It's not about #PoMoneModi, It's about our own Attappady.

Keralites (Malayalis) have gone berserk over PM Narendra Modi’s remarks comparing the infant mortality rates in Attappady and Somalia.

The statement could be interpreted as ignorant, opportunist or even racist and is of no doubt wrong and unbecoming of a prime minister, but is that it?

I don’t think so.

Here is something we need to know about Attappady before jumping into the bandwagon. The life in Attappady and how deep is the contrast between the place and rest of Kerala.

The term adivasis a.k.a tribals holds a very different picture in the minds of an average Malayali. If not the flamboyant tribal costumes, it brings upon a hunter-gatherer culture that is close to nature.

But it isn’t no where close to where Attappady or any other adivasi ooru (tribal colonies) stand. Adivasis in Kerala symbolise a population that has been cordoned off from their livelihood and left to perish in an environment in which they would never be able to form a connection, let alone survive.

They are centuries behind Kerala in every metric you could come up with. Only a minuscule portion of their community is able to leverage the ST reservation and much like the Meena community in Rajasthan, the affirmative actions is being enjoyed by only a handful of tribes.

To make matters worse, they are divided deeply based on Tribal lines making it almost impossible to come up with a common front that would fight for their causes.

Even when they manage to stitch up political alliances and voice for their cause, they are blatantly ignored by the media and their struggle seldom comes to the popular discourse in the state.

One recent example is the nilpu samaram (‘Stand up still our demands are met’) in front of the legislative assembly. It took months before it reached popular consciousness and even then most of the demands were not met and the movement was hastily concluded.[1]

Now coming to the facts that Modi said in the rally, He stated that the infant mortality rate of Attappady is worse than that of Somalia.

Is it true? No. Do I have data? Yes.

According to a study by National Institute of Nutrition conducted in 2013, the IMR (Infant Mortality Rate) in the Attappady region was 66 compared to 12 in the rest of Kerala. [2]

The CIA factbook 2015 places Somalia third in the world with an IMR of 98.39 [3]. India isn’t much better, we stand 50th in the world with an IMR of 41.81. All data is taken from CIA factbook 2015. [3]

But look at the contrast! Kerala government places it’s IMR somewhere close to 6 and that includes the Tribal regions like Attappady. In short, rest of Kerala is doing much better compared to our own people in Attappady.

We have left them centuries behind in terms of development and in terms of distributing wealth and wellness. A lot of our people have shamelessly exploited the forest ecosystem that belonged to them for centuries and gave them nothing but miseries in return.

I personally know about a man who has literally sold his three daughters for ‘household’ work at some houses in Malappuram. The guy comes once or twice in a year and collects around INR 10k and he is gone. I am not going anecdotal here, but such is the ground reality.

Our own people are in distress and we seldom talk about them. It’s alright to bash the crassness of Modi for comparing us with Gujarat, but we can’t turn a blind eye against all that happens around us.

Modi was ultimately wrong, but that is not something new. He is known for being crass and opportunist and anything that he has to become provided he wins the elections. He is not a suave politician like Shashi Tharoor or Arun Jaitley who cross checks every facts and make measured statements.

Modi reads (presents) professionally written speeches and charms the crowd with his rhetorics. He is known for handpicking instances from history that suits his narrative and helps the crowd connect better with him.

May be he deserves a #PoMoneModi from us mallus. But as a person who have read all his speeches (which are transcribed in English) end to end, I reserve my respect for him touching upon the issue.

Now people like me can write about how bad Attappady is and how we can go about improving the situation. It isn’t a small thing.

Some people have pointed out to me that the situation is not comparable with Somalia since the population size is very small and proper government intervention can bring about rapid improvement.

Some people claim that the situation has improved in the last three or four years due to government intervention. I can’t find any citation for this one, but I sincerely hope the next census presents a very positive outcome from Attappady.

So before we jump into bash Mr. Modi with #PoMoneModi, we all should know where our own brothers and sisters in Attappady stand in terms of development.

Let’s celebrate #PoMoneModi for everything that Mr. Modi is and is not, but we all have that moral obligation to bring up Attappady and other tribal areas into our political discourse. I hope this end up with Attappady being discussed more and the issues of tribal Kerala being sorted out to the earliest.

Jai Hind!




Written on May 11, 2016