Interview With Father Mani (2nd)

In his second interview, Father Mani discusses the various mafias which were active in Attappadi, the legal measures he took to control the land and liquor mafias in the region, the cultural values of the Adivasi community and the factors which led to the brutal exploitation of Adivasi communities, including the sexual exploitation of Adivasi women.

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This transcript is part of a group of transcripts.

Father Mani begins by discussing the 3 types of mafia exploiting the Adivasis, whom he fought against in Attapadi, within and outside the judicial system: those concerned the lands, liquor, and woods. While Attapadi did not experience the slave trade like many other Adivasi regions, they were victims to the land, liquor, and wood mafias. The liquor mafia was connected to Communist Party Leader Kumaran, who owned all 50 bars in the area. Adivasi men became addicted to alcohol and depleted their wages feeding their habit, leaving their families impoverished. The land mafia exploited the Adivasi’s lack of education to deceive them into giving up their lands at meagre or no price. The wood mafia illegally felled and sold sandalwood trees. Though the Naxalites were present in the area from the 1980s, and Mani was familiar with them, they did not have a strong presence in Attapadi.

    Of the 3 groups, Mani was most successful in combatting the liquor mafia, while he could not restrain illegal loggers much. His biggest success was against the liquor mafia, against whom he first filed cases to no avail; but later began protesting outside the bars. This caught the attention of the government by 1994, and restrictions on the opening of bars were more strictly enforced. Even so, the owner Kumaran was able to use his political clout to get officials to brush aside his illegal business in some areas, and Mani himself was physically attacked twice by the henchmen of the liquor mafia.

    The land mafia were largely Tamil settlers who deftly tricked Adivasis into parting with their lands at very low cost, by taking advantage of the natives’ lack of understanding about the value of their lands. He recalls one instance when a merchant deceived an Adivasi into believing that he owed a huge debt for his grocery purchases and illegally acquired his land as the collateral. Mani and his associates were able to wrest back the land for the victim in court. Another problem posed by the settler community was their sexual exploitation of Adivasi women; Adivasi elders themselves began running brothels. Mani also shares how his early attempts at seeking justice for Adivasi rape victim were thwarted by the political influence of the perpetrators. There was also the risk of the investigating police officers themselves exploiting the victims. Mani resorted to moving the victims to hospital in Tamil Nadu to avoid this problem, but it was not always an effective solution. On one occasion, he was able to have the perpetrator sentenced to 10 years in prison.

    Mani explains that a key reason for the Adivasi’s exploitation is their cultural values. Viewing themselves as part of the soil, they claim no personal ownership of the lands, easily giving them up to the mafia. They are also excessively trusting of all peoples, unaware that these outsiders were there to exploit them. This included Adivasi women, who did not understand that they had the right to resist and seek retribution for wealthy men’s inappropriate advances. However, Mani also notes optimistically that these abuses are reducing as Adivasi youth pursue their education and become more cognizant of efforts to harm their community. He shares how he was able to campaign, with the support of Adivasi youth, for the reopening of poorly-investigated Adivasi murder cases in 2003. 

    While he is confident that starvation has significantly reduced amongst the Adivasi community, and that all bars in the area have been closed, he notes that the sandalwood mafia continues to operate, and alcohol is still being illegally smuggled into Attapadi.

11 January 2020


Kunhi: My study is focused on the impact of various social movements in transforming the caste-based system of exploitation that existed in Kerala for centuries. I also want to understand the influence of various developments in international politics, especially those that happened in the Cold War context, in shaping the movements in India’s remote villages where lower caste communities like Adivasis largely settled. You are a person who led some very important movements in Attappadi. I want to know all about those movements. What was the social condition that demanded such movements? What were its outcome, in short term and long term periods?

Mani: My fight was mainly against three types of mafias, land mafia, liquor mafia and wood mafia. Most of them were a legal battle in courts. We won many cases in the court, and that helped to put an end to some kind of exploitation. They also won several cases. We couldn’t do much against the sandalwood mafia. The illegal felling of sandalwood continued. The liquor mafia was stealing not only people’s money but also their mental ability. The land mafia worked in numerous ways. Some people snatched Adivasi land by giving them a little amount of money, maybe 10 rupees or so. Some people gave them only liquor for land. In an incident, one guy snatched Adivasi land by giving salt. I filed a case against this guy and gained a positive verdict from the court. He returned the land. 

