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Forest landscapes of the southern western Ghats, India

B.R. Ramesh
Rajan Gurukkal

Part II. Analysing The Landscape: The Anamalai Region (Nelliyampathi Hills)

6. Spatiality of Subsistence and the Human Ecology of Landscape: Towards Self-Regulatory Forest Communities

M. Amruth et Rajan Gurukkal

Texte intégral

1Sustainable use of forest resources can be effectively addressed if the spatio-temporal patterns of human actions are understood at the landscape level. Here human ecological enquiry is adopted in place of the conventional socio-economic survey for facilitating a precise understanding of the spatial patterns of the human presence in forest landscape. Human ecological approach is more comprehensive as it addresses the human factor within the larger context of ecological relations. Here, practices of production and consumption by communities are understood in terms of constraints and potentials offered by ecological and human geographical factors.

  • 1 Adivasi meaning ‘original inhabitants, ’ in many Indian languages including Malayalam, is the term (...)

2The human presence in the landscape is mainly in the form of the resident population of adivasi, non-adivasi, the floating population of labourers, the unauthorised collectors of NWFP, poachers, tourists and the forest staff. The resident adivasi population is confined to settlements.1 There are seven ethnic groups among the resident adivasi population in the landscape. The non-adivasi workforce residing in enclaves is another category of population in the landscape, which had been taken into the forest for construction works under hydro-electric projects. These people continued to remain in the same place even after the completion of these projects. There are instances of encroachment of the forest by the non-adivasi population. This paper seeks to trace the contours of human subsistence in and the history of spatialisation of the forest landscape under study. It is an attempt at mapping the human ecological profile of the landscape by tracking the social historical changes in the landscape. The attempt at such an understanding is hopped to be enabling us to propose possible measures for effective institutionalisation of the forest dependent communities by developing their social capital and thereby realising successful participatory conservation and improvement of sustainable livelihood.

The human ecological approach

3The concern of the human ecology is to analyse the role of human agency in changing and regulating the ecological process. From the advent of modern period up to the present, the forest has been perceived as a repository of resources, either to be conserved or to be liquidated, for enabling improvement and progress of the human civilisation. Market and knowledge are some of the influential factors that fashion such perceptions. These two factors forge the rhetoric that renders practices of human appropriations commonsensical and taken for granted. Institutionalisation and subsequent normalisation of practices are key factors in effecting this. Besides, institutions also foster production and reproduction of the systematised knowledge. Knowledge is rendered commonsensical through the rituals of everyday practices in the institutionalised setting. It is constituted and sustained through the rhetoric rather than real. The forestry and forest management are no exception to this. The working plans and management plans of the forest department provide ideal instances of such institutionalised forms of knowledge built on the concept of sustained yield forestry. Rationale of sustained yield forestry is the Cartesian logic of abstracting and simplifying of nature for increased legibility for realising a predictable world. While such a planning enabled through simplification, it failed to capture the diversity and resulted exclusion of complexities that were perceived as too irrelevant to have any management implications, among such redundancy are the values of the non-timber forest products and actions of forest depended communities. Though the idea of state run management of forest has given way to the people oriented or participatory forest management, the underlying rationale of planning in forestry sector has not changed substantially. The forest-depended or affected people find only an unenthusiastic mention in working plans and people do not find any meaningful role in participating in the forest management. Forest department’s approach to the forest-depended people is characterised by a gaze from above, rather than an egalitarian outlook. People as partner in natural resource management are yet to be fully internalised by the administration. In this context, it is important to consider not only the ecology and geomorphology of landscape but also its human ecology.

4Methodology though in the popular sense means the techniques of data collection, authentication and analysis; it is the most vital aspect relating to the science of interpretation. As regards techniques of data collection and processing, we have followed the usual field surveys based on scaling and sampling supplemented by the use of participatory rural and rapid rural appraisal tools (PRA & RRA) and ethnographic means involving participant observation and open ended discussions with the people. As regards the science of interpretation, we have followed critical social theory in general and specific insights of human ecology and human geography in particular.

