Inheritance of loss: Experiences from Attappady

Abstract: Social exclusion refers to the multidimensional process of progressive social rupture, detaching groups and individuals from social relations and institutions and preventing them from full participation in the normal, normatively prescribed activities of the society in which they live. The concept is focused to delineate the social ousting of certain groups of society from the popular and charming grounds of society filled with the social fruits generated, nurtured and popularised by a service oriented society. The working of exclusion paradigm is a process of re marginalisation of already marginalised communities who are socially and historically deprived from social spaces and social fruits.

Attappady, situated in Palakkad district of Kerala, is an adivasi area with 41% of population belonging to the Kurumba, Muduga and Irula communities. Among these, the Mudugas are present exclusively in Attappady. Similar to other adivasi regions, Attapady is also an underdeveloped area. People depend upon their traditional livelihood practices like agriculture, collection of forest goods etc. They hardly have other any resource for income. However, developmental projects by government and other non-governmental agencies of the last decade have opened a new source of income for their livelihood.

This also resulted in a huge influx of mainland people to Attappady creating many new issues. On one hand, the local people were deprived of their traditional livelihood, resulting in the slow alienation of the people from their resources.

Samyukta: A Journal of Women’s Studies (January 2013) Vol.XIII. No.1

On the other hand, the areas of interaction of advasis with the mainland people increased. As happens elsewhere, this interaction has resulted in sexual exploitation of women to some extent too. Tribal number of women have given birth to children of non-adivasi men. And significantly, as it happens in many such situations, the men have vanished in a majority of the cases. These children grow as adivasi children utilising the resources of the tribal women.

According to the Supreme Court verdict, (1) in the Shobha Hyamvathy case, caste is transmitted through fathers. Subsequently, the Kerala Government also issued an order effecting this condition to the children of inter caste married couples of Kerala. So as per these order, children born to tribal mothers out of liason with non-tribal fathers becomes non tribe. They are not eligible to get benefits of ST. So these children form a group of excluded among those already excluded from mainstream development processes. Secondly, they are denied of their traditional livelihood and also the benefits as a part of the development programs since they are not considered as tribes. They are victimised for reasons not known to them although development is coming to Attapady in a big way. This paper is based on two case studies of Anisha, a brilliant girl born to a tribal woman in her relationship with an Ezhava man and Vanaja, a tribal girl who lost her chance for employment.

Keywords: inheritance of loss, human rights of adivasi people, questioning the development paradigm, feminist perspective on development, subsistence living, adivasi women, fifth schedule

Right to live with dignity and to be equal in front of law are the prime assurance a society must give to its members. It is not merely an assurance to live. The history of this assurance which society provides to the individuals and groups of the society is something the history of the development of the concept of Social Justice. It is also the history of the development of the forceful ideas of Human Rights. These three are not seen as compartmentalised phenomena, but as a system of social engagements in which the functioning of society, social groups/ communities and individuals work together in a rights- duties framework. This framework is designed so as to assure both civil and political rights and economic, social and cultural rights and to demand the duties associated with these rights assigned. This framework is a universal phenomenon which is demanded by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The higher stages of Social Justice are seen in an atmosphere where, human rights are accepted and not violated. Any violation in this right- duty framework hampers the ideal state of rightful society. The violation of this ideal state of rights – duties relationship is continuously observed in the day to day affairs of the societies. When it comes to the social issues related with the weaker poorer and vulnerable sections of the society, the intensity of the denial of rights are seen at its maxima. The tribal issues attain special focus in this context. In most of the societies, the tribes are marginalised groups who are denied with the fruits of the society. The inclusiveness extended to them is at the lowest ebb. The affirmative actions offered to these groups to bring them to our mainstream society like reservations are assumed to offer them the benefits of our new developments. While considering Adivasis as a group which has to be brought to the main strata of our society through these affirmative actions denying even this to a group among them which formed from the situations caused by the mainland people and the developmental programmes itself. Hence this group is being excluded from their traditional livelihood as well as from the benefits of the new developments. This paper tries to enquire the situation in which the children born to tribal- nontribal parents are denied of even the affirmative steps which are actually meant for tribes, due to the particular order by Kerala Government.

