Here is a land where the most modern and the poorest live together and move together. Even in cities within a stone throw’s distance you will see extreme contrasts of landscapes where millionaires and rag-pickers live as strangers. The hi-tech, industrial, agricultural and pre-literary societies coexist within a few kilometers’ radius. That's India! But there is still a landscape that not many have seen. These are hill ridges and forest ranges. Several hundreds of communities live there without seeing the so-called developed country!
India's tribalscape is awe-inspiring. Come along to some of the hills of the State of Kerala in South India, popularly known as "God's own country"-- the most literate State in the country. You will see people who are untouched by the development of the past 300 years. These tribals -- once the rulers of the land and now most of them worse than slaves – are the inhabitants who were forced to flee for their lives when more migrations and exploitations took place in the land. They are illiterate, and ignorant of their rights and privileges as provided by the government. Most of these hill dwellers have never seen a sea or a train; they do not know how to hold a printed-paper! Bare footed, they trek miles to find some work in the valley, on the fringes of the forest.
There are even more primitive natives if you go further interior in the mountains. They live under the shade of rocks and eat fruits and roots that grow naturally. Governments have various provisions for them. But too little reaches the needy. Those supposed to care for the tribals or appointed to see to their welfare often consume the provisions.
On the Western Ghats [one of the scores of hill ranges in India, bordering Kerala and Tamil Nadu/ Karnataka] alone there are 37 major people groups. Some of them are vanishing races. Animals on these mountains are better cared for and protected than the human beings. Although some social organizations have made inroads into these tribal belts, a lot more has to be done to deliver them from the clutches of exploitation, ignorance and injustice.
In the early nineties Philipose Vaidyar, a teacher turned social worker and a self taught journalist, had the exciting experience of making inquisitive visits to the popular tribal belts in Kerala, Maharashtra, Rajasthan, Jammu, Himachal Pradesh and Orissa. Zooming in on the unusual practices maintained by these people groups, the travelogues evoke laughter, sympathy and wonder simultaneously.
Welcome to a Peep into the Tribalscape