Thiruvananthapuram | Posted on Sep 07, 2011 at 10:49am IST Depleted offering to the Maharaja

THIRUVANANTHAPURAM: The custom repeated without any change yet again. The loyal subjects trudged several weary miles from Kottur forest to meet their ruler at Kowdiar Palace. Before their king, the tribesmen sat cross-legged, unpacking their yields and their grievances. Smiles and pleasantries were offered to the tribes and were bountiful too, but not the yields they had brought for their ruler.
�The gifts had dwindled in size, shape and numbers. Last year, they had gratified the royal family with pure, sweet honey, chunky tapiocas, rice and immensely heavy plantains along with other yields. This time, they could only offer ‘chalunga’ (a type of tuber crop), a few bamboo caskets, two smaller, less-nourished yams than they had brought last year and a variant of plantain mostly used for making curry (‘monthan kaya’).
�Honey, rice and even the most popular plantains were missing. ‘’What shall we do? We have stopped rice and tapioca cultivation. The forest range officers would not let us do that,’’ says Parappan Kani, one among the 30-member group which came to pay their customary visit to Marthanda Varma, head of the Travancore royal family, on Tuesday. They say that they now depend on ration rice for food.
�Earlier, self-cultivated rice and tapioca provided for their routine diet. They buy their ration rice by travelling nearly 25 km from Kottur to the market at Valippara, near Kattakkal. It was one of such journeys for buying ration rice that cost a tribal lady her life after she was stamped to death by a tusker.
‘’We have been strictly asked not to extract honey. We can’t even light fire to scare away the wild animals from our agricultural field. The forest officers closely monitor us as if we are encroachers. This is where we have lived for generations and how can they ask us not to do this and that,’’ asks Mathavan Kani.
The group is also apprehensive about how long they will be able to carry on this tradition.
‘’Whenever we protest, we are threatened to evacuate. The land where we live was gifted to our forefathers by the then rulers of Travancore. We can’t leave our land at any cost,’’ says Pirappan Kani. He recollects that five years ago, the 22 Kani settlements in Kottur forest were asked to separate and move on to Neyyar and Peppara.
They shared their concerns with Marthanda Varma, whom they still regard as their ruler. Aswathy Thirunal Gowri Lakshmi Bayi and Pooyam Thirunal Gowri Parvathy Bayi assured them that their grievances would be taken up with the concerned Minister.
The tribal group led by Mallan Kani had travelled nearly 25 km on foot from Kottur to Valippara, before they were taken to the Palace on a mini van. The group returned with a Rs 6,000 cheque and ‘Onakodis’ gifted by Marthanda Varma.