Fact-Finding Report on the Murder of Madhu, an Adivasi of Attapadi

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The composition of Fact-Finding Team

The Fact-finding team was composed of three representatives from Samakalvi Iyakkam – Tamil Nadu- A State-level Alliance for promotion and protection of child rights, in particular, the educational rights of children and Two representatives from THAMPU- A National Trust for Tribal Education Development and Research.

• Ms.Jayam, State President of Samakalvi Iyakkam – Tamil Nadu
• Mr. Arivazhagan Rayan, Consultant to Samakalvi Iyakkam – Tamil Nadu
• Adv. Mr. Christuraj, State Advocacy Coordinator to Samakalvi Iyakkam–Tamil Nadu
• Mr. Ramu, Leader of Muduga Tribe at Attapadi and Tribes Coordinator of THAMPU
• Mr. Jijeesh Tom, MSW, Coordinator from THAMPU

Objective of the Visit

Concerned on learning the cold-blooded murder of an innocent man named MADHU aged about 27 years, in board daylight on the 22nd February, 2018, at Attapadi region in Kerala, which shook the conscience of socially concerned people across India, and is under investigation, we, the first three of the above listed persons decided to visit Attapadi assisted by the other two investigators who do social work in the Attapadi Hill regions with THAMPU. The objective of the study was to gather facts from the field, as there were multiple reports in circulation through different media outlets, it was important that socially concerned and committed persons without any political affiliations study the situation from the perspective of the marginalized tribes in particular from the view of the women and children and understand the situation and objectively present the facts before the wider public and demands the state’s speedy intervention towards establishing justice.

Method of Fact Finding

The method that the team adopted was to visit the areas of Attapadi namely the tribal villages of Chinteki, Mukkali, Kottathara and Agali where the occurrence seems to have happened and conduct interviews and group discussions among different stakeholders and also met the police and the revenue officials among others. The team visited Attapadi on the 4th and 5th of March, 2018.

The team raised certain critical questions to the stakeholders: What are the causes that led to the murder of Madhu? What is the background of conflict between the tribes and settlers? What are the livelihood issues of the tribes? Are the rights of tribes protected by the state and district administration? What are the health and nutritional status of tribal children and women? Is the investigation proceeding in the right direction? What are the measures taken up by the State to bring in normalcy among the tribal communities in Attapadi? What are the fear factors faced by women and children in the affected areas after this incident? What are the specific relief measures put forward to the family of Madhu? What do the affected Tribes look up to from the State? Whether other tribal communities of Kerala located in different areas face similar atrocities from settlers and negligence from the State Departments? Whether the state diligently addresses the issues and basic needs of marginalized communities of Kerala?

The Panorama of Attapadi

The Attapadi region or block of Mannarkaad Taluk in Palakkad District of Kerala is about 745 km² amidst which the Attapadi Reserve Forest covers a range of 249 km². Attapadi is an extensive mountain valley at the origin of Bhavani river and sliding below the Nilgiri Hills of the Western Ghats. It is bordered on the east by Coimbatore and north by Nilgiri Hills and south by Palakkaad district and on the west by Karimba-I and II, Pottacherry-I and II and Mannarkaat revenue village of Palakkad districts and Eranad taluk of Malappuram district. The actual cover of the Attapadi hill region is larger than certain districts in Kerala. Attapadi is unique with a number of rock types and minerals and variety of trees, flora, a and fauna. The tribes in Attapadi practiced settled agriculture and their principle agricultural products are chama, ragi, rice, red gram, black gram, horse gram, groundnut, ginger, cotton, sweet potato and tapioca. But in the course of development, most of their land was encroached or by other machinations have been grabbed by Malayali settlers and other dominant communities.

Adivasis in Attapadi

There are 192 tribal hamlets- adivasi ooru in Attapadi and tribal population consists of Muduga, Irula and Kurumba and a few Badagas as well and settlers from other districts of Kerala and Tamil Nadu. Madhu, the victim belongs to Kurumba tribe the most primitive tribe of the region. The majority tribe remains Irulas. There are 27121 people (41% of total population) in three tribes inhabit Attapadi. On the one hand, the population of adivasis is reducing and on the other had the population of migrants/settlers get increased. According to 1951 census, 90.32% of the population were adivasis.