5The study is primarily socio-ecological in its approach. Socioeconomic and ecological complexities are not always accessible by means of quantification, though attempts have been made, wherever possible, to derive quantitative results. While a larger number of socio-economic indicators would have been desirable in a study like this, owing to the inherent nature of socio-ecological data making it less amenable to quantification, this study have largely depended on qualitative indicators. They relate to changes in the material processes of interaction with (in) the forest ecosystem and the corresponding socio-political relations and institutional conditions. Assessment of livelihood options, means of subsistence and availability of facilities was made by visiting each hamlet and enclave and engaging in extended conversation with the people to understand their landed and cultural assets. Geographical locations of the settlements were made by means of Geographical Positioning System (GPS).

6The current social theoretical understanding is extended for suggesting the modalities and imperatives for formation self-regulating communities in sustainable forest resource management as part of PFM. Forging of collective consciousness and institutionalised form of practices is recommended and modalities for achieving these are elaborated towards the end of this article.

The basic unit of the human ecological study

7The intelligible basic human ecological unit of the landscape under study is the settlement. A settlement here is taken to mean a cluster of households of ethnicity, comparable livelihoods, and largely homogenous socio-cultural practices. It is important that the settlement should not be confused with the village that is a bigger unit in the system of revenue administration. Sometimes several settlements belong to a revenue village in the case of the fringe. In that sense a settlement is closer to what a hamlet means. The word village may be used in a generic sense to mean the settlement too, as in the case of the expression ‘fringe village’, which means a fringe settlement rather than a ‘revenue village’.

Forest dwelling communities

  • 2 Some of the non-adivasi settlements along the fringes with population assuming large size but havin (...)

8Forest dwelling communities in the study area belong to seven adivasi groups such as Kadar, Malasar, Malamalasar, Malayan, Muthuvan, and Mannan. Apart from 52 adivasi hamlets, there are a few non-adivasi enclaves in the landscape (Figure 6.1; Annex 6.1). The adivasi groups constitute nearly 90 percent of the resident population in the forest landscape under consideration, of which the three groups namely Muthuvan, Kadar and Malayan constitute about 70 percent. The people of non-adivasi enclaves come to about 10 percent of the total resident population.2 (Table 6.1 and Figure 6.2).

Table 6.1 Forest dwelling communities: Demographic details (

Table 6.1 Forest dwelling communities: Demographic details (

source: Panchayat records, Census of India reports and from the rolls of ST Service Cooperative Societies. The information could be considered a fair approximation for the year 2001)

Figure 6.1 Location of Advast and non-Advast settlements (see Annex 6.1 for index)

Figure 6.2 Percentage composition of different adivasi population.

9Human settlements in and around the forest landscape exert pressure on forest resources. Subsistence and income generating activities are also influenced by the cultural milieu and market. A brief description on the spatial patterns and social characteristics of each adivasi group is provided below.


10Muthuvan is the largest adivasi community in the study area. There are 11 Muthuvan settlements with a total population of 2433 in 529 households (Annex 6.2). Legends of the Muthuvan tell us that they were originally subjects of Pandyan Kings, and were forced to flee the country to the mountains during the invasion of the Telugu Naika. Whether or not this legend has any truth, this is a powerful narrative invoked during most social occasions. Thus, it has a strong bearing on the construction of their identity. There are also legends that legitimate their practice of cultivation in forests. Matriliny used to be the order of inheritance of power, wealth and position among the Muthuvan. The Muthuvan community has a strong institution of Kani (headman) in all their settlements. The Kani with the right to represent the settlement, and decision-making powers pertaining to conflicts and disputes, is an influential figure. However, the community does not contribute to the maintenance of the headman. Each settlement has some form of clannish affiliation, which has a decisive influence on the mixing of its members with those of other settlements.

11According to a recent study (Balasubramanyan et al, 1989) the Muthuvan in the region belong to three sub-groups:

  • The first consists of the Muthuvan households of Kurathykkudi, Pinavoor, Methanappara, Elamplasseri, Padicup etc. with the longest tradition in the lndscape.

  • The second consists of those in the settlements such as Variyam, Kunjippara, Uriyampatty, Kallelimedu, Thera etc

  • The third consists of those in the settlements at Edamalakkudi, Kozhivila, Companykkudi, Plamala, Veliampara etc .

