InPEC brings to you the “Discovery of India” log of Karthik Radhakrishnan, an engineering graduate student from the University of Southern California, Los Angeles, as he travels through India.
Chapter 1 is available here.
Chapter 2 is available here.
Place: Masinagudi (Nilgiri District, TN)
Date: 19th January, 2014
By Karthik Radhakrishnan, 5th March, 2014
We often use the phrases “Scheduled castes” and “Scheduled tribes” (mostly in the context of beneficiaries of the Indian Reservation system.) But how often do we actually think of the life of a Dalit or a Tribal? Taking nothing away from their sufferings of the past, the Dalit community has progressed since independence (a long way to go still though). But many Tribal communities of India are still untouched, the stories untold.
Inside the Mudhumalai Forest
Masinan works at a coffee plantation-cum-resort in Masinagudi and has been working there since he was a kid. “I have been working here for almost 40 years and I earn Rs. 6500. Kids who have joined after me start off with a salary of at least Rs. 9,500,” Masinan says, visibly disappointed. Salim, a 27-year old cook at the same resort (and an excellent one at that) currently earns Rs. 9,500. However, the lack of adequate remuneration has not deterred Masinan from carrying out his daily chores with a cheerful smile. “I push the workers here from 5 a.m, I believe we should be loyal to our Employers (“Mudhalaligal” could translate to owner as well, atleast in this context) because they feed us.”
Coffee plantation where Masinan works
The treatment meted out to Tribals is extremely unfair, claims Masinan. “Government has not done anything to improve our living conditions; Forest Officers do not let us enter the forest, which is basically our home; Police officers look at us as criminals and Sandalwood smugglers; even this Resort was built by destroying our houses. We no longer possess anything. We protect the forest, it is our home and in return, we just have to live in a state of constant fear.” Masinan goes on to say that all that he desires are the basic necessities. “I do not desire a ‘maadi-veedu’ (apartment), all that I was is for my kids to come up in life, but I find it tough. I have struggled enough, I do not want my kids to go through the same.”
Salim (left) and Masinan (right)
Probably the most defining moment of the conversation came about when Masinan said “For the first time in so many generations of my family, I’m sitting on par with you here and talking. That is because of the status YOU have afforded to me.” The years of subjugation and inequality that has been infused into his blood is so overwhelming; the concept of equality has not dawned on him or his generation. “In fact it has taken us over twenty years to get over the fear of a ‘pantu-kaaran’ (the “civilized” man in pants), we are still not over that fear. Tigers are less scary.”
As grim as his story may sound, his tone was not one of despair. He finds utmost joy in the little things around him. “I play a wind instrument inherent to our tribe. Music gives me a lot of happiness. Every once in a while, all of us in the village get together around a bon-fire and sing and dance,” smiles Masinan. “We are born here, die here and buried here, inside the forest. This is our home.”
Everyone in India has a story to tell. There just aren’t enough ears.
Karthik Radhakrishnan is a Structural Engineering Graduate from the University of Southern California, Los Angeles. He is originally from Chennai, India. He is in particular interested in the rural affairs of India with a focus on farmer suicides, children’s education and women empowerment. Email : firstname.lastname@example.org