The Tribes:

Tribes are primitive, geographically isolated people. They are socially, educationally and economically backward. These are the traits that distinguish Scheduled Tribes of our country from other communities.1 Tribal communities live in about 15% of the country’s areas in various ecological and geo-climatic conditions ranging from plains to forests, hills and inaccessible areas.2 Colonial anthropologists and administrators chose to describe these communities as tribes in the process of ‘othering’ them and the post-colonial state created a ‘Scheduled Tribe’ slot to include them in the Constitution for affirmative action purpose.3 Their collective subjectivity as indigenous peoples is, however, articulated in terms of adivasi.4

Constitutional Guarantees to the Tribals regarding Rights:

The Constitution provides social, economic and political guarantees to the disadvantaged sections of people. Some provisions are specific to both Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes and some are specific to only Scheduled Tribes. These are:-


  1. Equality before law [Article 14]
  2. The State to make special provisions for the advancement of any socially and educationally backward classes of citisens or for the Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Tribes [Article 15(4)]
  3. Equality of opportunity for all citizens in matters relating to employment or appointment to any office under the State [Article16]
  4. The State to make provisions for reservation in appointment, posts in favour of any backward class citizens which in the opinion of the State is not adequately represented in the services under the State [Article 16(4)]
  5. The State to make provisions in matters of promotion to any class or classes of posts in the services in favour of the Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Tribes [Article 16(4A) and 16(4B)]
  6. Appointment of a Commission to report on the administration of the Scheduled Areas and the welfare of the Scheduled Tribes in the States [Article 339(1)]


  1. Through the Fifth Schedule, the administration and control of Scheduled Areas and the Scheduled Tribes in any state, other than the States of Assam, Maghalaya, Tripura and Mizoram by ensuring submission of Annual Reports by the Governors to the President of India regarding the administration of the Scheduled Areas and setting up of a Tribal Advisory Council to advise on such matters pertaining to the welfare and advancement of the Scheduled Tribes [Article 244(1)][Specific to Scheduled Tribes]
  2. Special provisions through the Sixth Schedule for the administration of tribal areas in the States of Assam, Meghalaya, Tripura and Mizoram by designating certain tribal areas as autonomous Districts and Autonomous Regions and also by constituting District Councils, Autonomous Councils and Regional Councils [Article 244(2)][Specific to Scheduled Tribes]
  3. Reservation of seats for the Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Tribes in the House of People [Article 330]
  4. Reservation of seats for the Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Tribes in the Legislative Assemblies of the states [Article 332]
  5. Reservation of seats for the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes in every Panchayat [Article 243D]
  6. Extension of the 73rd and 74th Amendments of the Constitution to the Scheduled Areas through the Provisions of the Panchayaths (Extension to the Scheduled Areas) Act, 1996 to ensure effective political participation.

The Tribes of Kerala:

A. Population:

Kerala is one of the states with the lowest adivasi population consisting of 1.14 per cent of its general population. It accounts for only

    1. per cent of the total ST population in the country.5 There is a concentration of adivasi in the district of Wayanad accounting for 37 per cent of the total adivasi population in the state.6 The total population of adivasis in Kerala state is 3.64 lakhs.7

The district wise demographic distribution of tribal population is as follows:8

District Total ST Total ST %
Kasaragod 1204078 36338 8.33
Kannur 2408956 19969 5.48
Wayanad 780619 136062 37.36
Kozhikkod 2879131 5940 1.63
Malappuram 3625471 12267 3.37
Palakkad 2617482 39665 10.89
Thrissur 2974232 4826 1.33
Ernakulam 3105798 10046 2.76
Idukki 1129221 50973 14.00
Kottayam 1953646 18340 5.04
Alappuzha 2109160 3131 0.86
Pathanamthitta 1234016 6549 1.80
Kollam 2585208 5190 1.43
Thiruvananthapuram 3234356 20893 5.47
Kerala Total 31841374 364189 1.14