12Among these, the whole households of the Methanappara of first subgroup and the entire settlements of the second sub-group belong to the landscape units under consideration. It is said that the contacts and marriage relations amongst the three groups are rather limited. The reason for their segregation in to non-inbreeding sub-groups could be their belonging to migrants of disparate periods leaving a little or no chances of interaction. The ethnographic sources of early twentieth century describe the Muthuvan population subsisting on the slash and burn cultivation of the ragi and millets on the steep upper slopes in the forest areas. Later they took to the hill paddy cultivation in concert with Mannan and settled down in the lower altitudes. The shifting cultivation accounts for their migration from place to place after due intervals.


13Muthuvan are enterprising cultivators and their hamlets are located in inaccessible and interior forest areas. The community in general possesses larger holdings compared to those of the Kadar, Malasar and Malamalasar. In the landscape, the Muthuvan settlements are mostly in the Malayattoor forest division, exception being the northern most settlement at Pooppara in Parambikulam. However, there are hamlets of Muthuvan across the state boundary in Tamil Nadu.

14Average size of landholding is 0.48 ha. Although officially the land area per family is only about 0.5 to 1.5 hectares, they usually cultivate more area than is actually allotted to them by the Forest Department. Crops cultivated vary from hamlet to hamlet depending on the local climate and the proximity to market. Usually the cultivation is a mix of edible and cash crops. Edible components vary from varieties of ragi, corn, hill paddy to tuber crops such as yams and Diascorea. Cash crops such as pepper, areca, cardamom, lemon grass and rubber are being cultivated. Cultivation is mostly a family enterprise.

15Apart from the agriculture wage labour, especially the reed harvesting for Kerala State Bamboo Corporation (KSBC) and Hindustan Newsprints Limited (HNL), forms a supplementary income earning activity. Inter household labour exchange for cultivation exists assuming the status of wage labour. Another income earning activity is collection of NWFP. Unlike members of other communities such as the Kadar, Malayan and Muthuvan are selective in collecting NWFP those fetch relatively better earning per unit effort. The items preferred are honey, Dammar, and Wild Nutmeg. The choice of NWFP is also influenced by their availability. Locations of habitations of the Muthuvan community are relatively wet areas with evergreen or semi- evergreen forests and the reed brakes. The Muthuvan cultivate cardamom as undergrowth in the evergreen forests adjacent to their hamlets. The extent of such cultivation used to be larger, but now reduced in extent and intensity due to the restrictions imposed by the forest department. Cardamom and other cash crops are sold through intermediaries, who or their agents, visit the hamlet and purchase the produce by levying an amount towards transportation charges. Though modern amenities such as television and radio come to the aid of the Muthuvan while arriving at the market rates of their produce, they fail to resist the under valuation of their produce in the absence of a competitive market. Similarly, majority of the NWFP collected by the Muthuvan also are sold through these exploitative intermediaries. Although bank accounts are opened for receiving the financial assistance, these are hardly operated as an instrument of saving.

Social change and development

16Changes in the forest policies and administration had a decisive impact on the community especially in recent years. It was noted by the ethnographers in the past that Muthuvan were reluctant to take up wage labour since they considered wage earning as inferior to cultivation (Iyer, 1909). Now in most of the settlements especially in those, which are proximate to the market, wage labour is common for cultivation. The Muthuvan also form labour force of the forest department during seasonal forestry operations such as fire protection and thinning in plantations. The system of slash and burn cultivation prevalent during the early half of 20th century was progressively restrained for longer period by the land revenue department and the forest department during the colonial and post-colonial periods through a series of measures. One such intervention was the sedentarization of the Muthuva communities by allocating land for cultivation. By the early decades of the 20th century itself the free movement of the population was restrained. Prior to the imposition of such measures of control, Muthuvan were mostly shifting cultivators growing cereals, vegetables and tuber crops. However, migration of the Muthuvan populations was taking place in the forests by way of displacements in the wake of the construction of dams and road networks and the expansion of the immigrant settlers. The case of the settlement complex at Variyam provides a good illustration of this point (Box 6.1).