Prior to 1940s, the entire region was inhabited by the tribes and the forest lands were owned by the tribal communities. Ooru Moopan-the tribe community leader administered the Ooru-village along with the leaders of Gothras like Bhandari (Treasurer), a kuruthalai (junior headman) and a mannukaran (an agricultural expert). In the census of 1951, there were 12900 tribal people lived in the region and settlers were about 1900. From 1960 onwards the settlers came in more numbers. The Kerala Forest Act, 1961, in fact, favoured the settlers than the tribes of the region. The settlers, by 1970s, took over about 1500 acres of tribal land and the forest department also took over the major portion of land from tribal community ownership. The ‘Attapadi Farming Scheme and Kerala Forest Act seemed to favour the tribes by the provision of land for cultivation and converting forest land into coffee and elam estates; but actuality tribes were deprived of their traditional land owning capacity. Tribes became landless, deprived of their self governance, lost traditional food and security. The tribes are on the fringes without any title over the land and livelihood. A volunteer says that between 2012 to 2016 Attapadi saw 143 infant deaths due to mal nutrition factors.

Population of Attapadimadhu attapadi 1

Status of Education in Attapadi

While the overall literacy rate of Kerala is 90%, Attapadi block has only achieved 58% and this data includes the literacy rate of the migrant settlers who have their basic education. When it is compared with the literacy rate of the adivasi population in Attapadi, the percentage averages only 25% . The fact remains, that the facts represented by the State does not reflect the real educational status of marginalized communities.

Literacy Level-A Comparison

madhu attapadi 2Literacy Analysis of Adivasi Sub Tribes in Attapadi

madhu attapadi 3

When it is compared to the literacy rate of the adivasi population in Attapadi, the percentages averages only to 25%. The State average does not reflect the educational standards of the adivasis. The most literate State in India, Kerala hides the face of its tribes and fails drastically to up lift the educational rights of its native tribes. The main reason is that the lack of proper schools in the area and government funded teachers hailing from non-adivasi communities who care least to the provision of quality education to adivasi children. The adivasi children remain unenthusiastic about learning due to the unsafe distance to school, the curriculum that is unconnected to their life, culture and aspirations and poor infrastructural and learning facilities in the schools. In fact, the education system of settlers/dominant communities that aim to perpetrate history of the dominant communities that has destroyed the land, culture, governance system, economy and integrity of the tribes which in turn alienate them from their own soil.

Madhu, the victim

Madhu, male aged about 27 years hails from Kurukkathikallu, was staying at Chindaki village (father’s house) which consists of 170 families. He studied up to class-VII and discontinued due to the death of his father. Later he pursued technical training in carpentry at Palakkad through Integrated Tribal Development Project (ITDP). He went to Alapuzha as a labourer, wherein he faced a head injury in a communal uproar. Then on he was found roaming about, the police having caught him and traced that he had lost his mental balance and there were a few cases foisted against him as well. Later it is told that he left for the forest at the foot of Malleswaran rock. If he lacks food he would come down to the villages and collect some food and go back to his cave like abode and continue to live. It is alleged that he would come down to Mukkali village about 4kms away from the forest where he lived and would steal eatables and go away. On the day of the occurrence i.e., 22.02.2018, a mob went to the forest on hearing that Madhu was in the cave and alleged to have found him with a small hand bag in which a little rice, chilli powder and mobile charger. The mob caught hold of him and beat him and kicked him and took photos and uploaded it to social media. The mob kept beating brutally and tied Madhu’s hands and brought him to Mukkali village junction where he was alleged to have stolen from the shops. A mob was seen abusing and beating Madhu over there in a video clipping. A person seems to have informed Police Station at Agali, that a mob has caught a thief and is beating him. The police rushed to Mukkali at 3.00 pm and having found Madhu beaten by the mob rushed him to the Community Health Centre at Agali. On the way to Thavalam, Madhu vomited and police gave him water and then rushed to CHC at Agali for medical assistance. At Agali, the doctors checked and declared him dead and kept the body at the mortuary. Police initially registered an FIR under section 174 CrPC as a suspicious death. On the following day news reached the tribes and tribes in large numbers gathered and protested and demanded the arrest of the accused persons, demanded fair investigation under SC/ST Prevention of Atrocities Act and compensation to Madhu’s family. Body of Madhu was taken to Trissur Govt. Medical College Hospital for post-mortem and autopsy. Police based on information arrested and remanded 16 accused persons and investigation continues.

