Nearly sixty years after they were displaced from Ponnambalamedu -a hill near the Sabarimala shrine in the Pathanamthitta district of Kerala, the Mala Arayan community has now sought legal help to restore their rights to light the ‘Makaravilakku’.
Mala Arayans are one among the 35 tribes identified by the Government of Kerala. Traditionally, it was the tribal community of Mala Arayans -historically said to be close aids of Lord Ayyappa- that used to light the sacred lamp ‘Makara Vilakku’ every year.
After the Travancore Devaswom Board took over the administration from the royal family, the tribal community was displaced. Subsequently, the Kerala State Electricity Board (KSEB) has been lighting the Makara Vilakku for over half a century.
Sixty years after they lost their traditional right to light the lamp, and five years after a failed agitation, the Arayans have approached the Kerala State Commission for Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes for reinstatement of what was once theirs.
The Akhila Travancore Mala Arayan Mahasabha and the Mala Arayasamyukta Samiti, with the backing of social activist Rahul Easwar and Poonjar MLA PC George petitioned the SC/ST commission on September 22 in this regard.
The Commission Chairman PN Vijayakumar told The News Minute that the case has been set for hearing on October 25, and that notices have been sent to various parties involved in the case.
“Notices have been sent to the Travancore Devaswom Board president, heir of the Travancore Royal family -Gowri Lakshmi Bai, heir of the Pandalam Royal family, the Sabarimala tantric and the Devaswom secretary. The petitioners have also submitted historical evidence to prove that the tribal community was indeed the right inheritors of the hill,” Vijayakumar says.
Social activist Rahul Easwar said that they had decided to seek legal resort after an agitation five years ago to reclaim the tribe’s rights did not bear the desired results.
“This time, we have resorted to legal means so as to enable them to light the Makara Vilakku in January 2017. There are records from the British era that states that Mala Arayans were the dominant community in the area in the 1800s, and that they have been lighting the Makara Vilakku for almost 850 years. The electrification of Ponnambalamedu that came about in the late 1940s and early 50s resulted in the displacement of the community. The fight for their rights somehow got overshadowed with the passage of time,” Rahul shares.
Rahul is however cautious not to explicitly name anybody as responsible for the community's displacement.
"Our only focus is to ensure they get what is due to them. As of now, there is a broad consensus among the masses in their favour. At this point, instead of holding anyone responsible for their displacement, we must just focus on restoring their rights. It is simply an unfortunate turn of events that has resulted in their present situation," Rahul opines.