Yashoda and Chellappan, who fell in love and got married 20 years ago, were banished from their tribal community.

Tribal couple Yashoda and Chellappan with their sonsYashoda and Chellappan with their children
news Human interest Sunday, June 20, 2021 - 17:14

As Chellappan rows the small country canoe through the deep waters of Kerala's Idamalayar reservoir, his two children sit on either side of their mother Yashoda, their hands tightly clutching the sides of the canoe. After about six to eight hours of travelling, the family reaches a lone makeshift shed on top of a massive rock in an interior forest region along the reservoir. This area comes under the limits of Ernakulam district.

The isolated shed in the midst of the forest has been home to Yashoda and Chellappan for the past 20 years after they were ostracised from their native Muthuvan tribal community for marrying each other. The visuals of the couple and their two children living isolated and disconnected from even other tribal hamlets were posted on social media by representatives of Kerala Adivasi Aikyavedi who visited them this April. Kerala Adivasi Aikyavedi is an organisation of tribal activists in the state that works for the welfare of the community.

Yashoda and Chellappan, now in their mid-thirties, belonged to the Adichal Thotti tribal colony in the Idamalayar reserve forest region, inside the boundaries of Thrissur district. They are close cousins who fell in love and got married 20 years back.  But as per the customs of the tribe, marriage between cousins is prohibited, and so Yashoda and Chellappan were ostracised from the community and forced to live alone for many years. Their story and their plight came to light after the Adivasi Aikyavedi members visited them.

Living isolated in a forest, with the constant threat of being attacked by wild animals and no connection to the outside world, has made life very challenging for Yashoda and Chellappan. To reach the nearest spot where they can procure groceries or even to get connectivity on their mobile phones, the family has to travel nearly eight hours by canoe to Vadattupara, which is close to the Kuttampuzha tribal settlement.

Though TNM tried to contact the family directly, they were not reachable. Prakash PK, General Secretary of the Kerala Adivasi Aikyavedi, was one of the members who visited the family at their home last April. Talking to TNM, he recalls how treacherous the journey was. "Walking through dense forest, steep slopes and travelling for hours in a raft, it was a dangerous journey. We cannot even imagine they come all this way all the time to go to the shops or even to the hospital," says Prakash.

In the visuals aired by Adivasi Aikyavedi members, one can see how difficult the terrain is. The family’s home, built using bamboo and plastic sheets, is located above a massive rock, to prevent attacks by wild animals. One has to climb a ladder made of bamboo to reach the top of this rock and their house.

Apart from their occasional visit to shops in Vadattupara, they have no contact with anyone as they live so deep inside the forest that there aren’t any other tribal communities nearby, according to Prakash. "As per the custom of the Muthuvan tribe, once they are ostracised no other tribal hamlet would also admit the couple. That is why they have been living all alone,” he says.

The family does not own land or have a proper house, nor do they have any official documents. And so, without a ration card, they do not get access to rations or food kits distributed by the government. The family makes a living by fishing and collecting forest produce. “They are living along the Idamalayar reservoir to survive by fishing. During the summer months, they collect forest produce like honey. They sell it to the shops to make a living,” says Prakash.

The couple’s sons, who are in Class 7 and Class 4, were staying at the Pre Matric hostels in Thrissur’s Vazhachal (these hostels are run by the Department of Schedule Caste and Scheduled Tribes for students of tribal communities). But since the outbreak of COVID-19, the hostels have been shut for the past year, so the boys have been living with their parents. “They do not have electricity or mobile network, so they can’t even think of digital classes. Since the last academic year (2020-21), the boys haven't been able to study,” says Prakash.

Adivasi Aikyavedi President Chithra Nilambur, who also visited the family, told TNM that the organisation has approached the Thrissur district administration seeking some land and a house for the family. "Once the COVID-19 pandemic subsides, we will take Yashoda and Chellappan directly to the Collector, we are waiting for that. Though the present spot they live in comes under the limits of Ernakulam district, their native tribal hamlet is in Thrissur district," says Chithra.

After the AdivasI Aikyavedi brought the family's story to light, a few people came forward to help the family. "We have so far been able to raise Rs 10,000 for the family. On Wednesday (June 23), we are going to purchase necessary items for them, including solar lamps, tarpaulin sheets, etc," said Chithra Nilambur.

Account details of the family:

Account number - 1703 1010 11 699

IFSC number - CNRBOO1703

BRANCH - Arurmuzhi (Thrissur district)

Canara Bank

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