Environmental Degradation And Economic Challenges Faced By The Kurumbas Of Melebhudayar, Attapadi, Kerala
Tribal livelihood is greatly influenced by the environment that they live with. Amidst novelties, the Tribal population in most of the states in India habituate and depend on the ecology for their sustainability. Tribal population is characterised by backwardness due to very many reasons such as social, geographical isolation, inaccessibility and has a great problem with reach of services. This backwardness makes the Tribal population to be vulnerable among other categories of people (World Bank, 2012). Tribal people are distinct in terms of their interaction with the environment that they habituate. Most of their diets are based on forest produce which is of sufficient nutrition. They make use of every roots and shoots in their environment for their medicinal values and other daily use such that one could observe their culture intertwined with the natural environment.
To follow the tradition and customary practices are very important for the tribal people because it consists of their values, faith and beliefs. Tribal tradition is an approach followed over the years and handed down from generation to generation, ensuring that it leads to a high degree of spirituality and honour. Tribal cultural factors are the established beliefs, values, traditions, laws and languages of a tribe. These factors also include the artistic values, marriage customs and religious beliefs that are indigenous to a particular region. It’s the foundation to a prosperous lifetime. Tribal economy is based on their culture which is based on the geography and ecology of the environment that they habituate. Some of the Tribes are best known for their traditional medical practice which is the sum of the skills, knowledge and practices based on the experiences, theories, beliefs and are indigenous to different cultures, whether explicable or not, used in the maintenance of health as well as in the prevention, diagnosis, improvement or treatment of physical and mental illness (Basu, 1996). Most tribal medicine is effectives with chronic conditions, the healing takes place at a steady and a gradual level which is an advantage over it. The numbers of South Indian tribes are perhaps unlimited with their miscellaneous existence, which has now gained popularity throughout the country (Muthu, Raja, & Ignacimuthu, 2006).
Tribes and The Forest
Most of India’s growth is based on agrarian societies. Agriculture being the prime occupation is based on plains to the most and makes the most use of the lands in India. Next agriculture stands forestry, forest contributes for second largest use of land in India. Most of the Tribal population being aboriginal utilize the forests to make use of their livelihood as it provides them with direct employment opportunities which are seasonal, permanent in nature. Secondary employment opportunities are provided to the Tribal population through the usage of native skills. Some of such occupation includes the making of paper pulp, rayon, plywood, tanning, bamboo and cane products, musical instruments, wooden and earthenware utensils and other minor produces which include honey, spices, fuelwood and medicinal plants (Gera, 2002).
Most of the forest lands are based on rain failing which they end up in poor productivity. There are other environmental degradation that are influencing the forest based ecology to a great extent resulting in poor soil fertility, natural resource degradation and loss of land mass (Chakraborty, Tewari, & Jha, 2009). Further, the natural resource depletion has brought down a reduction in the sustainable livelihood aspect of the Scheduled Tribes in India which a serious concern that needs to be researched upon (Maske, Mungole, Kamble, Chaturvedi, & Chaturvedi, 2011).
A study conducted among the tribal communities in Jharkhand expresses that the 68.53 per cent of the Tribal population are self-employed through collection of forest produces and 31.47 per cent are receiving direct employments through the forest that they dwell (Ajaz-ul-Islam, Quli, Rai, & Sofi, 2013). This explains the dependence of the Tribal people on their environment. Parallel to this idea, there also exists other issues that troubles the Tribal population such as landlessness, legal constraints and forest rights that hassles the Tribal development with regard to environment based sustenance (The World Bank, 2000). Moreover the change on the biosphere has drastic effects on the Tribal communities who depend on forest based agriculture and sustenance.
