, but Kali, 29, can never forget that fateful
night; the familiar police constable had forced himself into her little
hut - and on her - leaving her completely wrecked. The psychological
trauma apart, raising an illegitimate daughter hasn't been easy, especially
since the father claims he has nothing to do with either of them. The
village in which she lives, Tirunelli in Wayanad district of Kerala,
is home to over 300 such unwed tribal single mothers; all victims of
sexual exploitation. These women, some of them as young as 13, are struggling
to survive along with their children.
A number of cases
of children being born out of wedlock keep popping up in he public from
time to time. The main source of the information is the admission registers
of the tribal kindergarten in and around Thirunelli. In June this year,
when schools reopened, a chunk of 16 such children were added to the
rank fatherless. Most of their mothers are victims of seduction or one-night
stands. In most cases, non-tribal men entice them with false promises
of marriage. Tribal girls recruited as casual laborers in tea and coffee
estates are sexually abused by their masters and fellow workers. Once
they get pregnant, they are left in the lurch. Many of these women are
forced into prostitution for survival.
Take the case of
Valli, 25, who gave birth to two children even before she reached marriageable
age. She still retains the handful of bangles presented by a non-tribal
youth who was working as peon in a nearby government office when she
was 15. It was enough to win over her aboriginal innocence. When she
became pregnant, the boy simply renounced her. Turned down by her own
family, Valli got shelter in another Adiyar hut where she gave birth
to her first child.
When her case came
up before the court, it was rejected on the grounds that she was "a
woman with loose morals". Ironically enough, the girl gave birth
to another child two years later, allegedly fathered by the same man.
Two years ago she approached the State Assembly Committee on Tribal
Welfare with a complaint that the youth was planning to marry another
girl, and sought the committee's help to persuade the man to take care
of their children.
succumb to the wiles of the non-tribal youths as their own men have
become lazy and lost interest in their women, says sociologist
Dr. S Uma Dathan. In some Indian tribes, a girl who is pregnant before
marriage is an outcast. There are a few tribal communities where a man
and woman are allowed to leave together before they tie the knot, just
to make sure they are compatible. But no tribal community accepts a
woman who bears the children of non-tribes. Ostracized by the society,
most of them end up as targets for sexual exploitation.
Thirunelli is the
largest revenue village in Wayanad district with a population of 24,000,
largely consisting of tribes from 120 settlements. When a radical Naxallite
movement took Wayanad by storm in the 1970s, Thirunelli became the major
center for the Naxallite activities. The police ruthlessly suppressed
the armed insurgence of the tribal people in response to feudal oppression.
Headed by the notorious DGP Jayaram Padikkal, the cops let loose reign
of terror, ravaging the hamlets, pillaging the tribal habitats and raping
their women. The unwed mothers of Thirunelli are a cursed legacy of
that tumultuous era. The policemen deployed to check the radical activities
were mainly responsible for creating the new tribe of unwed tribal mothers
and their children of a miserable lot.
"It is a shame
for a high-literacy state like Kerala that these unmarried tribal women
continue to live in a state of penury and neglect, years after their
problems came into public attention", says K Panoor who specializes
in the tribal studies. A disturbing fact is that their number continues
to rise and they become more vulnerable to further exploitation."
For the devout pilgrims,
Thirunelli has always been the Benares of the South India. The sacred
stream Papanasini, which springs from the crown of the Brahmagiri ranges,
winds down the mountain terrain and wraps itself around the ancient
Thirunelli temple. It is here that devotees make offerings and pray
for deliverance of the haunting spirits of their ancestors. But for
the tribal population of the village, the Gods have repeatedly failed
to deliver them from the years of intense suffering and humiliation.
of tribal woman, mostly on the abortionists table, are not uncommon
in Thirunelli. In a latest incident on 12 June 2000, Subhi, a 26 year
old who was 7 months into her pregnancy bled to death at a tribal healers
makeshift dispensary, leaving behind two little daughters. On the face
of increasing public ire, the police compelled to arrest the man responsible
for her pregnancy and her death. But two years later, in the July this
year, a local court freed the accused 'for want of evidence.' "Instead
of insisting on concrete evidence, the courts should take the word of
the victims in such cases" says Justice D Sreedevi, the chairperson
of the Kerala Women's Commission.