The Gist of FIR

Crime No. 87/2018 u/s 174 CrPC. Got information by GD in-charge in the police station that Madhu from Chindaki an accused in many theft cases is caught by local people at Mukkali on 22/2/18 around 2.15 pm. Around 3 pm we reached Mukkali junction and found a person with shabby clothes sitting in the waiting shed in the midst of a crowed. Public said that he is the thief called Madhu, we have caught him from forest and he is made to sit here so that local may see him. The public got him into the police jeep and handed some rice in a sack saying he has stolen it. Around 3.30 we took him from Mukkali to Agali CHC, and on the way as we enquired he said that he was caught by people that day noon from forest by saying that I am a thief. Those who got me into this jeep beat me and kicked me. On the way from Thavalam he felt vomiting and vomited. Later he got into the jeep and found very weak and lie down in the jeep. Around 4.15 we reached Agali CHC and found him unconscious. The doctor confirmed him dead and kept the body in Agali CHC mortuary.
by Prasad Varky
Additional Sub Inspector

Altered FIR by Dy. Superintendent of Police 24/02/2018

As the information received that Madhu a thief in various cases is caught in Mukkali, went there and brought him in jeep. On the way he vomited and became very weak. When the doctor checked he was found to be dead.

Initially the case was registered as crime 87/2018 u/s 174 CrPC. The body is sent to Thrissur medical college for post-mortem. After enquiring about the case by visiting the area where the issue had taken place and by asking the witnesses we came to know that the person accused thief is Madhu a Kurumba tribe person. He was caught by higher cast persons who illegally entered into the forest. His hands were tied and they hit, beat and kicked him. They attacked him very severely and brought him to Mukkali by force. Again they beat and kicked him at Mukkali.

According to the post-mortem report the death is caused by severe damage of internal organs and a sever hit at the back side of head. Therefore the FIR is altered as u/s 143,147,148, 323, 324, 325, 364, 365, 367, 368, 302 r/w149 IPC & sec. 3(1) (d), 3 (2) (v) of SC/ST Prevention of Atrocities Act and sec. 27 (2) (c) of Kerala Forest Act.

Views and Opinions

• Family of Madhu at Chindaki: The FF Team arrived at Chindaki tribal village in the Buffer zone and Madhu’s sister Chandrika, 28 years and brother in law Mr. Murugan aged 35 years. ‘We heard the information and rushed to CHC at Agali and they told us he is dead. We were not allowed to see the body of Madhu, he was badly beaten to death by the mob.’ ‘Madhu was not living with us for some years as he was mentally ill; he would live in the forest and whenever, he feels like coming home he would come down and then would go back to forest.’ Chandrika says, ‘we are shocked at the incident, children and women in the neighbourhood are scared of the atrocity meted out to Madhu and there is a sense of fear.’

Mother of Madhu and eldest sister had gone to Cochi on 3rd of March to arrange for advocates to assist the prosecution, hence the FF team could not interact with them.

Murugan, brother-in-law of Madhu works in the Government Statistical Department says, ‘…some 15 years back one person in 15 tribal villages would be mentally ill but now about 3 persons in a village is mentally ill because, we lost our land, culture and food. We are unable to run behind and cope up with the world that hues and cries of development’. ‘The development factors have destroyed our tribal nature and we are fearful of the settlers around us’. The education that is taught to us and our children are alien to us, it is the victory of invaders and in no way connected to our culture, people and development of tribes and thus we are totally alienated from our roots’. This is why our people face threat and beaten up by the settlers as though we are the culprits.

• Kakki: ‘4000 tribal participated in the protest seeking justice for Madhu and fair investigation. Because they saw the brutal attack and murder of Madhu. This crime has brought us together and stand for our rights’ says the paternal uncle of Madhu. He further states that the Pattayam of agricultural land belonged to the family is with the money lender and we do not hold the revenue documents. Our neighbourhood families also have lost their patta either in the bank or with the money lender and thus we do not have control over our land, the lands that our forefathers tilled. Also, we have a Government Hospital but the Doctor comes ones in a month only. The villages of Kinatrukarai, Palapada, Thadikundu, Mirugela, Chindaki, Thuduki-I & II, Kalari, Kadumanna and Anawai depend on the CHC hospital at Agali which is about 19 km or Mannarghata about 22 kms. Thus for emergencies, we are not able to have access to health and our children and women face multiple diseases due to non access to health systems.

