Ground report: Why over 3,000 Adivasis in Kodagu vow to never go back to coffee estates

They have been protesting for nearly a month after their hutments were razed to the ground.
Ground report: Why over 3,000 Adivasis in Kodagu vow to never go back to coffee estates
Ground report: Why over 3,000 Adivasis in Kodagu vow to never go back to coffee estates
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In a remote part of the Kodagu forest area are around 3,000 Adivasis, who have stood in protest for 22 continuous days, demanding that the government provide them with land. This after their hutments were razed to the ground in the wee hours of December 7.

The trouble began when they chose to move out of coffee estates, where they worked, so as to live more freely. They allege that the owners of these estates colluded with the police to bring down their homes near the coffee plantations.

After days of protesting, authorities were driven to respond by announcing temporary relief on Wednesday. This included temporary housing, drinking water, food and toilets to the tribals.

However, the ground reality is quite the contrary.

They, however, have a different story to tell.

To add to their woes, here's another shocker. Some of them do not have their ration cards. The Adivasis claim that their previous employers, had taken them away.

"We used to live in line houses. Our pay was Rs 300 per week. We did not have enough money to feed our families. When I applied for my ration card, the address I had to provide was that of my owner's estate. We did not have any other home. The owner had held the card hostage. He reaped the benefits of the subsidised ration and in turn sold us a kg of rice for Rs 20. We never want to go back to living like that," an angry Gowramma alleges.

Gowramma, however, managed to get a photocopy of her ration card by telling the owner of the coffee estate that she needed it for her daughter's school. Like Gowramma, many Adivasis were born and raised and eventually ended up working at the coffee estates of Kodagu.

"It was suffocating to live in the line houses. We had no home, no place to call our own and we had to struggle almost half our lives for a meal. We don't want our children to feel the same," she added.

If the scanty Rs 300 per week was what Gowramma got, there are a few who were given around 2 kg of rice per week along with a paltry Rs 200 per week.

"Sometimes buying vegetables was a luxury. We had to live on ganjee (porridge) once or may be twice a day. I want better for my children," said Subramani, who was also one of the 'line house' dwellers.

To top off the monetary problems was also the fear of being beaten by the owners. "The coffee estate owners usually give the men some alcohol at the end of the day. On one such occasion, when my husband demanded that the owner increase the pay, he was beaten. The place was like a prison. How can they ask us to go back and live like that. Do you want to live in a prison?" questioned Bojamma.

On December 21, prohibitory orders were issued by the district administration under section 144 in Diddalli. Over 50 policemen were deployed in the area and CCTV cameras set up to monitor the visitors to the Adivasi camp.

The Deputy Commissioner had, on Wednesday, told mediapersons that outsiders were instigating the Adivasis.

With the prohibitory orders in place, the protest camp has an even more stifling air about it with policemen watching their every move and monitoring every conversation they have.

"BJP MP Pratap Simha, BJP MLA KG Bopaiah and the DC have accused us of being influenced by naxalites. They are also saying that we are not natives of the area and have come from Assam. This is another ploy to deny us our demand for land," said Muttamma, one of the protesting Adivasis.

The Adivasis also refused to eat the free food provided by the district administration. 

"At 2.00 pm they announced that lunch was being served. We all lined up with our plates. But before they served us, they said that we should get our picture clicked, and the policemen also demanded that we give them the names of our parents and grandparents without explaining to us why they required our personal details. First, they brand us Naxalites, now they want our personal information. We will not give the details until they tell us exactly why. We don't trust these people a single bit," said Muttamma.

The situation grew tense when the Integrated Tribal Development officer, Mayavati came in to try her hand at convincing them to eat.

A 71-year-old woman began shouting a list of injustices the Adivasis had faced at the hands of Mayavati. The silent campers began voicing their discontent soon after.

"When they began the protest initially, Mayavati had told officials that if they were not provided with food and water, they would stop protesting. This kind of apathy will naturally bring out their strong dislike towards her," said Padma SJ, a member of the Bhumi Mattu Vasati Vanchakara Horata Samiti, a group that’s been supporting the Adivasis.

The camp once again settled down into a grim calm as Mayavati drove away. With an uncertain future, the worn out Adivasis say that they have nothing else left but to protest and wait.

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