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Forceful sterilization of adivasi tribes
 
Reji Joseph


(May 30, 2018, DG): Northern Kerala, predominantly Wayanad District, is native to over one third of Kerala'sethnic and semi-primitive scheduled tribes, which could be considered the aboriginal populationof the state.

These indigenous tribals, who mostly live primitive lifestyles, are known as Adivasis and have predominantly been living in the hilly and forest regions of this state for centuries, which they are dependent upon and which remain the essence of their existence.

The Adivasis, sadly, are socially distanced, discriminated against, victimized and often face violence from society. They also remain at the lowest point in every socio-economic indicator. The following report details one prime area, in which they are now being abused and victimized,
threatening their very existence.

In a small thatched hut in Pandayapuram Panya colony, Karutha, aged 28, is
bedridden and on the verge of death. Upon the cow-dung coated floor spread with ash,
a starving two-year-old child is also seen sleeping close to her.

Two and a half years ago,Karutha's husband ,Gopalan, abandoned her. She is now all alone and was one among many victims forced into the sterilization campaign undertaken by the Community Welfare
Department in Wayanad district, Kerala. The bleeding, after being lasted for months
and Karutha became paralyzed. There is little sign of any cooking having been done in
her house for the past several weeks.

Almost half of the Adivasi tribes of Wayanad, namely Kattunaykar, Paniyar, Adiyar
and Uralikurumar, have been forced to attend these sterilization camps. They feel that
they are being deprived of their dignity at these camps. Illiterate Adivasis just gave their
thumb impressions, little knowing that they were signing a letter of consent for the
sterilization procedure. Men are paid Rs.1200/- and women Rs. 600/— for undergoing
this process.

45 year- old Balan, who heads a family of four, was a recent victim of this sterilization
campaign. He was taken to the Bathery Government Hospital in a jeep. "I was asked to
give my thumb impression and then to lie down on a bed and told that I had to undergo
the sterilization procedure." he recollects. He was shocked when he learnt that he
underwent vasectomy. Now Balan feels that he is debilitated and also unable to climb
trees, his traditional survival skill and profession.

In the mega sterilization camp held at the Government hospital camp at Kalpetta
in 2010, 18 persons were brought for the procedure. When media representatives gathered
at the spot hearing this news, the health officials called off the camp. But they claim
that the tribals came to the camp voluntarily.

In the case of women, the official health assistants of the Ministry of Health,
called ASHA workers, compel mothers with two or more children, to undergo tubectomy.
A 20 year old Adivasi woman forced into this family planning operation, claims that she
is since unable to draw water or carry loads.

Another woman, Cheera, hailing from Poongad Paniya tribal colony, has become bedridden after having undergone the procedure.

It was in 1980 that total sterilization programme was introduced in Wayand under the
auspices of the India Population Project, utilizing World Bank funds.

Ten years ago, Adivasis formed 19 percent of the population of Wayanad. The
2011 census however depicts that their population has reduced to 17.29 percent. The
average life span of Kattunaikar, Paniyar and Adiyar tribal communities groups has also
come down to 50 years. Earlier, the majority of them lived up to the age of 80 or more.

In 1901, the total population of Wayanad Taluk was 75,149. The present Wayanad
District is inclusive of these areas, with the majority of the Adivasis living here.
The leader of the Adivasi tribal gathering, M. Geethanandan, said that the Adivasis
are often coerced into sterilization, often performed in a crude and unscientific manner.

In many cases, the operations are performed by gynecologists. He also added that there
pitifully were only eight gynecologists in the entire tribal dominated district.
Raghavan, Velaudhan and Kandan and the list of tribals who complain about
forced sterilization goes on. K. Krisnan, the leader of the Prakthana Gothra Sanghom
tribal association, said that in parts of Kolpara, Outhumala and Ambedkar Paniya colony,
many were forced to undergo sterilization on a large scale.

As a part of this activity, a mega male sterilization camp was opened at the
Sulthan Bathery Taluk hospital in July 2011. Out of 60 men who gathered there, 44
had to undergo the sterilization operation. Thrity-four among them happened to be
destitute Adivasis. Out of the total population of about 13,000 Kattunaikars, more
than half of them are in Wayanad. An Adivasi elder, Krishnan, divulged that half of the
men residing there, aged 35 or more, have already undergone sterilization.

Malu, an Adivasi promoter of Kakkavayal and Veeran Paniya, a tribal elder said
that in the Kakkavayal Thenerikkunnu colony, there were only seven houses. All the
men in these houses had undergone sterilization on the false promise from officials that
they would receive pension, ration and all other benefits after the sterilization camp.

