The well-laid road that winds down an interminable network of rubber plantations along Chengara abruptly gives way to a rocky path in the last few metres. At the end of it stands the gateway to Ambedkar Memorial Model Village — location of one of the significant land struggles in the State.
The din and bustle of the back-to-back elections in the world outside have made no difference to the life inside. As the State queued up at polling stations on Tuesday, elders in the village, which falls in the Konni constituency, went about their work routine.
The remaining people spent the day in and around a building under construction, which they consider as their library-cum-community hall.
None of the 800-odd adults here have been able to exercise their franchise for the past decade and a half — their attempts to enrol themselves on the voters’ list remaining unsuccessful.
“It seems India does not regard us as their citizens and we are not entitled to any of the rights the country has guaranteed to its people,” says T.R. Sasi, president of the Chengara Land Struggle Committee.
“Nearly 100 people had died and more than 200 children were born in the village over the past 12 years, but none of their names have been entered in the birth and death registers,” he says.
Despite repeated pleas to the government and directives from the State Human Rights Commission, Kerala State Commission for Protection of Child Rights, and State Scheduled Caste/Scheduled Tribe Commission, the people here do not have ration cards, voter identity cards, and house number.
Life in the village has been miserable in the absence of basic necessities, including water and power. The road that passes through the heart of this location remains unpaved and broken.
“Life hit a rock bottom with the COVID-19 outbreak, which effectively prevented us from making ends meet with daily earnings. With little help from the government machinery, the families here survived by sharing whatever little things left with them,” says Biju, a resident here.
As many as 300 landless families, under the aegis of the Sadhu Jana Vimochana Samyukta Vedi, encroached on nearly 145 ha of the HML rubber plantation at Chengara under the cover of night on August 4, 2007 demanding five acres for farming and ₹50,000 in cash towards initial farming expenses for each family. They pitched tents on the occupied land, tapped latex from rubber trees, and later turned to agriculture to eke out a living.