FOR the first time in the history of Tamil Nadu, tribes of Kadar community have legally reclaimed their ancestral land in Anamalai Tiger Sanctuary in Coimbatore district. The three-year struggle of the tribes has borne fruit with the intervention of CPI(M).
In 2019, the houses of 23 Kadar families living in Kallaar were razed to the ground. Though there were no casualties in the accident, they lost their livelihoods and shelter and have been petitioning the district administration for an alternative location.
The forest department refused to allot them the land as it is within the dense forest. It was willing to provide land which was abandoned by the Tamilnadu Tea Board and was barren. The tribals, however demanded land in the Theppakkulamedu, in the Annamalai Tiger Sanctuary where their ancestors lived.
The Forest Rights Bill recognising the rights of the tribal people and other forest-dependent communities was tabled in the parliament on December 13, 2005. Polit Bureau member of CPI(M), Brinda Karat and tribal leader and member of parliament Bajuban Reang worked wholeheartedly to transform the bill into a law that ensured complete recognition of the rights of the tribal people. The law was passed on December 15, 2006, despite many attempts by the United Progressive Alliance government to delay the enactment of the law. It was the Left parties that urged the prime minister to enact the law immediately following which the rules of the Forest Rights Act (FRA) were formulated and came into force from January 1, 2008.
The FRA stipulates that while legally recognising the rights traditionally enjoyed by the people, the basic tenets of the law recognised living rights of the people in forest land, agriculture, grazing, collecting and using minor forest produce, excluding hunting and other non specified rights.
However, since Annamalai is a tiger sanctuary, new settlements could not be allowed and the approval of Delhi sanctuary officials was required for the same. Meanwhile, the revenue department officials have been urging the tribals to choose an alternative location.
Given the situation, the Kadar tribes have chosen the path of protests from October 2 onwards. On October 4, about 100 people on behalf of Tamil Nadu Tribals Association (TNTA) extended their solidarity and joined the protests. The TNTA also settled the tribals in their native place of Theppakkulamedu and explained to them that they have the right to the land according to law.
The TNTA activists have had to brave the thick forest region full of wild animals and by the end of their journey, they had leeches sucking blood off their legs. The forest officials argued that life is hard in the forest and that is why they urged the tribals to live elsewhere and that they were willing to build houses for them there. However, the TNTA argued that the tribals are used to living in the forest and love the habitat with all its merits and demerits. They also warned officials that shifting them to unknown places could cost them their lives. “The tongue sits in between 32 teeth that bite. Will you grab the tongue and put it somewhere else because the teeth bite from time to time? It is the same with the tribals. They are habituated to live in the forest,” the TNTA activists argued and the officials yielded.
Chapter II of FRA states that the tribal people who lived in the forests before December 13, 2005 or are people who originally lived in the mountains have the right to seek rehabilitation in the former place of residence, if they have been illegally evicted or relocated from the hills without provision for legal rehabilitation.
It is on this basis that the tribals have now applied for pattas for their housing site. During the talks on October 4, when the TNTA insisted on issuing pattas citing the above rights, the officials of the revenue department, forest department and tiger sanctuary authorities agreed for the same.
However, they were delaying things on the grounds that permission from Delhi should be obtained before issuing pattas and that they would not get their ancestral places without the permissions.
CPI(M) Coimbatore MP, P R Natarajan took the representatives of the Kadar ethnic groups to the district collector and asked them to take immediate action. The collector responded positively and resolved the long pending issue.
The steadfast struggles of the Kadar tribal people, TNTA, Ekta Parishad and the intervention of the MP have brought fruitful results. The reason for the great joy on the faces of all the Kadar tribe is that they are no longer the ‘invaders’ of the forest and have the right to live legally under the protection given by the FRA.
The victory of the tribals of Annamalai is a result of the uncompromising struggles of The Red flag movement to protect the rights of tribal people. “We were rejoiced to see such joy and excitement on the faces of the people on November 7, which is the victory day of the Russian revolution that changed the world,” said the TNTA.