Kunhi: When did it happen?

Mani: The incident happened in the 1970s. I intervened in the case in 1980.

Kunhi: How did this incident evolve? What was the story behind this?

Mani: That guy was running a grocery shop in the area. Most of the Adivasis bought only things like salt from the market. One of them was buying salt from this guy’s shop regularly in credit. This man wrote down the number and after some time he started to blackmail the Adivasi customer. He prepared a fake account and told the Adivasi man that he owes him a lot of money. That ignorant man had no idea about money matters. He could not give the money the shop owner asked him. This guy then asked him to give his land. What does he know? He gave that to him.

Kunhi: How many cents were this land?

Mani: Not cents. It was two acres of land. They had no idea about the value of the land. They lived far away from the so-called exploitative civilization. Their concept is that they belonged to the land, and not the opposite. The land is not ours, we belonged to the land. Every living thing has a right over this land. No one creature can claim a monopoly. That is their concept. 

But our concept is different. For us, everything is ours, all those we encroached and all those we have stolen.  Their culture is completely different from ours. I have developed a theory about their value system. They live with the flow of nature. They are not interested in speed. The concept of speed is not there in their culture. Without understanding this, we call them lazy people. Another factor is that they live with motherly values. They consider the land and nature as their mother. There is no patriarchy in their culture. We can call their system an egalitarian system, no one is under anyone. They live in the present, not concerned about saving for the future. We blame them for this approach. For them, it is their value. They are cordial, not cruel. In the past, I used to visit all these hamlets. That was my job. I came here to work for the Adivasi community. I didn’t need any money for doing that. I had to walk a lot. When I approached their hamlets, they welcomed me very happily. I had no prior contact with them. No one was there to introduce me to them. They gave me a share of their food. They would put a washed lungi on the floor to make a place for me to sit. They had had no extra mat to share. They did not see anyone as their enemy. That was the factor that helped the many to exploit them. They welcomed all burglars and encroachers. It is not a defect of their culture, it is a goodness of their culture. 

Kunhi: How much is their population in Attappady?

Mani: At present, it is 32000. When I arrived here it was 22000 or something. 

Kunhi: Do you remember the name of that guy who stole land by giving salt?

Mani: No, he was a small scale merchant. But I remember the name of the one who gave the land. He was an old Mooppan, no longer alive. He got his land back at the end. In another context, I organized some Adivasi young men and forcefully took back a few acres of land stolen by another person. These people most of the time avoided a fight with me. They knew that I would go to any extreme to do what is needed to be done.

Kunhi: Who were these people encroaching or stealing land from Adivasis? Were they mainly Jenmis?

Mani: No. They were settlers, mostly Tamil migrant settlers. 

Kunhi: What about the Jenmis in the area?

Mani: Only very few Jenmis were here. One of them was Moopil Nair. He was a landlord of Samuthiri. They are based in Mannarkkad. The idea is that all these lands belonged to them. All others were rich settlers. People settled here by buying 1000 acres of land, or 100 acres of land.

Kunhi: Who were the ones who mostly exploited the Adivasi community? These settled communities? 

Mani: It was mostly Jenmis’ associates (Karyasthanmar). They used Adivasis for all kinds of works, without paying them any wage. They used Adivasis to steal forest products and ivory. But they had a friendly relationship. Adivasis generally gifted them a share of their crops. They visit Mannarkkad with gifts during the festival in Jenmi’s ancestral temple. On such occasions, Jenmi would arrange food and a place to stay for Adivasis. Similarly, Jenmis would send some gifts to Adivasis during the festival in the Malleshwaran temple, a festival of the Adivasi community. Therefore, we cannot say it was extreme exploitation. It was because of this relationship, Adivasis helped them to get products like ivories, sandalwood, frankincense, wild cardamom, pepper, honey etc. They didn’t expect any remuneration for this work. For them, that relationship was very important. This kind of relationship between Jenmis and lower castes was common in Travancore. It was a master-slave relationship. But it was not an extreme type of exploitation. 