Box 6.1 Emergence of Variyam enclave
The Variyam enclave that has a history of only about forty years is an aggregate of six settlements: Manikkudy, Kandathilkkudi, Koodalarkudi, Mappilap-parakkudi, Chembumkandam, and Gopalankudi, located on a ridge separating the valleys of Edamalayar and Pooyankutty. The first four settlements belong to two groups of the
Muthuvan and last two to the Mannan. The first group was displaced from Kilipparambukudi during the construction of Edamalayar reservoir some 40 years ago, initially to the Thalavachapara and then to Kallelimedu from where to Kunjippara, Uriyampatty and finally to Variyam. The second group also had undergone a similar process of displacement from Mudiss across the Tamil Nadu boundary to Kudalar near Anakulam before they reached Variyam. The Mannan population at the Variyam enclave migrated from two localities in the Neriyamangalam range namely, Korangattikkudi and Thoprankudy near Adimaly some 30 years back. From both the locations, they had been displaced to Mankulam and Kudalar by non-adivasi settlers pushing in from the plains, before settling at Variyam. The Mannan and Muthuvan were enterprising cultivators of hill paddy, ragi, maize and cardamom. They were also collectors of wild cardamom and dammar from forests for sale. Presently, the virippu or the ‘slash and burn cultivation’ is not practised any more in the enclave. Changes in the life of the advasi people of Variyam were thus fuelled by a series of inroads made by the non-adivasi population in the wake of development policies over the decades that followed the independence.

17Reasons for relocation of settlements in the second half of the 20th century was mostly related to the inroads made by government-sponsored development activities (such as industrial extraction of reeds, building of road network, construction of dams and activities relating to the forestry and plantation establishments) and resettlement schemes in the context of ‘grow more food’ campaigns and state reorganisation. The Muthuvan population cultivating Nellimala and Knacherry was displaced to Kurathikkudy and Pinavoor due to the industrial extraction of reeds as well as due to the settlers from the plains. The displacement of the adivasi population by non-adivasis is usually unobtrusive. Balasubramanyan et al (1989) mention three different sequences of such displacement in the region.

“The first is immigrants continuously occupying the fallow land of the tribals. The second is by leasing of tribal-land by promising them an attractive rent. And the third is by providing credit. The net result of all these is that the tribals will move to a new area and the process continues.”

18Now that the forest department has permanently marked the boundary of each of settlements and allocated the land for cultivation, the Muthuvan community is on the verge of a major social change as the shift to settled cultivation has long lasting implication on the mode of subsistence, shift in agricultural technology, redistribution of the family labour, market impacts etc. Shift to perennial crops is the most visible implication of settling; while being implicated with such a change, community hardly received assistance in terms of technical advice from the agricultural department or the agricultural University and such agencies. In a number of instances, it has been observed that the people prefer to cultivate rubber.

19Educational facilities are not easily accessible to the adivasi people, for hamlets are far away from the schools and hostels run for them. However, a large proportion of the Muthuva children receive primary education though the number of dropouts is high. As part of a recently launched programme, Sarva Siksha Abhiyan (SSA-Universal Education Programme), multilevel, single teacher, schools have been opened at most of the settlements in the Malayattoor division. Various agencies such as, village panchayats, forest department and tribal development departments have been providing housing facilities. Very often, these housing schemes are inadequate for their requirements. Traditional house of the Muthuvan is made of bamboo, small poles, reed and mud. These are sufficiently weatherproof, cost effective and comfortable. A majority of the Muthuva households has solar powered illuminating facility provided by government agencies either free-of-cost or at subsidised rates. The exposure to market has been consequential in changing the patterns of consumption. A large portion of the annual savings is spent on tobacco and towards the expenses made at the time of festivals and pilgrimage to Palani and Sabarimala. Rice has taken over as the staple diet in the place of millets and other cereals. Mainstream festivals such as Onam are now celebrated with the same fervour as that of their traditional festivals. In more than one instance, it was noted that idols of the traditional goddesses are substituted by the framed pictures of popular Hindu gods available in the market. The institutions such as Chavadi, the bachelor hostel, have lost their significance as labour pool in the context of the shift from shifting cultivation to settled cultivation.

