For six years, Rajan and his nine-person family have been living in a tiny shed in Choondpadi, Wayanad. In 2011, the family, who belongs to the Adivasi Kattunayakar community, was relocated from the forest area in Muthanga to Ambalawayal in the district. But the land in Ambalawayal was unlivable, Rajan said.
"We couldn't live there. We used to fall sick and finally moved out of the place,” says Rajan, who eventually moved into the small shed outside a relative’s home.
Rajan’s story is not uncommon in Kerala as scores of Adivasi families have been forced to relocate due to insensitive schemes by the state government over several years. The relocation has left families struggling to find employment and good houses to live in. Despite that, the government has continued the relocation programme that has had devastating effects on tribal families.
Many are now struggling to survive away from the forest area, which generations of tribal communities have relied on for resources and their livelihood.
The Kerala government recently asked the Centre for Rs 200 crore to relocate about 1,000 tribal persons. The government has argued that relocation is necessary for two reasons. For one, authorities claim that tribal people are under attack by wild animals in the forest areas, but tribal communities have repeatedly refuted this claim.
"We have been living near the forest for generations. We never faced any threat from wild animals. We are absolutely comfortable living here," says Balan of Chettiaylathur.
The government has also said that forests need to be conserved, but this reason fails to understand that Adivasi communities have been the original protectors of the forest, tribal families say.
And while the Forest Department, in coordination with the Tribal Development Department, claims that these relocations are voluntary, families on the ground paint a different picture. Many say they have been threatened and forced to move away from familiar lands.
Most of the people who were forcefully evicted belong to the Kuttanayakkar community, for whom survival away from the forest is challenging.
"By doing so, the authorities are in effect causing the extinction of the Kattunaykkar community," says Lalitha, a nurse belonging to the tribal community.
The tribal people of Chettiaylathur have also been listed for resettlement, but they are now resisting the move.