UTC - Women's Studies Department



Tribal women

‘Tribal unwed mothers never kill their kids’



Wayanad’s sorrow — of abandoned unwed tribal mothers and their illegitimate children — has popped up again, though with a difference: a recent report from the remote Tirunelli forests in the district claimed that these mothers had been killing their children “frequently”!

However, firebrand tribal leader C K Janu who hails from Tirunelli told Deccan Herald over the telephone on Friday that the report which appeared in a Malayalam weekly was “a lie”. When contacted, the Wayanad district collector termed it “unbelievable”.

The report had quoted an anganwadi teacher, Ms Lakshmikutty, who has been working among the tribal population for some years as claiming that seven children had perished in this fashion in the last one year. It had also quoted a tribal woman and mother of three as admitting that she was forced to kill two of her children as she could not find food for them.

“I know my people in Tirunelli. Tribal women are not heartless to kill their children or abort the foetus. They may be unwed after being cheated by the civilised lot, but they will protect their children at any cost by doing even menial jobs,’’ said Janu from Thodupuzha in Idukki district. She now leads Adivasi Maha Sabha.

According to official estimates, there are about 300 unwed mothers in Wayanad for whom the raising of their illegitimate children has not only been a challenge but also a psychological trauma. This is because even the liberal tribes excommunicate girls who become pregnant before marriage. There have been scores of girls getting pregnant before reaching the age of marriage.

Mr K Sugunan, a social activist working among the tribes, however, said: “Pregnancy-related complications used to be reported widely in hospitals. You should note that the women also get pregnant in quick succession. It is possible that some of them may have been trying to abort their foetuses.’’

Wayanad District Collector K Gopalan said that even teenage unwed mothers could be seen in some tribal pockets of the district. “The problem is that they don’t speak out or identify the father of their child even if he is their neighbour. But they are by and large against abortion. It is difficult to believe this,’’ he told Deccan Herald.

Though the Kerala Women’s Commission’s initiative by enforcing DNA tests has checked the widespread sexual exploitation of the tribal women to some extent, the victims continue to suffer in silence.

Some of the members of the local media in Wayanad, who trekked to Tirunelli on Thursday to check the veracity of the report, said they did not get any evidence to suggest that the children were being killed by the unwed mothers. Though they admitted that it was difficult to get any proof, one of them said that the number of the so-called killings had now shrunk to “seven in seven years’’ from the “seven in one year” claimed by the magazine.

Janu said that tribal girls had grown more aware of the lurking danger in meeting men outside their tribe. Wayanad used to be once dubbed as a haven for those officially sent packing from other parts of the state including policemen as punishment transfers. The tribal girls get unwittingly lured by some of these men for just anything spectacular, even a pair of colourful bangles.

Mr Gopalan said that the unwed mothers were being given jobs in government schemes as part of their rehabilitation. The Central government-sponsored RSV Yojana was one such scheme, he added.

[Deccan Herald, Saturday, June 12, 2004]