Adivasi leader and land rights campaigner from Wayanad C K Janu recently visited Adivasi hamlets in Attappady in Palakkad district, spoke to elders in the community and met mothers who lost new-born babies.
“I wanted clarity on the infant deaths in Attappady about which I am writing in detail in my upcoming autobiography,” Janu said.
Janu began writing the autobiography after Kerala went into lockdown in the wake of COVID-19. She has completed a major portion of the book titled Adimasanthathiyude Adayalappeduthalukal or Recordings of a Slave’s Ward, which appears to be a new subaltern chapter in Malabar history.
She plans to release the book in March this year.
“An autobiography has been on my wishlist for many years. Lockdown curtailed my movements and hence I got time to write the book,” she said.
Janu’s name is synonymous with the biggest Adivasi land agitation in Kerala.
The struggle began in 2001 after 30 Adivasis starved to death. This forced the Adivasis to take back their lands for farming. Thousands of Adivasis under the banner of Adivasi Dalit Action Council – which later became the Adivasi Gothra Maha Sabha (AGMS) – set up huts in front of the chief minister’s office in Thiruvananthapuram. They dispersed 48 days later after receiving an assurance from the government that it would distribute between one acre and five acres each of cultivable land to the landless poor.
But the government did not keep its word. Two years later, in February of 2003, thousands of Adivasis walked into the Muthanga Wildlife Sanctuary in Wayanad and set up camps there. They declared self-rule and started cultivating the land. The state responded with force and sent the police to evict them. Government maintained that the clashes killed one Adivasi protester and one policeman. The Adivasis, however, maintain that 16 of their community members were shot dead that day.
The agitation was followed by Nilpu Samaram, or standing protest, in 2014, demanding a package for families involved in the Muthanga agitation, compensation for children and for those who were arrested, and the handover of 19,600 acres of forestland allotted by the Central government. They called off the agitation 162 days later after the state government agreed to most of their demands. But the state has not kept its promise so far.
What is in the autobiography?
Janu promises the autobiography will lay bare the travails of the Adivasi slaves in Wayanad. “My parents were slaves. I too was a slave. This book is about difficulties faced by the slaves,” she says.
The book, says Janu, tells stories of her inner conflicts, physical and mental harassments and humiliations.
“I passed through many sleepless nights because of mental torture. This is a true story. I haven’t added anything to it.”
Janu was an active worker of Kerala State Karshaka Tozhilali Union (KSKTU), the farm workers’ union of the Communist Party of India (Marxist). Later, she went on to lead the Adivasi Gothra Maha Sabha (AGMS).
In 2016, Janu formed Janadhipathya Rashtriya Samithi and joined the National Democratic Alliance led by the BJP. She left the NDA in 2018. After that she reportedly held talks with the CPM-led Left Democratic Front to become an alliance partner. But nothing has been materialised so far.
“My political activism is also part of the autobiography.”
Janu depends on agriculture for a living. But the floods in 2018 and 2019 broke her back because of low yield from the cash crops.
Apparently, the financial difficulties are troubling her very much now. “During the lockdown, I realised that I have not lived for myself. The thought spurred me to write the autobiography,” she says.
During the lockdown, Janu took efforts to earn a driving licence. “I got the learners’ licence. I need a job to earn a living. So I am not averse to taking up the driver’s job,” she says.
The Attappadi trip helped Janu to fine-tune her driving skills. “I drove a long distance under the vigil of the driver I had hired for the journey.”
“So the trip helped me fulfil my dreams of writing an autobiography and earning a driving licence,” Janu says.