• Shinu Mon (9387944165): A representative of a political party was around consoling the family of Madhu along with his party cadres. He said the government is taking all steps to protect the interest of tribal and would do a fair investigation in the case. He insisted that the tribal need to eat healthy food and drink a good amount of water. To which the neighbours complained them of the land patta issues and lack of water resources to continue their agriculture as they are unable to access free agriculture electricity and need for proper health services.

• Women’s Collective: Priya (26), Valli (27), Sundary (25), Lakshmi (34), Mini (28) and Sandya (24) are from Chindaki village where Madhu belongs to. They expressed their grief and concern over the murder of Madhu and the fear factor haunting them and their children. The women and children look feeble, mal nourished and pale lacking HB count. It is shared that their HB count is somewhere between 2.5 to 8 which alarmingly is below the normal average count of 11. They lack healthy traditional food. Their dependency on ration rice alone makes them weak. All of them have dropped out from school before completing their schooling. The High School is in Agali which is about 19 km away from their area which causes concern over travelling an unsafe long distance.

• Maruthan (65): A senior member of Chindaki village of Madhu’s village. He says that what happened to Madhu should not happen to anyone tribe around here. We lived happily with our fore fathers happily in this forest. Whereas, now we are scared over the brutal attacks of the settlers in our region who remain a threat to us. We had healthy local governance with Moopan and we were safe but with the modern panchayat system, the party personnel from our tribes do not represent our interest and concerns. We would do well with our traditional governance system.

Statements and Opinions of Govt. Representatives

• Dr.Suraj, Medical Officer, CHC of Agali: He was one of the medical officers who conducted the medical test on Madhu. He shared his views on the death of Madhu. ‘At 4.15pm on 22.02.2018, 2 Police personnel along with a driver brought Madhu, after initial investigation declared him brought dead.’ The travel time from Mukkali to Agali is hardly about 15 minutes, but Madhu was rescued from the mob at Mukkali around 3.00pm and if he was rushed immediately without delay, could have seen the possibilities of saving him. However, Madhu had sustained severe injuries to the head and severe internal injuries that would have caused the death of Madhu and we did not find any external injuries and contusion. On the following day, the body was taken to Trissur Medical College Govt.Hospital for post-mortem and autopsy. In Kotathara there is Tribal Super speciality Hospital where emergency cases could be saved and in Chindaki there is sub centre to do first aid and dispensing of medicine and there are 7 sub centres attached to this CHC. He stated that since there is an issue of malnutrition in the tribal region, the CHC has a separate unit of Nutritional Rehabilitation Centre (NRC) to provide a special care of SAM and MAM children.

• Mr. Subramanyam, Dy. Superintendent of Police, Agali: He is the special investigating officer of the murder case of Madhu. He was the one who altered the FIR and is into the investigation of the case. The case is supervised by the IG being a special case. The FFT met him at his office and amidst his busy schedule, he opted to meet us for a few minutes. He said, the case is under investigation, the accused 16 of them have been arrested and remanded and 11 of the prime accused have been taken on police custody for custodial interrogation to unearth various factor leading to the murder of Madhu. When enquired about, how outsiders could go into the buffer zone without the permission of the Forest Officers, he said there is a separate enquiry conducted by the Forest Department as well. And what they would do to protect the interest of the tribal women and children, he said they are safe and all safety measures would be taken to protect them and a special squad is set to protect the tribes of the areas.

• Mr. —-Revenue Divisional Officer, Agali: He is the officer who conducted the inquest for the body of Madhu and being a case under SC/ST Act, needs to supervise the case. He said in a brief interview that inquest was conducted at the CHC, Agali and handed over the body for post-mortem. He is not directly supervising the case but an IG is supervising the case. The FFT was with him in a meeting held for village animators 150 of them from 192 tribal hamlets on the issues of land, community kitchen and employment issues. He was found addressing that 649 land cases are pending before the Revenue Court and as per Kerela Forest Act, about 1000 persons would be given one acre of land based on the applications, scrutiny would be conducted and then would be brought before the Revenue Court where the matter will be decided and it is a tedious process that the government is undertaking to provide land to landless tribes. He also found conducting a meeting at Panchayat Office at Agali to initiate various schemes meant for tribes. It shows that the death of Madhu has instigated the departments to reconsider long pending revenue issues pertaining to tribes in Attapadi region.

