How landless villagers got their land decades ago before Kerala landslides took it away

The royal family of Nilambur Kovilakkam had given away 1,000 acres of land to the landless tribals, which was officially handed over by Jawaharlal Nehru on December 27, 1955.
How landless villagers got their land decades ago before Kerala landslides took it away
How landless villagers got their land decades ago before Kerala landslides took it away
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On the night of August 8, a landslide, triggered by heavy rains, swept away about hundred acres of land in Kavalappara near the Nilambur area of Kerala’s Malappuram district. This tract of land was part of the 1,000 acres that were officially handed over by former Prime Minister of India, Jawaharlal Nehru, to the then tribal chief, almost 65 years ago.

A week after the landslide, which claimed the lives of more than 50 people in Malappuram district, the history behind the Bhoodanam colony of Kavalappara has now surfaced. The colony received its name after the historic Bhoodan (or Land Gift) Movement, which attempted to urge wealthy landowners to voluntarily give a portion of their land to the landless.

“The name ‘Bhoodanam’ itself was given to the colony after the erstwhile royal family of Nilambur handed over their land to the landless people of the state in 1955 under social reformer and freedom activist Acharya Vinoba Bhave’s Bhoodan movement,” explains Rajendra Varma, a descendant of the Nilambur Kovilakam, a former feudal province in the present-day state of Kerala.

The movement, which was initiated during the early 1950s in the present-day state of Telangana, soon spread across various parts of India as a strong land reforms movement. This movement had also reached Kerala, where, following the struggles of the tribals who did not have any land, the Nilambur Kovilakam’s royal family had decided to part with their 1,000 acres of land to the landless.

Kavalappara following the landslide on August 8, 2019.

Although the handing over of their thousand acres was implemented by TN Kochunni Thirumalpadu, the erstwhile ruler of Nilambur in 1955, the decision to do so was taken by the former ruler, Aniyanunni Thirumalpadu, who passed away before implementing the decision. “Our family had given away the 1,000-acre to the landless tribals in 1954 but it was only in 1955 that the documents were officially handed over to them. This was done by the former Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru on December 27, 1955,” recalls Rajendra Varma.

Nehru, at that time, was visiting the state to inaugurate a function at the Kerala Kalamandalam in Cheruthuruthy, Thrissur. On hearing this, Kochunni Thirumalpadu sent an invitation to the former PM, inviting him to attend the document handing-over ceremony in Nilambur. “Nehru gladly accepted the invitation and that was how he handed over the documents of the 1000-acre land to Chairan Muthan, the then tribal chief,” says Rajendra Varma, who goes on to add how the name Bhoodanam came to being in the district.

Jawaharlal Nehru along with the members of Nilambur Kovilakam.

Vijayan, a resident of Kavalappara, was barely three years old when his father received 5 cents of land during the Bhoodan movement. He recounts that his father was provided with the land in 1955 under the condition that they do not hand over the land to anybody, save their descendants.

“My father was a daily wage labourer, who came from Manjeri to Nilambur. Our family did not have a place to stay until we got the 5 cents, where we built the house. And I grew up in this place ever since,” he says.

Although relieved, there was a hint of sadness as Vijayan speaks about the landslide, which swept away the colonies that were located above the area, where he and his family were staying. “We stay at the foothills of Kavalappara and thankfully nothing happened this side. The people who died during the landslide were mostly the tribals who belonged to the Paniyar tribe.”

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