Table 1

Categorisation of Communities:

Adivasis are broadly classified into four categories- hunters and gatherers, agricultural labourers, shifting cultivators and settled cultivators.9 Among the adivasis, Paniyas form the single largest community in Kerala. They come to about 21.1per cent of the total adivasi population of the state.10 Nearly five per cent of the adivasis are ‘primitive tribes’.11

Among the adivasis, Paniyas form the single largest community in Kerala. They come to about 21.1per cent of the total adivasi population of the state.12 Recently, an amendment incurred in the SC list of Kerala, includes a few Other Eligible Communities (OEC) into the purview of ST facilitations.13

The table given below will indicate the share of tribal groups in total adivasi population of Kerala.14

Tribe %Share Tribe %Share
Paniya 22.50 Adiyan 2.94
Kurichia 8.99 Eravallan 1.07
Malai Arayan 8.88 Kattunayakan 4.04
Marati 7.64 Malai Vedan 1.70
Kuruma 7.19 Malayan 1.56
Irular etc. 6.59 Mannan 2.13
Kanikaran etc. 5.95 Ulladan 4.60
Muthuvan etc. 5.84 Uraly 3.05
Minor groups Tribes with
(<5% share in < 1% share in
the total) 26.42 the total 5.33
Total 100 Total 26.42

Table 2

Subsistance Patterns, Basic Resources and Poverty:

As is evident from the four fold categorisation of adivasis, the subsistence of the adivasis mainly revolve around land. As hunters and gatherers, agricultural labourers, shifting cultivators and settled cultivators the adivasis are very much depended on land for their subsistence. Thus land comes to the central stage, in the lives of adivasis. Their livelihood and the mode of earning livelihoods are inseparable from the land. The symbiotic relationship in between the livelihood patterns/ subsistence modes of adivasis and land is evident. In Kerala, adivasis are not only geographically concentrated, but are overwhelmingly rural.15 The rurality of adivasis force them to concentrate more on their traditional subsistence patterns concentrating more on basic resource, ie; land. The concentration of this rurality in the lives of the adivasis makes them more or less geo- concentrated or locai bound. The political, social and economic atmospheres centering on land in Kerala, deny them access to land resources (ie, their basic resource of subsistence) and autonomous control over territory – forest, forest fringes, wild life sanctuaries, water, local level institutions etc.16

The centrality of rurality in the lives of adivasis in Kerala going to an extent of locai boundedness makes them prey for denial of basic facilities extended by the state. Take for example, the literacy and educational prospects among the adivasis of Kerala. The statistics shows that Kerala ranks first among the Indian states with respect of both male and female literacy among STs in India. Among the adivasis 57.22% are literate.17 This is far better a figure when compared with the all India ratio. But, the extension of social justice is to be verified by taking into account the spreading of all basic social resources among all sections of society. The power of Kerala society is its peculiar patterning of human resources by providing/ extending/ facilitating them with special training through education. Thus the literacy and the education acquired thereon are important tool in Kerala society for grabbing social wealth and opportunities provided by the state. Literacy rate is merely the statistics showing the reading – writing ability. It, in no way is an indicator of the rate of educational power a society acquired. That too, when compared to the general literacy rate of Kerala state, which comes to 89.81%, is less.18 Certain adivasi communities as Muthuvar and Adiyan, have literacy rates of 24.25% and 36% respectively.19 All these show tha the literacy efforts for adivasis in Kerala have been lagging when compared it with the literacy level of general public of Kerala. When compared with the all India standards, the disparity rate between indigenous people and the rest in the field of literacy is unbelievably high. The all India disparity is 23.6 where as that of Kerala is 48.6 in 1991.20 This shows the attitude of Kerala society in sharing the social fruits among all the sections of society.