• Visit to Tribal Super Speciality Hospital at Kotathara: With the continuous demands made by the adivasis sangams, a super speciality hospital has been established and properly maintained for the access of adivasis of Atapadi. The Head of the Medical Institution Mr. Prabhu doss is committed to the cause and is maintaining the hospital well. However, 60% of services are again utilized by the non-tribes and tribal medical officers are yet to take over the hospital.

Key Observations and Findings

• There has been a systematic expropriation of indigenous lands of Attapadi tribes/ adivasis since the 1940s by the settlers from the plains. The land reforms and Kerala Forest Act have not in any way protected the interests of Tribal. Now, 90% tribal land has been illegally amassed by the settlers who have changed the traditional nativity of the tribal land and devastated forest lands.
• The excruciating exclusion of tribes in Attapadi lies under the hideous reality of casteism and in which the Adivasis and Dalits become victims of development and brushed aside to the fringes of their forest abode.
• The adivasis are threatened by the so called mainstream society and development measures of capitalism which is absolutely damaging the culture, education, livelihood, land, local self governance and health of the adivasis. The adivasi children are often traumatized because of the persistent discriminations in the schools and the non accessibility of continuing education due lack of neighbourhood schools pushes them out of school despite their strenuous efforts to continue their education.
• The crime against adivasis from in the last decades have been on the increase and many such instances go unnoticed as there are not mechanisms to complain and seek justice.
• There is a well-knit nexus between the government agents like Forest and Revenue Department and Police Department and the settlers who illegally appropriate the forest land and produces and unleashing extraordinary levels threat, fear and legal violence against the adivasis .
• Various departments, like Police, Forest, Revenue and Hospital do not have adivasis representatives and officers which opens a wide gap and the reach out remains a failure because of non-willingness from the end of the dominant community officials who ensure non-functioning of the public system towards fulfilling the rights of adivasis.
• Madhu an Kurumba tribe was brutally murdered on the day light by the settlers around for allegedly stealing some rice and eatables for his survival and it is widely acknowledged with anger by the public and the public conscience has been shaken towards this inhuman death and every one in unanimous look forward towards establishing justice to the murder of Madhu and seek protection of Adivasis in their native lands.
• The children and women from various tribes of Attapadi are under dire threat of peaceful coexistence in their native lands and fear of being molested and threatened by the settlers in every move taken forward by them in regard to education, health and agricultural development.
• The tribes in the buffer zone seem to be living in a open jail controlled around and encompassed by the forest department, development activities by the State and estates owned by the settlers who totally control the native tribes in the areas. Hence continuing education, development scenario for the adivasis remains a mirage.
• The Attapadi region with its vast area does not have a higher educational institutes focussing the higher education of adivasis keeping in mind their native culture and history.

Recommendations

1. A comprehensive Judicial Inquiry and investigation on the murder of Madhu along with all the suspicious deaths of Adivasis registered during the last 10 years in the Attapadi region.
2. To protect the holistic development and protection of Adivasi, initiate a special recruitment drive of Adivasi youth in Revenue, Police, Forest, Excise, Medical Departments within Attapadi region and these departments should have 60% staff recruitment reserved to the Adivasis.
3. Various scheme and programme based Adivasi employees should by policy get permanent employee status and the budget allocation in Tribal Special Component should ensure that.
4. All tribes in Attapadi and other regions of Kerala should be provided with a minimum of 10 acres of land with non-transferable Patta with provision of free electricity and water facility to continue their traditional agriculture pattern.
5. There needs to be a Special Tribal Revenue Courts/ Land Grabbing Cell to settle the disputes arising over the land claims of Adivasis and land grabbing by the settlers and others and also a Special Tribal District Judicial Magistrate Court to hear Advasis criminal/civil cases.
6. State needs to ensure special allocation of Budget for health, education and livelihood (Agriculture, irrigation with MSP) to ensure the tribe population of Kerala and give priority to adivasis in all these components.
7. The State should make special legislative provisions to ensure devolution of powers to tribal traditional governance system and decentralized local governance to guarantee promotion of Adivasis and ensure a minimum of 5% of Adivasis representation in all planning, monitoring and budget committees for all programmes/schemes related to Adivasis.


[Via Sam Jacob & Karthik Navayan]


This article was originally published in RoundTableIndia on March 28, 2018.


Picture: deshabhimani

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Editorial Team of Adivasi Resurgence.

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