More than 2,500 people from the Muthuva community live in the tribal panchayat of Edamalakudy, located inside the forest almost 20 km from Pettimudi in Kerala’s Idukki district.

Muthuva tribal hamlet in Edamalakudy Idukki
Coronavirus COVID-19 Thursday, May 13, 2021 - 19:58

The Edamalakudy tribal hamlet, located inside the forest almost 20 km from Pettimudi in Kerala’s Idukki district, has always been in the news for the troubles faced by its residents. Lacking proper road connectivity, the residents have to walk 20 to 25 km to get good healthcare facilities. There have been instances when they had to carry sick people on their shoulders. Electricity reached them only in 2017.

This time, however, Edamalakudy is the talk of the town not over complaints of neglect but over how it succeeded in containing COVID-19 – not a single case has been recorded in the tribal panchayat ever since the outbreak of the pandemic last year.

More than 2,500 people from the Muthuvan community live in the hamlet. It was in March 2020 that panchayat officials held a meeting with the Ooru Moopans (hamlet leaders) to chalk out a perfect containment plan for the village. As the health facilities are limited and it wouldn’t be easy for the forest hamlet if there are any emergency cases, the tribal people decided to take the situation seriously.

Edamalakudy village

“Earlier, people from each family would rent a jeep and visit Munnar town once a week to buy essential goods. But since the COVID-19 surge, this has stopped. One or two people from the village go to Munnar and get goods for the entire hamlet. Upon returning, they go into quarantine for 14 days. The next time, two other individuals will go to purchase the goods,” Edamalakudy Panchayat Secretary Varghese told TNM.

In times of an emergency, people will have to walk 20 km to visit Munnar as jeeps may not be available. They also remain in quarantine for 14 days upon return.

A few government staff members live in Edamalakudy, and they too maintain strict quarantine if they go out. After the community decided not to allow any outsiders into the hamlet, they informed the Forest Department. Usually, nobody can enter Edamalakudy without permission from the Forest Department. After the community informed them of their decision, the Forest department stopped giving passes for entry into the hamlet.

“The hamlet’s residents have been keeping keen vigil at the borders to ensure that no outsider enters. They are not happy even when panchayat officials visit them frequently. Moreover, if anyone there experiences any mild symptoms, they themselves go to Devikulam and get tested,” Varghese said.

He added that the pandemic and their self-lockdown has taught the community to become more self-sufficient like they were in the past. “They have started to depend more on products cultivated by them or goods collected from the forests. Ration is provided to them at the hamlet. They come out of the forest only for essentials,” he explained.

The Muthuvan community in Edamalakudy lives amidst a lot of hardships. They sleep in fear of being attacked by an elephant or tiger. But they are known to keep their traditions alive even now. They cook non-vegetarian food only on very special days every year. They believe that their food culture keeps them healthy.