Often, money provides
the means for a perpetrator to get off the hook. A boy from the forward
caste Nair community seduced Rajani, 23, of the Adiyar tribe. When she
became pregnant, local political workers took up the issue and made
up the boy to agree to marry her. But his parents had other plans. They
paid off Rajani's father in order to settle the matter without their
son having to marry a tribal woman. Rajani now lives with her son in
the Adiyar colony in Thirunelli, seemingly unmindful of her status as
an unwed mother. The offenders have a field day in covering up their
offences. They have little to fear, since the police collude with them.
Says a police official: "Wayand is a punishment posting for every
policeman. His job commitment is low. He does not view the Adivasi problem
with any degree of seriousness. The tribes are not a powerful lobby
for him to worry about."
Several crude and
inhuman methods were employed to eliminate such infants even after the
birth. Thirunelli Police has registered five cases of infant deaths
in the past one year. In three cases, an altogether novel method evolved
by the culprits to eliminate such children soon after birth. The brutal
practice is to put some grain of rice before husking into the mouth
of the newly born. As the grain would block breath, the death of the
child will be instantaneous. The latest of such cases was registered
on May 2, 2002.
"Even if cases
of sexual exploitation can be settled by giving money, a living child
born out of such relationship will pose a constant threat as well as
plugs all loopholes for the culprits to escape from punishment. Hence,
they resort to the brutal methods of eliminating new born infants,
says C K Janu, the leader of the Tribal Coordination Committee. Janu
says at least two dozen children of unwed tribal mothers have died during
the past two years in Wayanad "under mysterious circumstances within
days after delivery".
figures put the number of the unwed mothers in Thirunelli at 99, unofficial
surveys conducted by NGOs and social workers estimate the number at
least three times as high. Many of the ravaged women would not dare
to complain against the men who exploited them. Government statistics
say that the Adiaya tops the list of the victims with 73 cases followed
by the Paniyas with 11, the Kattu Naikars with seven, the Kurumars with
six and the Kurichiars with two. As many as 69 of the unwed mothers
have a single child while 26 have two children each. One woman has five
children while the children of the five others have died.
The Kerala Women's
Commission, which has been tracking down unwed mothers over the past
five years and fighting for their cause, has made some headway. The
commission, which has received 103 complaints -- 85 tribal women and
the rest from backward Dalit group -- is now getting DNA tests done
to establish the paternity of the children. Of the eighteen cases it
has taken up, four of the alleged fathers who were summoned for blood
tests have owned up their paternity even without going in for the tests.
Of them, three have agreed to marry the victims while the third, who
is already married, is willing to pay a monthly allowance.
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.
Much of the problem
seems to stem from the increasing alienation of their land and shrinking
the traditional sources of income leaving them at the mercy of the greedy
settlers from outside. Their tribal heritage does not equip tribal groups
to resist exploitation by outsiders. Over the decades, they have been
swarmed by hordes of settlers who addicted them to alcohol, dispossessed
them of their lands and sexually abused their women. Adivasis, once
a majority in the hilly Wayanad region, have shrunk to a minority, and
now constitute only 17 percent of the total population of the district.
Their habitat lies invaded, their lifestyle irrevocably disturbed.
have taken over our lands, turned our men folk into drunkards and desecrated
tribal women. We have to declare self-rule for our self-protection,
to prevent more fatherless children from being born. An Adivasi colony
is not a brothel for outsiders to come and go" the firebrand Janu
lists a catalogue of crimes that are committed against the tribal community