The bridge that connects Galasi and Thodukki tribal settlements.
Attappady: With 39 kg of food items on the shoulder, Murukan (42), a native of Galasi tribal settlement, climbs hills, crosses streams, waterfalls and even rocky surfaces to reach home after buying items from a ration shop; which is 19 kilometres away.
Gasping Murukan, however, does not stop midway as his wife and two kids await him at home as they are hungry. In between, he may have to stop as leeches roll up his legs to suck blood. Keeping the sack down, Murukan pulls out leeches one by one in pain. But it being a usual saga, Murukan takes it lightly and continues the journey.
Upon reaching home, his children rush to him to help his father in keeping the items down. After a couple of minutes, his wife comes up with rice and tomato curry and they all have it together.
Murukan walks nine kilometres inside the deep forest to reach home by carrying 30kg rice, 4kg wheat, 4 litres kerosine and one kilogram of sugar from a ration shop.
The journey will be even more difficult when it rains as the path will become more slippery and the streams will overflow. Murukan has to be careful of wild elephants and other animals too throughout the journey.
This is not just the story of Murukan. The settlements inside Silent Valley forests have over a hundred families, comprising nearly 500 members.
The distance between Mukali and Galasi is 19 kilometres. A road till Anavayi tribal settlement covering 10 kilometres become a reality in 2016. But, the remaining stretch of nine kilometres is still in the doldrums. Due to this, the tribals in Galasi, Melethodukki, Kezhethodukki, Kadukumanna have to suffer.
Their dream road has not become a reality owing to the apathy of concerned officials.
“The ration shop is situated in Mukali. We get jeep services from Anavayi. To reach Anavayi we have to walk nine kilometres. We have to carry everything on our shoulders. We even carry our people during medical emergencies. Anavayi to Keezhethodukki is 5.5 kilometres and from Keezhethodukki we have to walk 4 kilometres to reach Galasi via Melethodukki,” said Murukan.
He also said that the jeep service from Anavayi to Mukkali is costly. “For buying free ration, we have to spend Rs500 for jeep services.”
Usha (25), a resident of Kezhethodukki, had experienced a pregnancy loss. “On June 13 this year, I went to the hospital in Kottathara for a scan. Doctors told me that everything was fine with the baby. However, soon after reaching home, I had a miscarriage. I had to cross rocks, streams, and sloppy paths to reach home; it could be why I lost my baby,” said Usha.
No electricity in tribal settlements
In 2017, solar units were installed in all houses in the settlements to provide the power supply. However, the tribals said it's not enough to meet their power needs. “We get power only for two or three hours a day. During monsoon, it will be even lesser,” said Sinu, a resident of Melethodukki.
Lack of proper road connectivity was pointed out as the reason why the concerned officials are unable to electrify these settlements. There is a proper road till Anavayi and the settlements till there have been electrified.
No mobile network
Lack of mobile networks is also a cause of concern for the tribals, especially students, in these settlements. “We all have mobile phones. But we are unable to contact anyone through them. We have to walk several kilometres to get mobile signals,” said Selvan, a resident of Galasi.
The students in these settlements find it difficult to use mobile phones for academic purposes. Educated youngsters also complained that job hunting is very difficult due to poor network connectivity. “Educated youth here have applied for various jobs through PSC and other private portals. But we don’t get any updates as there is no network,” said Selvi (20), a resident of Melethodukki. Selvi is a civil service aspirant. She scored over 70 per cent in the Plus Two exams by fighting all odds.
Permission issued for road construction
When contacted the Palakkad District Collector Mrunmai Joshi during the visit to tribal settlements in Attappady, she said: “The construction of the road from Anavayi to Kezhethodukki is under consideration. However, the forest department has not given consent so far.”
On the other hand, Deputy Range Forest Officer Ravikumar told Mathrubhumi.com that permission has already been issued to construct the road from Anavayi to Manalumpadi. “It is a three-kilometre stretch. Still, two more kilometres to go to reach Keezhethodukki. We have not received any requests for the construction further ahead,” said Ravikumar.
“Provide us with roads, electricity and other basic facilities. We can show our calibre. Without basic facilities, our students scored good marks in exams. If we have internet connectivity and other facilities, we will excel further,” said Priya V, a resident of Thodukki. Priya scored 851 marks in Plus Two exams.