For Sudheesh C, the primitive living of his forefathers including his grandfather Maarachathan in rocky caves inside dense forests was only hearsay. So, he did not have any vivid memory about how his father, Mooppan, had lived in his early days by gathering and selling small-scale forest products like wild honey and frankincense (‘kunthirikkam’ in local parlance).
But, the 21-year old Sudheesh is now getting ready to script a new chapter in the history of the Cholanaikkan community, one of the most primitive tribes and last remaining hunter-gatherer group in the state, by becoming its first ever member to contest elections. Hailing from remote Alakkal colony, an elephant infested tribal settlement located inside a dense forest in the district, Sudheesh is contesting in the upcoming local body polls from Vazhikkadavu division of the Nilambur block panchayat.
He is also one of the youngest candidates in the state to seek electoral luck in the three-tier polls, due next month, as a candidate of the ruling Left Democratic Front (LDF). Sudheesh said his community was still away from mainstream society even after many generations have passed and he wants to usher in some changes in the life of fellow community members.
Saying that his candidature was totally unexpected, he said he got the seat as it was a reserved ward. “My community still faces several odds and my objective is to bring them to the forefront of the society. I wish to do something to get all children in our community good education. Good roads and adequate transportation facility are still our concerns,” he told P T I.
A plus two pass out, Sudheesh said he wants to do all possible things for the uplift of his community men especially women and children. Known as the ‘cavemen of Kerala’, the Cholanaikkan a.k.a. Cholanaikkar, the primitive hill tribe, mainly inhabit the Nilambur valley of Malappuram district in north Kerala.
According to researchers, members of this ethnic community had inhabited in ‘alakkal’ (caves) in deep forests as small groups till 1970s and lived by hunting small animals and gathering honey and wild tubers. Later, they started living in hamlets like Alakkal and Punchakkolli in Nilambur forest division.
Many of its members have become tappers in the rubber plantation under the state-run Plantation Corporation. Amidst his busy campaign schedule, Sudheesh said he has to travel eight kilometres through forests to reach any place outside from his colony.
“Wild elephants are a big threat while travelling through interior paths. The public road, which is full of gutter, is yet to be tarred and only four-wheelers can traverse through this when it is raining,” he said. Sudheesh has to cross two rivers to reach his elephant-infested colony.
It was only two years back that electricity had reached this hamlet. According to N C John, a social worker and a Marxist party activist, the candidature of the young man was part of efforts to bring the Cholanaikar community to the forefront and make them part of mainstream society.
All possible efforts should be extended to them till they attain some efficiency to be self-reliant, he said. “It is very difficult to change the old community members as they are very rigid in their outlook. So, our target is the young generation. Only through them we can enter into the community and bring some change,” he told P T I.
He said the Cholanaikkans did not even have ration cards or got registered in any official records till some decades back. Though there are several government funds to support the backward group, it was not reaching them completely as the community members were unaware of it.
The number of school and college dropouts are also high as it was very difficult for them to live in tribal hostels under restrictions or in the control of some others, he said. According to figures, there are over 400 Cholanaikkars living in about 100 families in tribal hamlets of Nilambur.
There are 200 voters also among them.