The traditional tribal life is rich with a strong community bonding, family networks and sense of social responsibility. Dance, music and festivals are inherent components of tribal culture here. Tribal dance in Attappady is performed regularly during occasions like marriage, funerals, family functions, temple festivals etc. All the villagers participate in the dance, which is shows the togetherness of the community. There are very popular tribal singers. There are traditional tribal dramas called ‘koothu’ which are played for many hours. The very popular koothu are ‘Harischandran koothu’ and ‘Ramayanam koothu’.
The tribal village is traditionally managed by a group of leaders. The ‘Mooppan’ is the village chief. A number of other leaders like ‘kuruthala’, ‘vandari’, ‘mannukkaaran’ also work with the chief to manage the affairs of the village. The village temples are also managed by these leaders. Each village also has a ‘vaidyan’(physician) who is familiar with herbal medicines and their uses for common ailments. The interaction with the modern world has led to erosion of many of these entities, which have exposed the tribes to many hazards including mental illness.
Both the tribes and non tribes pursue agriculture as their means of living. They cultivate a wide variety of crops from spices to pulses and vegetables. The tribal men and women engage in paid labour because a bulk of their land holdings is not cultivable. The earnings from agriculture are inconsistent, due to the vagaries of nature like drought, flash floods, heavy winds and devastation by wild animals.
The farming by tribal families is in crisis during the last decade, due to a variety of reasons like poor irrigation facilities, destruction of agricultural products by wild animals, poor prices for the produce and lack of resources for farming. There are multiple schemes initiated by the government for promotion of agriculture, but most of them have failed to motivate the tribal farmers to take up farming in a big way.
The ‘Millet Gramam’ project started by the state government two years back was popular with the farmers, but income generation from the farming has not been substantial. Those living in the remote villages get very less work (about 10 man days per month) compared to those near the central areas. Government schemes like MGNREGA and a government project called Attappady Wasteland Comprehensive Environment Conservation Project implemented by Attappady Hills Area Development Society (AHADS) have marginally improved their employment opportunities and earnings.
Though Kerala has a high literacy and high standards of public health, people of Attappady remain very backward on both counts, especially the tribal population. The literacy rate is about 62% and school dropout rates are high. Literacy and education among girls is also very low. Enrolment in schools is close to hundred percent. There are schools at LP, UP, High School and Higher Secondary levels in the government and private sector in Attappady.
There are many tribal hostels in Attappady, again in the government and private sectors, for boys and girls. A large number of students are studying in outside schools and hostels away from Attappady. The major problems in the education sector are high proportion of drop outs, poor inclusion of tribal students in academic programmes, lack of orientation to career opportunities and lack of skill development along with school education. There is no formal programme for development of capabilities in sports and games.
The tribes of Attappady had suffered exploitation from other communities in the outside world in the last several decades. Their land was alienated from them in the guise of leasing, in false sale deeds and in return for very meagre compensations.
Even though the law prevents the sale of tribal land to non-tribal people after 1985, many of the lands taken over by other elements have not been returned to the tribal owners.Some of the tribal land owners have gone for litigation, while others have not been able to do that. Several controversial land deals have taken place in Attappady where the tribal lands have been usurped by big merchants for setting up commercial ventures.
There have been many incidents of tribal youth being exploited by criminal elements for smuggling of illegal goods like ganja, sandalwood, forest material, alcohol and other contraband material. The tribal youth are lured by money for illegal activities. The youth may end up being killed or arrested, sending the rest of their lives behind bars for their activities.
The health indicators of Attappady remain backward compared to state and national averages. The infant mortality rate, especially among the tribal population is very high compared to the state average. High incidence of severe maternal anaemia, complications like high blood pressure during pregnancy, other obstetric complications all contribute heavily to this situation. Since 2013, a large number of infant deaths have occurred in Attappady, which have gained national attention and responses.The poor living conditions, extremes of weather, poverty, lack of sanitation and poor awareness about illnesses, together present a bleak prospect for the health of the people of Attappady. Anaemia, malnutrition, deficiency disorders, infections like tuberculosis, typhoid fever and diarrhoeal diseases are rampant in this area. A genetic disorder called Sickle Cell Anemia is prevalent among Attappady tribal population.
Mental illness is very common in the tribal population. A survey conducted by our organisation in 2010 found out about 300 cases of persons with Severe Mental illnesses like Schizophrenia, Bipolar disorder etc. Several cases of anxiety disorders, depression, visit our OPD regularly. There are more than 100 cases of suicides of tribal persons every year. Dependence on Alcohol is wide spread along with abuse of other substances.
Infertility is a very common problem in the native population. Rheumatic heart disease has high incidence because of crowded living, poor prophylaxis and lack of follow up with specialty care.