MS Vidyanandan – ATTAPPADI –Attappadi, one of the largest tribal settlements in the state, may be grappling with malnutrition and recurring instances of infant deaths, but the 192 tribal hamlets here have become a hotbed of ‘spiritual’ groups who promise enlightenment to the socially and economically disadvantaged population.
The tribal belt, spread over 745 sq km, has only six schools and three colleges. However, almost all the rural roads in this remote area, located about 75 km away from Palakkad, the district headquarters, are dotted with places of worship, belonging to different religions and subgroups. Though there are a number of temples and mosques, churches have an upper hand in the area. Many churches and prayer halls have sprung up in and around Attappadi in the past few years urging the tribal population to redeem their sins and embrace modern life.
According to tribal heads, the pastors befriend the locals by offering miraculous recovery from serious illnesses and help men kick their drinking habit. Attappady block panchayat president Usha Raju said missionaries were exploiting the naivety and poverty of the tribals. “The missionaries lure the tribals by offering bread and milk. In return, they are asked to attend Church Mass,’’ she said.
‘’Anti-drug campaigns conducted by the pastors are just an eye-wash. Their real intention is to create more followers and the recent incidents of malnutrition deaths have given them more opportunities. It is sad that the government is turning a blind eye to the issue,’’ she said. Sindhu, 37, a Muduga community member, claimed that her son recovered from epilepsy through prayers. The daily wager of Dundoor hamlet said her son Hareesh, a Class IX dropout, used to have occasional epileptic seizures, and the missionaries helped cure his ailment forever. “The Church also helped us in stopping the drinking habit of my husband Maruthan,” she said.
However, Maruthan restarted the habit after a two-year break. Across Attappadi, there are over 2,000 persons like Sindhu who have embraced Christianity partially, said her neighbour Raghu. Raghu, a tribal activist and the convener of the Welfare Party of India, said that pastors, both men and women, regularly visit their hamlets and they could attract a large number of people in hamlets like Pothupady and Chittoor Pangal. “Not only the ‘curing prayers’, they also give money and distribute schoolbags and other items to the faithful,” he said.
Maruthi, secretary of Thaikula Sangham, an organisation of tribal women, said the missionaries have been exploiting the pathetic condition of tribal folks for long.