Kunhi: So, we can say that the Jenmi-Adivasi relationship in Attapdi was different from what we had seen in areas like Wayanad. Is that correct?

Mani: In my knowledge, it was not that type. What happened in Wayanad was the proper slave trade. That thing didn’t happen in Attappadi. 

Kunhi: Did Adivasis need to give any tax to Jenmis for the land they use?

Mani: There was no money tax. But the crop they gift to Jenmi after every cultivation was technically a tax only. 

Kunhi: When did the liquor mafia begin to be active in Attappadi?

Mani: They were here when I came to settle. But the problem became severe in the later years. They opened about 50 arrack bars and toddy bars in Attappadi, for 22000 Adivasis and about 30000 migrant settlers. The owner of all these establishments was a communist leader. His name was Kumaran. He was an MLA of the Communist Party of India, from Mannarkkad Assembly Constituency in the 1982-87 period. I think he is still alive, must be very old.

Kunhi: Was he Jenmi?

Mani: Yes, he was. He had bars in other places also. But most of his bars were in the Attappadi area. He was the owner of all the 50 bars. 

Kunhi: What was the need for that many bars for a small population? 

Mani: He was an influential person. The government allowed him open bars everywhere he want. It was the problem I noticed first when I came to settle here. In those days, if you walk a kilometre, you could find at least four drunk men sleeping on the roadside. Because of the drinking habits of men, quarrels were regular in most of the families.

Kunhi: Did they have that much money to drink every day?

Mani: They were mostly daily wage workers. They spend all their money in liquor shops. Their family struggled with poverty. Kids had no books to go to school. Women and children were largely unhealthy because of malnutrition. The death rate was higher. Infant mortality was higher. Most of the Adivasi kids were not attending schools. 

Kunhi: All these problems led to your anti-bars campaign. Right?

Mani: Bars were the main reason for all these issues. The problem came to the attention of the government by the 1993-94 period. In 1994, both the central government and the state government had issued orders related to running bars and liquor shops near tribal hamlets. The state government order directed that there should be at least a 400-meter distance between bars/liquor shops and schools, colleges, cemeteries, places of worship and Adivasi hamlets. The government included Adivasi hamlets in the list by knowing about the situation in Attappadi. But the local government did not take any action as per the order. The centre government order also directed to control the sale of alcohol in the Adivasi area. I got copies of both the orders when I started picketing bars in 1994. All the bars in the area were either close to schools or Adivasi hamlets. 

Kunhi: Did you try any legal approach before the picketing?

Mani: I filed a police complaint. They did not take any action. In that context, we started picketing in 10 places, in front of bars. Once we started picketing, people joined us without any effort. Every family, both Adivasis and non-Adivasis, was struggling because of these bars. Men, women, children, all joined us and it became a major movement.

An important thing to note here was that the church did not give any support to this movement. I was a Catholic priest. It was a movement organized by a Catholic priest. Yet they did not give any importance to it. Although the church did not give any open support, many Christians came to join the movement.

A few days after we started picketing, the district collector called us for a talk. He invited representatives of the protest and local leaders. They expected that only a few of us would go there as representatives of the protest and they could easily silence us in the meeting. But we took at least 5 representatives from every picketing unit. We decided that if they make any issue, we would say we are representatives of different protests. Thus, in two buses, about 90 of us went to the meeting as representatives of the protests. They were about 200 people, including representatives from all political parties. In that meeting, the collector declared that all bars in Attappadi should strictly follow the government directions of distance rule for operating bars by 15 August 1994. Those bars which violate the distance rules should either be closed down or shifted to a different location. 

Kunhi: How many of them closed down after this order?

Mani: Almost all of them. Some of them shifted to different places. It was a major setback for them.

Kunhi: Did Kumaran, the owner, get the support of the church?

Mani: We cannot be certain about that. It was largely indifferent. He was the boss of all goons in this region. 

Kunhi: What was the reason for the indifference of the church?