Prakthana Tribal Organization states that between April and October 2003, about
1000 Adivasis were sterilized. The infant deaths among Adivasis is also rising to alarming
proportions. While it is very clear that sterilization of Adivasi men with one or two
children is a challenge to the growth of their tribe, it is still being indulged in, by
cheating the illiterate community, luring them with false promises.

Renowned Adivasi tribal leader C.K Janu alleges that these sterilization camps had
been opened with a view to wiping off Adivasis entirely from their own soil, in a cunningly
planned manner. The government, she says, has failed to keep up to its promises of
protecting the Adivasis.

Many women are also seen on the streets, unable to walk or move about properly after sterilization. Janu revealed that it was during the rainy
season, when the tribals faced poverty, that sterilization mediators roamed about in and
lured these poor and innocent victims for this sort of deceitful practice.

In Wayanad, at least 40 Adivasi women die every year, soon after childbirth. A
survey conducted last year by the Institute of Management, Kozhikode, reveals that that
similar infant deaths occurred earlier.

Adivasi elder Koran and forest guard Sivan said that not even 10 percent of the
tribal women who had secured working cards under the job assurance scheme reported
for work.

Two months back, nine men hailing from Muthanga of Noolpuzha Panchayat
were taken to a sterilization camp. They belonged to the protected Kattunaik and
Paniya tribes. The health department did not care to contact them when they faced
resultant problems such as bleeding and pus formation. They have resultantly become
disabled and are now unable to even to lift loads or climb forest trees to collect forest
yields for their daily needs.

Madhavan, an elder of Kuruma community says that over 50 women from
Muthanga forest reach the Karnataka border for undergoing sterilization. Unofficial
reports say that 9693 Adivasis had been sterilized in Wayanad in the year 2003 alone.
Between May and November that year, an astounding 24 sterilization camps were
conducted in various government hospitals of the District.

In the inquiry proceedings held on the matter by the Scheduled Castes and
Scheduled Tribes Legislative Assembly Committee, the District Medical Officer was not
present. In Wayanad, a monthly sterilization camp is regularly conducted at the block
level.

There are 36 Adivasi groups in Kerala. . Adivasis and Adivasi groups are
predominant in Wayanad district. The majority of the tribal groups belong to the Paniyar,
Kuricya, Kattunaikar, Malla Kurumbar, Adiyar and Kanaladi groups. Those facing
extermination as per a recent survey, are those belonging to the Kattunaikar, Cholanaikar,
Paniyar, Adiayar and other tribes, who underwent sterilization.

In November 2010, a mega camp was held in Sulthan Bathary, where 43 Adivasis
were forced to undergo sterilization. Besides sterilization, there was also a planned attempt
to dissuade Adivasi children from undergoing school education. There are about 1000
students, studying in 50 single teacher schools of Wayanad. The Government has also
decided to close down these single teacher schools.

A Paniya lady named Rajamany of Tholpady colony was brought to Tholpatty, on
the border of Karnataka State for sterilization. It was performed by a nurse in the
absence of a doctor. Rajamany recollects that there were other women also in the operation
room. The operation was done without even obtaining her signature on any records. She
was given Rs 250/- and sent off soon after. Rajamany is now bedridden, following
continuous bleeding since then.

C.K Janu, the tribal woman leader, revealed that usually false reports are released
after mediators go around clans and corner their victims by spreading their 'nets' to catch
tribal women for sterilization. When the target number reaches 50 in the list of ASHA
workers, the drive is secretly concluded. The would-be victims are brought to the
hospitals secretly by vehicle, hiding the fact from the public of the outside world.

The health department gives special cash incentives to those ASHA workers bring in more
candidates to the sterilization camps, The sterilization operations are done using torch
lights. The general anesthesia is administered by members of the volunteer corps. In the
Bathery and Mananthavadi Government hospitals, up to 40 such operations are conducted
on a single day.

In the guise of tribal welfare, 230 persons have been appointed in this small
district area as health inspectors and public health nurses. Under them, there is a team
of 600 health promoters and 200 ASHA workers. For bringing a candidate to attend a
camp, an ASHA worker gets Rs 200 as commission. The tribal elders say that over half of
the Adivasis have since become infertile.

Although the health department may be concealing the related files, it remains a
fact that such dubious practices are deviously and tactfully leading the Adivasi tribes of
Wayanad to levels of extermination.


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