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Tribals in fresh land-grab thrust

Sultan Bathery, April 23: The violent evacuation by the police two months ago of hundreds of tribals from the Muthanga elephant sanctuary has in no way diminished “the encroaching spirit” of the landless tribals of Kerala. The tribals of Wayanad district have again started regrouping and encroaching on government land.

There is a major difference this time in the pattern and method of occupying land. The “present movement” is spearheaded by adivasi front organisations of mainstream political parties, including the Congress and the Opposition CPM, unlike the Muthanga encroachment, which was led by the Adivasi Gothra Mahasabha (AGS), an independent organisation of tribals.

The most visible encroachment has taken place at the 110-hectare pepper and coffee plantation of the Kerala Forest Development Corporation at Cheeyambam. Around 260 tribal labourers have forcefully entered the premises and put up tents. Interestingly, most of them are members of the pro-Congress Intuc, who had no hesitation in joining hands with the CPI-led Aituc union at the estate in putting up a joint platform of agitation.

The “encroachers” are also unanimous in criticising the failure of the Congress-led UDF government in keeping its promise to divide and distribute the plantation among the permanent and casual tribal workers.

Curiously, the police and other law enforcement agencies that vociferously campaigned against the “violation of rules and laws” when the AGS occupied the Muthanga sanctuary have so far remained silent on the Cheeyambam encroachment.

The developments at Cheeyambam have proved an embarrassment for the Congress leadership in the district. In the midst of this new land-occupying initiative, AGS leader C.K. Janu, who was released from jail last week, is touring tribal colonies to regroup her followers.

Indications are that she has not had much success. The AGS, say local observers, remains splintered and is incapable of organising another struggle in the immediate future.

AGS strongholds like the Pulithukky, Theendoor, Panavally, Chaligaddha and Payyampally colonies are yet to respond positively to the call to engage in another round of battle for land. Mahasabha leaders from Idukki, Kottayam and Pathanamthitta districts have started visiting each colony, meeting the workers to apprise them of the need to continue the struggle.

Reports suggest that the Adivasi Kshema Samithy (AKS), the tribal wing of the CPM, has succeeded in winning over former AGS activists. The AKS is apparently planning new “movements” to occupy forest and government lands in at least four more centres.

There are also reports that taking a cue from the workers with the Cheeyambam plantation, tribal labourers of the Suganthagiri Cardamom Project, Pookode Dairy Project, Priyadarsini Tea Estate and the Cheengery Group Farming Centre are also planning to encroach into their respective estates.

Clearly, the tribal struggle in Kerala looks set to enter a new phase this summer.

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