Mani: Most of the members in the parish were drinkers. More than that both the Congress party and the communist party were against our movement. Alcohol was a major source of income for several people in the mainstream. 

Kunhi: Did they close or shift the bars with just a single order of the district collector?

Mani: No. Following the order, officials came to measure the distance between bars and the places mentioned in the list. Influencing the officials, some of the bars continued functioning, arguing that they are outside the boundary of the required distance. In this context, we restarted the protest, demanding remeasurement of the distance. Following this, RDO and a team came to remeasure the distance. While this was in progress, the goons of the bar owner attacked me from two different places. The RDO was the main witness to their violence on me both times. He is an officer with the authority to give firing orders. I filed cases against goons who attacked these two times. There was one more incident of violence against me during this time. It happened while I was organizing a march. I legally dealt with those goons. Some of the mainstream national newspapers reported the attack on me. The Indian Express published the report on its front page. I’m a member of PUCL (People’s Union for Civil Liberties), therefore it became a matter of discussion in their venues. It became major news at least at the state level. Essentially, their attack helped us to get more supporters. 

We printed hundreds of copies of both the government order and distributed them widely. This time, based on the central Welfare Ministry’s order, we demanded that all bars in Attappadi must be closed down permanently, as it is a tribal block area. We send mass petitions to the central government, to the Welfare Minister and President of India, K R Narayanan. I believe the president’s office seriously considered our petition. In March 1995, the government issued its annual Abkari policy statement of the year. The statement included the gazette notification and order on abolishing operations of all bars in Attappadi. The tribal Mooppan who was the president of the movement and I received separate letters from the government, from the office of the President and also from the chief secretary of the state. When this happened, the church came to take the credit for the movement. They organised a felicitation meeting to honour me, by inviting Bishops from other parts of the state.

Kunhi: Last time you mentioned a link between the liquor mafia and the sexual exploitation of Adivasi women. Can you elaborate on that?

Mani: There was no legal issue if you abuse Adivasi women. These ignorant women believed they have no right to resist the settlers and other bosses. They believed that they are responsible to do whatever these men want. 

Kunhi: Was it mainly migrant settlers who exploited Adivasi women?

Mani: Yes. Adivasis were free beings. They were not the type of people who exploit women. They had the freedom to live with the people they like. No one controlled their romantic relationship. If the girl gets pregnant, the boy would marry her. If he didn’t do so, they will call a village meeting and make him marry her. They were not like mainstream society. Sex was not a restricted practice in their social system. In mainstream society, we have hundreds of social rules, religious rules, caste rules, and other kinds of rules. These rules control free interaction between men and women. In the mainstream, everything between a girl and a boy is a problem. They cannot walk together, they cannot work together, and they cannot live together. When migrants arrived here, they saw a different situation here. The settler men realised that they can easily use and abuse Adivasi women. There was another side too for this issue. The settler men are different from Adivasi men, better dressed and better looking. Adivasi women were to some extend attracted to this difference in the settler men. 

As the situation evolved, many Adivasi elders became pimps. The settler men gifted them cash and arrack as remuneration for allowing their freedom with Adivasi women. Some of the hamlets like Pattimalam began to operate as a brothel. Nobody can enter hamlets freely without the permission of Mooppan. The settler men took this permission with money and arracks. Money became so important for Adivasi men since they turned into habitual drinkers. I knew several Mooppans who were acting as pimps. No one in the hamlet work against the decision of the Mooppan.

Before I came here, no one filed a case against those who rape Adivasi girls. I filed the first rape case in 1978. I prepared the petition and asked the girl to put her signature. With this, I filed a case at the police station. It was against two or three people in our parish. Someone from the hamlet told me about the incident as I had a good relationship with them. On normal days, they would not have shared such issues with anyone else. After that, I called the girl and her father to my place, clarified the matter, and asked her to sign the petition. I convinced them that it is a criminal case and we should report the incident to the police. I filed the case at Agali Police Station.

