A group of Todas living in Kannagai Mund at Ithalar in the Nilgiris are clinging onto their traditional way of life and refusing to leave the hamlet they have called home for many centuries, even as a lack of roads and disputes over water with non-tribals living nearby continue to make life extremely difficult for them.
The Toda families left in the ‘mund’ (Toda hamlet), numbering around 15, said that they had lost many members who had been residing in the hamlet to heart attacks and sudden diseases as they could not be rushed to hospitals due to the lack of roads leading from their hamlet to the Ithalar village.
“We have to walk between 3-4 km. in precarious roads where wild animals roam free to get to the main road. We have to carry people who are sick on blankets attached to poles to get them to the road,” said Mullu Kuttan, who recently lost his elder brother to a heart attack, after they were unable to get him to a hospital on time. “I also lost my 18-year-old son the same way,” he added.
The Todas living here don’t have access to toilets either, and are embroiled in an ongoing dispute with a non-tribal hamlet nearby over access to water from a small stream flowing through their village.
Though they had had cordial relationships with the villages nearby for many years, the acute water crisis which impacted the Nilgiris in the beginning of the year led to a scramble for water between the indigenous Todas and the non-tribals populating one of the villages nearby.
M Jayasin, another resident, said that the villagers were asked to not dig a well and collect water from a stream by the non-tribals. They also allege that pipes have been used to divert water away from their hamlet and to one of the villages nearby, leading many of the local residents to walk down a steep ravine to the stream to collect water. “Because we face such tremendous difficulties, around 15 families that used to live in the ‘mund’ have gone to other towns or other hamlets. We have two important temples here, and we cannot even maintain any Toda buffalo here because there are no pastures,” said Ms. Jayasin.
Residents also said that the lack of roads leading to the hamlet meant that children also lost interest in school, and many stopped studying. “On Monday’s, when children have to wear white school uniforms, we have to walk with them to the road and then ask them to change their clothes there, as otherwise their uniforms would get muddy. Many girl students would obviously find this uncomfortable and prefer to stay at home,” said another resident of the hamlet.