From dense forests to cast their votes

83 members of the Malampandaram tribe had enrolled their names in the voters list

Living inside the dense forests of Sabarimala, it took Rajendran a one-hour long trek and then a 16-km-long ride along the forest route along with his wife and two children to cast his vote at a polling station in Nilakkal on Tuesday.

Currently residing at Chalakkayam near Pampa, this was for the second time in the last six months that this 34-year-old, a member of the Malampandaram tribe, emerged out of the forests with his family to take part in the electoral process. Staying in a makeshift dwelling, the family has been part of a nomadic tribal community that eke out a living by collecting forest produce.

“Unlike those living inside the Kakki forests, we always try maintaining a good relationship with the people outside and are eager to participate in the electoral process,” he said.

But with just two polling stations in their ward, which is spread out across a wide area from Llaha to Pampa, casting vote has been a challenging task for his community members.

As per official estimates, about 83 members of the tribe who live inside the forests here have enrolled their names in the voters list for the Sabarimala ward, which falls in the Perunad panchayat.

Political parties generally give the tribe a wide berth during their campaigns as drawing them to the polling booths has been a herculean task, but the election officials often try to reach out to them for conducting the polls.

“The community has been generally hesitant to attend any activity outside the forest. With cases pending against some of them, the fear of getting caught could be one reason for this,” explained a police officer on duty.

Bhaskaran, a 30-year-old tribal, who turned up to vote on Tuesday, attributed the lower turnout this time to several families moving into the forest with the onset of summer.

“Most of them must have been unaware of this event,” he pointed out.

Satheesh, a local resident who had worked as a tribal promoter in the region for 13 years, said the Malampandaram community was leading a miserable life without access to adequate food and fearing wildlife attacks. Despite repeated requests, the authorities have been largely ignorant to their plight and this must have added to their hesitancy, he pointed out.

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