When I filed the case, many from the parish came to question me. I told them to be good human beings in the first place. They went to the police station with several political leaders, from both left and right parties. Police had no courage to challenge them. Therefore, they did not take any action on the complaint. In this context, I contacted the superintendent of police (SP). The SP of Palakkad was a Christian man from Chengannur, named George. I met him with the copies of the petition that I filed and explained to him about the police inaction in the issue. He promised me that he will intervene in the matter. He called the Agali police station and asked them to produce both the parties in the SP office. 

In this context, these accused and political leaders met the victim and forced her to withdraw from the case. They taught the girl to say to the SP that she signed the petition because of the Swamy in the church and she has no such complaints. The SP called me to inform the situation when they met him with these lines of reply. I told him that I expected such a turn in the issue. Thus, the case did not have any development. Though the first attempt failed, the effort became the beginning of a change. These men realised that there is someone to question them in such matters. The women realised that they are allowed to report these kinds of issues. 

The second rape case I filed was for a Dalit girl. It was in 1983, I think. She was a schoolgirl, studying in 8th standard or so.  The issue was that three or four Muslim boys raped the girl on her way back from school. By that time, the situation began to change a little. We had a new energetic Sub Inspector, Muniraja, in Agali police station. Since I was active in social issues, I tried to keep in contact with important people, including the police officials. So when this rape incident happened, I called the SI and informed situation. He arrested all these accused on the same day. It became a major case in Attappadi. There was a proper investigation, questioning, and arrests. But in the end, when the case reached the court for trial the situation changed. The accused influenced all the witnesses and made it difficult to prove the crime. The court dropped charges and dismissed the case. But they got enough punishment from the police during the process. Even today these people keep that rage in their eyes when they see me. They still live here.

As it happened in the first case, they tried to influence the girl when the investigation was in progress. They tried to make a compromise settlement from the police station. But I managed to foresee their move this time. I took the girl in a private vehicle to Coimbatur and admitted her to a hospital. They couldn’t get her to the police station for a compromise settlement. 

Kunhi: Wasn’t a friend of you, Muniraja, who was in charge of the police station?

Mani: Yes, it was him. But he can’t do anything when all political leaders put pressure on him. I think, it was an officer above his rank, the Circle Inspector, who dealt with the case during that time. They came to know that I was the one who shifted the girl to Coimbatore. But they didn’t call me for questioning. They knew I have public support. 

A similar case happened later in 1987. This time we managed to get a 10-year prison term for the rapist. It was an Adivasi girl who was studying in the 10th standard in school. It happened during a vacation period after her 10th standard exam. The accused was a son of a worker in a bar near her hamlet. She didn’t report the incident when it happened. People came to know about it after six months or so. It was revealed when she was taken to a private hospital with a problem in her stomach. She was six or seven months pregnant. Following this, we filed a case against the guy. 

Similar to the previous incident, they tried to influence the girl. This time we took the girl to Palakkad and admitted her to the district hospital. But they managed to find the girl this time. They smuggled her to somewhere else. I was informed that the girl is not in the hospital. We searched for her everywhere for four or five days. Then I came to know that the girl is in a remote village a few kilometres away from their place. I went there with my team and took her back to her house. The case proceeded in its way, without any successful intervention. And, in the end, the court punished the accused with 10 years prison term. She gave birth to a baby.

Kunhi: What happened to the girl, then?

Mani: I think she married someone else. They shifted to somewhere else after all the humiliation.

Kunhi: What was the case which transformed the nature of Pattimaalam completely?

Mani: We can’t say it transformed completely even now. Some of the women in hamlet even today remain in the same field. But the situation improved greatly. It happened through the process of several cases. Moreover, the living environment also transformed. Children began to go to school. Many Adivasi youth organizations became active. Some of them are emerged because of my effort. In addition to that, the government began to implement several welfare schemes for the Adivasi community. When many cases happened, the government officials began to give attention to Adivasi issues. I filed cases against some of the officials, by questioning their attitude towards Adivasi issues. Following such incidents, they appointed tribal promoters in every hamlet. In this way, some Adivasi youngsters got a job. I used to do follow up with these tribal promoters. The change in the law also helped to reduce the sexual exploitation of Adivasi women. Now we have a strict law, the accused in sexual abuse of Adivasi women can’t even get bail.

Kunhi: You talked about other mafias. What were their activities? How does it affect Adivasi life? 