Among the literate tribes, the proportion who completed matriculation is high (12.5%) compared to those who completed technical education (0.8%), or graduation (1.2%). Those who opt for technical education is comparatively low among tribes in Kerala. The tribes which have a high literacy rate also report a high education level. Mala arayan has a literacy rate of 94.5% and shows high education level with 4.1 % graduates, 2.1 % technically educated and 24.4% matriculates. On the other hand, tribes like Muthuvan which report low rate of literacy has low education level with 0.1% graduates, 0.3% with technical education and 5.6% matriculates. Again the variation among the tribes in education achievement is large. For example, Kurichia and Kuruma have comparable literacy rates, both of whom largely resident in Wayanad but their educational levels differ: Kuruma with literacy rate of 76.6% has high education level having 0.8% graduates among literates whereas Kurichia with a literacy rate of 78.2% reports only 0.4% graduates among literates. Paniya and Irula also show similar contrasts.21

Thus an analysis of the capacity of adivasis to access their basic traditional resource ie; land and the basic resource provided by the state ie; education shows a pathetic state. They are alienated from both their traditional and modern state sponsored livelihood resources. This state of alienation is reflected in the poverty level at which adivasis are placed at.

The statistics shows the success of state policies in reducing the poverty rate. There is a remarkable reduction in poverty rate among all the sections in the Kerala State.22 But, rural poverty among adivasis in Kerala comes to more than two and a half times that of the rural population of Kerala in general.23 There is an over representation of adivasis in the BPL population of the state. One- fourth of the adivasis in Kerala still live below the official poverty line.

Exclusion from the excluded-Experience from Attappady

Attappadi, situated in Palakkad district of Kerala, is a tribal area with 41%24 of population belonging to tribes viz; Kurumba, Muduga and Irula. Among which Mudugas present exclusively in Attappady. As any other tribal areas attapady also is a underdeveloped area. The tribals were depended upon their traditional livelyhood practices like agriculture, collection of forest goods etc. They didn’t have other resouces for their income. Its only during the last decade there were developmental projects by governement and other non-governemental agencies. These developmental projects opened a new income for their livelyhood.

The developmental projects brought as an affirmative action for Adivasis and to better their lives caused a large influx of main land people to this place. As a result of the increased interaction between tribes and non-tribes there were many tribal..nontribalmarriages. Many situations aroused where tribal women were exploited and impregnated by non- tribal men. In this case the prevailing system is to fix the parentage by family courts if any proof the woman can produce. Or otherwise she has to complain any of the agencies like Women’s commission for establishing her children’s parentage. Almost all cases the deserted man will object the woman’s claim. So she has to get it established by the DNA test. But for this also she has to get the consent of the accused. Naturally he will not. So the woman or the commission or any other body has to get it through the court. It is not happening. Those children born to the tribal mother and a non-tribal father grew up as a tribal child in the hamlets of Attappady itself. As an affirmative action to bring the tribes to our main stream society Government provides reservations in schools and colleges. Also there are special recruitment for jobs in the case of scheduled tribe. But these children born to tribe- non-tribe parents are denied of accessing these. In light of the Supreme court verdicts on Shobha Himavathy And Punith Roy cases, Government of Kerala passed an order in 2006 which has been amended in 2008.

Shobha hyamavathy case25 was about the electoral reservation of Andhra Pradesh. In that shobhavathy born to an upper caste man but deserted by him. Even though she lived with her tribal mother and in tribal custom her candidature was not accepted by the Supreme Court. In Puneet Roy case26 from Bihar also happened the same thing. Subsequently

GOK issued an order related to the SC/ST reservation for education and employment27.

By this order these children born out of the tribal-non-tribal marriages are not entitled to get any benefit as scheduled tribes nor as a non-tribe. Following case studies points out to the problem aroused in such a situation.

