The Paliyans living in the forests of the Sirumalai Hills in Tamil Nadu are missing out on all sorts of government benefits due to their not having the necessary identification documents. A reporter, A. Shrikumar, described the ways these lacks of identity cards have affected the people for a story in The Hindu on Wednesday last week, June 26.

The Sirumalai forested hills in the Dindigul District of Tamil Nadu
The Sirumalai forested hills in the Dindigul District of Tamil Nadu (Photo by Arulsjose in Wikimedia, Creative Commons license)

Some Paliyan children, for instance, are hindered in their desires to gain more schooling because they lack what are called “community certificates.” The reporter interviewed a 16-year-old boy named V. Bhoominathan who is eager to pursue his education beyond the 10th grade. “I knocked [on] the doors of many schools in [several different communities] … but I could not get a seat in any of the schools,” the young man complained.

About 20 other Paliyan children in the Sirumalai villages are similarly finding it difficult to get the schooling they want due to the same problem: they lack community certificates. Nearly 70 Paliyan families living in the Sirumalai Hills lack a variety of other identity documents. M. Muthamma complained to the newspaper about the fact that one girl is unable to gain admission to college due to her lack of proper documents. They have contacted the revenue and the forest departments about their need for ID cards but without any success.

A policeman The Hindu spoke with expressed the thought that the Paliyans remain aloof from the rest of the local society because of their lack of proper documents. He attributed other problems with their livelihoods, as he saw them, to their lack of ID documents, such as living in huts in the forests and collecting honey and tubers.

Six Paliyan kids
Six Paliyan kids (Photo courtesy of Steven Bonta)

A forester working in the area did point out that a few years ago 18 Paliyans were given some forest land under the provisions of the Forest Rights Act. Others have been given some land for cultivation. Murugan, a worker for an NGO active in the Sirumalai Hills, told the reporter that the process of issuing the community certificates should be expedited.

Sivaprathan, the Village Administrative Officer for Sirumalai, said that the proper forms had been completed and sent up to higher level officials in the bureaucracy. The official did say that there are discrepancies in some of the documents—differences in addresses on several forms, irregularities in the forms, and so on. “However, we are working to find a solution at the earliest,” the official added.

T.G. Vinay, the Collector for the Dindigul District, once again visited his tribal constituents in the forests, this time on June 26. News stories in April 2018 and in February 2019 described his earlier visits to Paliyan communities in the forests . This time he visited Moolaiyaaru village in the Kodaikanal Hills to meet the Paliyan people. He used the occasion to give 22 families tracts of land and the necessary property registration papers.

He announced that a special camp would be held on Saturday and Sunday, June 29-30, in Ponnuruki village to look into their grievances and to try to help them out.