Mani: Several murders happened here. Mafias killed many Adivasis and lower castes who worked for them. Some Adivasis committed suicide because of fear. There was no evidence against mafias. But we filed many cases against people involved in sandalwood smuggling, log smuggling, production of locally distilled liquor etc. There were many Adivasis and lower caste people who were working for these kinds of mafias. When they had any issues with them, these mafias brutally punished or killed these workers. There was a sex mafia too. They smuggled girls to outside places, to Coimbatore, Eranaklum like cities. They take these girls by taking consent, promising job, money etc. We addressed a few cases related to such issues.

In 2003 we did a protest by collecting details of 19 murders of Adivasi workers. I collected details with the help of tribal youth organizations. We camped for 54 days in front of the Agali police station with this protest. It was major news. All these murders happened within a period of four or five years. There were no proper investigations. Our demand was reinvestigation in all these murder cases. 

Then Chief Minister of Kerala was A K Antony. He called us to Trivandrum for a settlement meeting. The then-President of India, APJ Abdul Kalam, was coming to visit Attappadi on one of those days. The CM wanted to end the protest before the visit of the president. That’s why he called us for the meeting. There is a special mobile squad in every district in Kerala to deal with the atrocities act. In the meeting, CM promised that the squad in the Palakkad district which was based in Palakkad will be shifted to Attappadi. The unit works under a DYSP (Deputy Superintendent of Police). He also promised that they will reopen five of the 19 cases immediately and there will be a study on the merits and demerits of the rest of the cases, and after that, if required, they will reopen the investigation.

Kunhi: What about the land mafia?

Mani: A large share of migrant settlers in the area are in one way or other involved with the land mafia. They all took or tried to take Adivasi land illegally. But there are some important issues and important names. One of the issues is related to a project started with the support of Japanese aid. It was an eco-restoration and tribal empowerment project organized with AHADS (Attappady Hill Area Development Society). It is a recent project though, started in 1995. Many clever people were working on that project, acting as they are doing a great service to nature and society. They started associating with a wind energy company called Suzlon. One among them cleverly used the opportunity. He had a good relationship with Adivasis because of his involvement with AHADS. He used that contact to get more than a hundred acres of Adivasi land for a very meagre sum of money. For some of those land, he even prepared fake documents. He paid Adivasis only 1000 to 5000 rupees per acre of land. He handed over all these lands to Suzlon for 20 to 50 lakh rupees per acre. You can calculate his profit. His name was Binu S Nair. He is a very rich person now. He is settled in Palakkad town. His father was my classmate when I was studying at Ettumanur school.

Kunhi: What about the land-related issues in the past?

Mani: These kinds of the organized land mafia was not there in the past. But the cases of encroachment was plenty. People easily fooled them, sometimes by giving them some money and sometimes even without that. After 1975, with the law prohibiting the transfer of Adivasi land to non-Adivasis, such land deals began to be an issue. We filed several cases. It was TLAC (Tribal Land Acquisition Cases) cases. Once, when RDO came here to enforce the law, the mafia attacked the government officials. They used imported prostitutes to attack the officials. My point is that they were clever. These kinds of issues happened in the 1980s.

Kunhi: What was the role of Naxalites in this area?

Mani: We can say Naxalites were here since the 1980s. But they were not strong and they did not do any important intervention here. Some police officials believed that I’m one of the Naxalites. They even submitted reports against me. Because most of the Naxalites were people I know. After the 1990s, the Maoist group began to be active. They are still here, only a few. Recently police killed one of them. It was a cold-blooded murder. They were not attacking the police. I visited the site with an advocate and submitted my report to the national human rights commission. It happened three months back.

Kunhi: What is the reason for such a groups presence here?

Mani: This is an area with several issues. Adivasis would welcome anyone. They don’t consider whether they belonged to the Naxalite group or any other group. They don’t know the seriousness of such issues. 

Kunhi: Someone told me that starvation is a major problem within the Adivasi community in Attappadi. What is the reason for that?