This amount of dependence and the impact created through environmental change needs to be studied as it would help in understanding how the stake holders of the Tribal economy could intervene. Keeping view of this ideology the present study was conducted with the following objectives:
Field of Study
The present study was conducted among the Kurumbas of melbhudayar. The Kurumbas also called as Kurumbars are an aboriginal tribe extensively found in the Nilgiri plateau adjoining Kerala, Karnataka and Tamil Nadu (Kapp & Hockings, 1989). Their language is a mixture of the Dravidian languages and they practice Hinduism. There are seven division of Kurumba spread throughout the Western Ghats of India. Hereditarily they have a sound community administration where they have a hamlet council with a leader, cashier, priest and peons (Mohanty, 2004). Melebhudayar is part of Attapady block stretched around a serene surrounding deep within the hills. It is a hamlet which is part of Bhudayar village where 30 families reside on government built tenements.
The researcher in the present study adopted a Descriptive design to describe the environmental problems faced by the Kurumbas. A case study method was adopted and through a Simple Random Sampling, five respondents were chosen for the study. The data was collected through an Interview Guide. In-depth interviews were conducted for the purpose of the study.
Findings Through the Study
The researcher has collated the data received through 5 respondents and select themes identified through the verbatim are presented below
Lack of Rain Fall
In the recent years, the region has been depleted of rainfall because of which many anomalies have occurred in their environment. The rainfall depletion resulted in a terrible water scarcity and the Kurumbas have to go three Kilometres downhill by walk to fetch water for their daily use. They have taps on their lanes which needs to be operated through the Panchayat office. Once in a week they get water from these facilities and for the rest of the days the Kurumbas are left to draw water from possible resources around their vicinities. The drought continues for them throughout the summer till autumn, only in the winter they receive water through water sources. This leads them into health issues as well. Their personal hygiene and dietary practices have become altered due to such an environmental change.
Reduction in Crop Productivity
The water scarcity has naturally pushed them into failure of crop production. With poor water resources the Kurumbas hardly have a clue of how to cultivate. The Kurumbas depend on forest based agriculture and vegetation. They cultivate cereals and pulses in the forest land allotted to them. The cultivated cereals are sold or exchanged for other goods in the plains. Lack of water facilities also has pushed them to have changes in their staple foods where the traditional paddy is replaced with bamboo rice at times of scarcity. Moreover the overall crop production has seen a decline in the recent years expresses a respondent during the interview. The respondents express that to have proper cultivation like before is very hard yet, if water could be drawn from a waterbody which is 4 Kilometres from their community (2 hills apart) then the community can resume their cultivation and enjoy greater crop production.
The reduction in produce has now left the Kurumbas in Melebhudayar to look for alternative ways of sustaining their economy. As water is scarcely available the Kurumbas now look for other employment opportunities in other villages such as agricultural labouring, MGNREGS and other seasonal jobs that are available in a proximate distance. The environmental degradation is rampant and is visibly witnessed in the vicinity. All the respondents reported that the quality of soil also has become poor as they are unable to make use of crop rotation or shifting cultivations. Moreover the men in the community have gone for other jobs as monsoons failed, this has resulted on a decline on the traditional occupations and the traditional economy in the Tribal context.
The extent of natural dependence over the environment has been very strong among the Kurumbas because of which many of them are unable to cope up and undergo the transition which directly affects their family’s income and economy. In order to sustain with their living in their ancestral lands, the Tribes try their best in making suitable transitions. Most of the Kurumbas at present have become seasonal migrants doing various jobs at other places during scarcity and come back to do minor forest agriculture when the water is available. Lack of proper water shed management and irrigation facilities have also added to this created a havoc on their economy.
The present study focused on how a community becomes depleted of its resources through environmental degradation thereby leading them to poverty. Lack of rainfall is something irreversible, yet the environmental degradation and issues allied to it could be taken care if sustainable and greener practices are ensured by the government. Moreover the failure of proper watershed management needs to be catered by the government. Irrigation facilities like drip irrigation can be ensured to the communities through tube wells and other modes. The Kurumbas being aboriginal need to be kept self-sustaining through proper economy and other welfare measures and to ensure as such a healthy economy their environmental needs should be met such that a holistic development could be witnessed among the Kurumbas.
Research Scholar, Department of Social Work, Pondicherry University, Puducherry
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