Madhvi (pseudonym) discusses the problems faced by Adivasi women in the Attapadi region.
Madhvi highlights the various problems faced by Adivasi women in her community, beginning with the issue of male alcoholism. Men may often prioritize feeding their addiction over providing for their families. While her locality in Attapadi is technically an alcohol-free zone, alcohol is still smuggled in on-demand by agents, whom Madhvi believes are working with corrupt police. She feels that the situation could be easily controlled with police action, but regrets that no such action has been taken. Further, she explains that most Adivasi men do not have permanent jobs and work as daily wage laborers. Madhvi’s own husband is one such laborer, and she shares that his alcoholism is not as severe as other men in the community.
In addition, she also finds that Adivasi women tend to be deceived by non-Adivasi men into false promises of marriage, becoming unwed mothers. There is also the added complication that most victims do not report their sexual exploitation, leading to cases even amongst students. While she notes that most girls attend school up to tenth grade, as she herself did, very few proceed to university, losing interest in education. She is also aware of cases of Adivasi women being trafficked to cities.
Madhvi suggests that the two most major problems affecting the Adivasi community are malnutrition (as opposed to abject starvation, confined to remote hamlets), and the loss of land to cultivate crops on, leading to financial strain on Adivasi families. While her family still retains some land to grow vegetables, many do not. In response to these issues, many state and grassroots programs have risen to address the economic challenges faced by Adivasi women. Children and breastfeeding mothers are given healthy meals at community childcare centers in the village, and self help groups engage women in growing local organic produce and cattle products for sale. In closing, Madhvi mentions that her community is largely distanced from the Naxalite movement, who may only be operating in remote hamlets
11 January 2020
Madhvi (name changed) is a native of Attappadi village in the Palakkad district of Kerala. The interviewer met her at her house in Attappadi. In this interview, she talks mainly about the problem of Adivasi women in the region.
Kunhi: I’m a researcher, studying various issues that affect Adivasi communities in this region. I will not publish your name or details anywhere. Would you mind answering some of my questions?
Madhvi: What is it about?
Kunhi: This is an academic study. It will not become a problem for you.
Kunhi: Where did you do your studies?
Madhvi: Here, Tribal High School.
Kunhi: You completed your school studies. Isn’t it? Did you go for higher studies?
Madhvi: No. I studied till the 10th standard only.
Kunhi: Do you have any job?
Madhvi: I work in a pre-school.
Kunhi: What about the other women in the hamlet? Do any of them have a permanent job?
Madhvi: Some of them have a permanent jobs. Others are daily wage workers. They would go to work if anyone call them. Sometimes they get thozhilurapp (government of India’s rural employment scheme) works too.
Kunhi: How’s the job situation nowadays? Do they get invites regularly?
Madhvi: Sometimes they get many invites. Sometimes, nothing.
Kunhi: What about men in the hamlet? Do any of them have a permanent job?
Madhvi: Only very few of them. Most of them are daily wage workers only.
Kunhi: How’s the drinking problem of men nowadays? Do they still find a way to get the alcohol?
Madhvi: Even though it is an alcohol-free area, you would get alcohol here anytime you want. There are several agents. They would deliver bottles whenever you want and wherever you want. Locally prepared vodka is also available. Liquor from the other side of the border, from Tamil Nadu, is also accessible to them. Men drink all the time. Some of them spend all their money on alcohol.
Kunhi: Is the police not concerned about such issues?
Madhvi: I don’t think so. I think it is an arrangement working with the permission of the police. If they are interested they could control such problems very easily. They could at least control its flow through the border. They must be getting commission from the agents. Otherwise, they will not allow it. Isn't it?
Kunhi: Indeed. Can I ask some personal questions? Are you married?
Kunhi: Do you have any children?
Madhvi: Two girls.
Kunhi: What is your husband doing?
Madhvi: He is a daily wage worker.
Kunhi: Does he has a drinking problem?
Madhvi: Sometimes. Not always.
Kunhi: I hope the alcohol does not affect the peace in your family. How many children are there in your pre-school?
Madhvi: Now 13 children.
Kunhi: Can you tell me about the government’s food scheme distributed through Anganavadis (pre-school)?
Madhvi: Integrated Child Development’s Scheme’s food is distributed through Anganavadis to children below 6 years, pregnant women and breastfeeding mothers. The children would get mid-day meals and other snacks. There will be some special items like payasam a couple of days a week. The food for pregnant women and breastfeeding mothers are delivered to their home.
Kunhi: Because of the nature of your work, you must be very well-informed about the condition of women and children in your area. Can you tell me what are the major problems of women in this village?
Madhvi: There are several problems. Most importantly, they don’t have a meaningful income. The daily wage workers get very minimum wage and most of the days they don’t have work. Many families don’t have enough land to cultivate. Because of financial problems, they face several other issues. Now we have some neighbourhood groups. They, to an extent, help to address these issues.
Another major problem in the area is that we have several unwed mothers. It happens because of the cheating of men. Adivasi girls easily get trapped in men’s promises and end up being unwed mothers. It happens mainly because of non-Adivasi men. They exploit the ignorance of Adivasi women.
When it comes to family alcohol addiction of men is a major problem. Because of alcoholism, many families suffer very badly. As men spend all their income on drinks, women struggle with debts. There were many attempts to manage the alcohol problem. Platforms like Thai Kula Sangham tried to address this problem. But several families continue to suffer because of the alcohol consumption of men.
Kunhi: I read somewhere that there are some agents who export Adivasi women to cities. Is that true?
Madhvi: Such cases were reported.
Kunhi: What is the major activity of neighbourhood groups?
Madhvi: They do several things. For example, they sell organic vegetables cultivated here. They sell forest products, like honey. They are engaged in activities like rearing goats and cows.
Kunhi: I heard about various incidents of sexual exploitation of Adivasi women. How severe is that problem?
Madhvi: That is because we have so many unwed mothers. Most of the women do not report these kinds of issues. It becomes an issue only when they get pregnant. There are cases of even school going girls getting pregnant.
Kunhi: Do you know anything about the level of dropout of Adivasi girls from school?
Madhvi: Most of the girls study till 10th standard nowadays.
Kunhi: Those who are going to study in college must be very low. Isn’t it?
Madhvi: Yes. After the tenth or twelfth standard in school, most of them lose their interest in studies. Some of them become unable to continue their study because of family-related problems or some other issues.
Kunhi: You mentioned that lack of land is a reason for the financial problem in some families. Do you have any land to do cultivation?
Madhvi: We have some, about 1 acre.
Kunhi: Do you have any cultivation?
Madhvi: Yes, we cultivate vegetables.
Kunhi: Ok. Do you know anything about the Naxalite problems in Attappadi?
Madhvi: That happened in the past. Nowadays we have no such problem.
Kunhi: Some incidents happened recently. A couple of months back police killed three Maoists near Attappady.
Madhvi: I also heard about that. But I don’t know the details. It must have happened in remote hamlets. There are some hamlets deep inside the forests. I think Naxalites are not active in this area.
Kunhi: Do you think starvation is still a problem in this area?
Madhvi: No. Malnutrition is a major problem. That is why government distribute nutritious food to pregnant women and breastfeeding mothers through Anganavadis.
Kunhi: Some people argue that starvation deaths still happening in Attappadi. Do you have any idea about that?
Madhvi: Not anywhere that I know. Maybe in the remote hamlets. I don’t know about that.
Kunhi: Ok. Thank you so much.
Adivasi is a broad term referring to any aboriginal peoples of India, in this case Kerala.
Discuss the various social and institutional factors that have continued to perpetuate the challenges faced by Adivasi women that Madhvi discusses.