Mani: Starvation has declined significantly over the years. There must be some exceptional cases. Even that is very less likely because the government provide free ration to everyone. There is an initiative to distribute the free ration in their hamlets. There is indeed a problem of nutritional deficiency. But I don’t think starvation is an issue now. The nutritional deficiency became a problem with the disappearance of their traditional agriculture. Now they buy everything from the market and even eat junk food. They don’t let anyone in their hamlet starve. They will share food. That is their tradition. I don’t think there is a problem of starvation in Attappadi.

Kunhi: C K Janu told me that starvation and starvation deaths continue to happen within the Adivasi community in the Attappady area. 

Mani: That must be a false statement. Because ration stores are very active here now. Most of the people get the benefit of MGNREGA (Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act). It is called guaranteed wage labour (Thozhilurapp pani). They don’t even have to do any work for that. We jokingly call it, a job of sitting in a shade (Thanaliripp Pani). They get 200 rupees a day for this job.

One important incident happened last year, in Pudur panchayat. There is a Kurumba village called Moolakkomb. The Mooppan of this hamlet had to amputate his lower limb due to worsening of diabetes. With this he became bedridden. He has two boys. They both studied till the 10th standard or so. But they were kind of drunkards with no jobs. His eldest daughter has two kids. However, her husband left her, leaving her the burden of two children. She was also staying in the same. Their mother, Mooppan’s wife, is also bedridden. In this situation, this family was starving most of the time. Once I was visiting that area. I knew that Mooppan. When I visited their hamlet, I asked about Mooppan. One of them told me that he no longer lives there. He told me that Moopan lives somewhere on the lower side of the hill. He did not say anything about Mooppan’s situation. I went to visit him there and found out that they are in really bad condition. I contacted a panchayat staff in my contact. I told him they are in a difficult condition. They may commit suicide if we don’t do anything soon. He said he will take care of it. I think he discussed the matter with some others. But no major actions were taken. 12 days after I called him, I saw a news report about Mooppan’s suicide. We could say it was a starvation death. But we cannot ignore other issues involved in this. These kinds of inaction from responsible officials continue to happen. 

Some very remote hamlets are here in Attappadi. No vehicle can go to those hamlets. Similar incidents could happen in these remote villages if the appointed promoters ignore such issues. We have a tribal speciality hospital here. It is one of the best functioning hospitals in Kerala. A good doctor is here. If he comes to know any such issues, he will send people to hamlets to take of them. Apart from appointed promoters belonging to the same hamlets, there are several promoters of projects like ICDS (Integrated Child Development Service). 

Kunhi: Can you tell me about the current state of the alcohol problem?

Mani: It is not severe as in the past. There is no bar in Attappadi now. But smuggled liquor continues to arrive here. Production and sale of alcohol are prohibited in this area. Two excise offices are here to look after the situation. However, such control did not stop the availability of alcohol completely. As the government official get their share of money from the sellers, the control measures often become ineffective. There are some illegal sellers. You can contact them by a call, they bring it to your doorstep. The price must be a little higher. If the officials decide, they could easily prevent these kinds of things. But they will not do so. 

Kunhi: Last time you mentioned a police officer who was sexually exploiting Adivasi women. Can you recollect his name?

Mani: There were many such police officers. One forest officer was here. An Adivasi girl was living with him. She is still here with a son. But he left them. 

Didn’t I mention that I smuggled a rape victim to Coimbatore? One of the reasons for doing that was the police officers’ approach towards Adivasis girls only. I was afraid that the police officials will exploit the girl. 

As it was a free system, everyone exploited it maximum. For police officials, it was easier. That situation is changed now. No such issue came to public attention in the recent past. 

Kunhi: What is the status of the sandalwood mafia now?

Mani: They are relatively silent now. Most of the old members are now well-known businessmen in Mannarkkad. 

Interviewer: Kunhi

Interviewee: Father Mani

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Transcript Notes


  1. In light of Mani’s testimony, to what extent was rural India’s Cold War shaped by ideology? 

  2. Is India’s Cold War best understood as an extension of international conflict, or as a local conflict?

  3. What were the key drivers of Kerala’s Cold War conflicts?

  4. How did Adivasi culture shape their lived experiences during the Cold War era?