      1. Case study of Anisha:- She is an intelligent girl who had completed her +2 science education and applied for MBBS under the scheduled tribe quota. She has submitted the relevant certificates along with the application. She had written the entrance examination. But she got a letter from the entrance commissioner that her has been referred to the office-KIRTHADS for verifying the genuiness of her caste certificate. As per their report, she is does not belongs to the scheduled tribal category since her father and mother’s father does not belong to the scheduled tribes. Her grand father belongs to Nair community and he came to Attappady along with the workers of a land lord. He lived with Anisha’s grand mother in her hamlet utilising whatever resources she has. He had never taken her grand mother to his place and none of his family members visited them. He lived in the hamlet. Anisha’s mother fall in love with Sajive, an ezhava man of nearby place. First they eloped but then returned to the hamlet. They also treated the tribal hamlet as their matrimonial home. The two men belongs to two different castes of Hindu religion had not done any attempt to continue their traditional rites to them and to their children. Their community organisations also insensitive towards this people.
      2. Case study of Lakshmi:- She is a Muduga women. A mason came for work found out Lakshmi who has been assisting him in his work. He gave three children to Lakshmi vanished from the place. Lakshmi knows only his name she does not know the caste, place and parentage of the man. Few years Lakshmi expected his return but it was in vein. And her name got added to the list of cheated mother. She is struggling hard to find bread for her children. It was difficult for her to send the children school so she wanted to keep her children in hostel. For this she needed the caste certificate. When she approached the Government office she was told to find out the caste of their father and also that her children will not get any benefits of scheduled tribe. In this case the caste of the father became an obstacle to the children to get the benefit as a scheduled tribe. And Lakshmi’s struggle to bring the children up is not getting acknowledged by the Government.


Adivasis themselves form an excluded group in our society. They are alienated from their natural abodes and livelihood systems and neither they are being part of the modern developments. But these judgments and G.Os causes another small group within this already deprived Adivasis who cannot even access the affirmative actions meant for Adivasis. In other way it is the violation of their human rights. This order grabs the right of the tribes to define themselves and entrust the main stream dominant non-tribes to judge the caste of Adivasis. Also these orders by the Kerala government also deny the right of mothers to raise their children in their own cast as well as it reasserts the system of caste and marriage and its patriarchal domination.


1 UN Dhebar commission Report, 28th April, 1960. http://ncst.nic/ writerdata/mainlinkfile/file415.pdf

2 UN Dhebar commission Report, 28th April, 1960. http://ncst.nic/ writerdata/mainlinkfile/file415.pdf

3 Kjosavic, Darley Jose, ‘Articulating Identities in the Struggle for Land’, in

At the Frontier of Land Issue, p.1.

4 idem.

5 Kerala Development Report (hereafter KDR), p.355.

6 idem.

7 Census Report 2001.

8 Census Report 2001.

9 KDR, p.356.

10 Census Report 2001.

11 KDR, p. 356.

12 Census Report 2001.

13 KDR, p.356.

14 Narayana, D., ‘Educational Deprivation of Scheduled Tribes in Kerala’,

Working Paper Series, CDS, Thiruvananthapuram.

15 KDR, p.356.

16 KDR, p.356.

17 KDR, p.356.

18 Chakrabarthy, G. and Ghosh, P. K., Human Development Profile of Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes in Rural India: A Benchmark Survey. New Delhi: NCAFR, 2002. p.47. Print.

19 KDR, p.356.

20 KDR, p.356.

21 Narayana, D., op.cit.,

22 KDR, p.356.

23 KDR, p.356.

24 Census 2001

25 Verdict by Hon. Supreme Court of India on Sobha Hymavathi Devi vs Setti Gangadhara Swamy & Ors on 28 January, 2005.

26 Verdict by Hon. Supreme Court of India on Punit Rai Vs Dinesh Chaudhary.

27 The Kerala (scheduled castes and scheduled tribes) regulation of issue of community certificates (amendment) bill, 2008.

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