Traditionally marginalized tribal communities in Southern India continue to fight discrimination – and wide-spread alcoholism. Despite this, Kerala’s first female tribal leader, Narayani Nanu Kolpara, remains hopeful.
The first time sixty-year-old community leader Narayani Nanu Kolpara walked into a government office, her hands shook.
“I was terrified,” Narayani smiles. “There were so many rooms and so many people.”
…Narayani recalls that she was hardly able to sign the document a government official handed her. The color of her neat white sari and its red trim mark her out as a member of the Katunayaka, one of the many tribes of Southern India.
….Narayani, who grew up in a remote tribal community in the forest in Kerala’s mountainous Wayanad district, has also enjoyed a degree of political success. Her parents were day laborers, occasionally working for the local landowner. They would often venture into the forest to find roots, honey and wild fruits. “We were very poor,” she recalls. There was no school and no health facilities. There was not even a road to the next town.
….Instead, she attended another training course and learnt to read and write. She was put in charge of distributing government-subsidized rice and in 1989 was elected leader of the small community of some 30 families, followed as a stint in the panchayat, the smallest administrative unit in India. It made Narayani the first tribal leader in both her community and the region.
….Narayani spent her first months as tribal leader knocking on people’s doors, drinking their tea and persuading the community that they needed a school. With their consent, she went back to the government office to ask for the permission to build a kindergarten.
….The school, a tiny one-room hut, is surrounded by lush-banana leaves, built and maintained by the community with the support of a local NGO. Only the teacher’s salary is provided by the government. Children sit on colorful plastic chairs under bright posters of the Malayalam alphabet, eating their midday meal of rice and daal.
….and Narayani needs to take some documents to the government office there. She waves a last goodbye with her umbrella, then marches off, purposefully, towards the next village and her bus stop.
Author: Naomi Conrad, Kerala, Editor: Richard Connor
Read the full article in DW: Southern India’s ‘tribals’ take future into their own hands
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