20The social change among the Muthuva needs to be noted from the point of view of their affinity to identify themselves differently from the outside world. Muthuvan resist obtrusive intrusion by outsiders into their realm of cultural practices despite the growing economic interactions with external agencies. The institution of Kani still has a decisive role in the community affairs. Such traditional features can be enabling factors in institutional development for collective participation in the management of forests.


21The Kadar is the second largest adivasi community next to the Muthuvan, constituting about 25 percent of indigenous population in the landscape. The total population is 1681 in 522 households distributed among 15 settlements in the forest divisions of Parambikulam, Nemmara, Chalakudy and Vazhachal (Annex 6.2). Out of these settlements, three have populations of Malasar and Malamalasar also. The group is considered as one of the ‘Primitive Tribal Groups’ as per the notification of the central government. Kadar have a legend narrating them as descendents of Malavetan and Kurathy who resided in the Karimalagopuram region in Parambikulam. They are said to have been excluding other adivasi groups from their territory probably for avoiding competition over the resources.


22Kadars were originally nomadic food-gathering groups in the forests, employed by the colonial forest department as mahouts, trackers and labourers in the forests of Anamala during the British period. Rulers of Cochin princely state also made use of the community’s traditional acquaintance in forests by engaging them as procurers of forest produce. The quote below summarises the case well:

“It has been said, that, but for the Kadars and the elephants, the Cochin forests would have been useless. Both are the denizens of the hills and forests, and when properly utilised, they are invaluable help to those who wish to extract the priceless treasures of the forests. But for the elephants none could lift a log, and if it were not for the Kadars, none dare move an inch in the forests. During the forest working season these men are employed by the forest contractors for collecting minor forest produce (Iyer, 1909).”

23Kadar exhibit more expertise and professionalism while collection of NWFPs compared to most of the other NWFP gathering groups in the region. Their ability to collect honey from precipitous rocky terrains and tall trees is well recorded.

24The average area of land owned by the Kadar household is 0.04 hectares, which is negligible as compared to Muthuvan or Mannan holdings and obviously insufficient for subsistence. However, in some settlements such as Kalchady and Malakkappara the Kadar community has relatively larger land holdings. Nevertheless, in general the major income of the Kadar community is out of the collection of NWFP and seasonal wage employment provided by the forest department (Annex 6.2).

Social transformation

  • 3 For instance the area of distribution of most of the present day Kadar settlements are in localitie (...)

25Most rituals, customs and practices mentioned in the colonial ethnographic notes have undergone substantial changes over the last few decades. Kadar have been interacting closely with the population from plains during their incorporation as labourers in forestry operations, plantation activities, construction works of hydro-electric projects and road networking. They migrated to enclaves formed at these labour sites at the expense of their traditional landscape and adivasi social fabric. Plantation activities in the landscape continued for a prolonged period in the pre and post-independence period and Kadar were more or less continuously engaged as labourers or NWFP collectors.3 Shifting of locations of residence used to be very frequent in these periods but in later years, shifting sites of residence was mostly determined by shifting of location of labour in forestry operations. Transformation from nomadic food-gatherers to wage labourers in effect obliterated their chances of owning up land for cultivation. Most of their settlements remind the labour camps in the plantations. Up to early 1970s, the right for collection and removal of NWFPs was leased out to the coupe contractors and Kadar had been engaged for collection of the produce by them. The provision shops cum canteens run by the contractors were the point of exchange of goods. So the forest product collection and the consumption pattern of the Kadar were influenced by their interaction with other labour communities from early periods onwards. Interaction with the non-adivasi labour population and the market has been influential in changing the community integrity. These episodes brought the communities close to money economy and market as early as in late 19th century. As a result, they are the most proletarianised and urbanised among the adivasi.

26The system of Kani is obsolete now, as he does not wield any decisive control on the community. Housing facilities were made available by the government from earlier compared to the other adivasi groups. This is one of the consequences of their close affiliation to the governmental departments. At the same time, with the exception of a few, the settlements of Kadar are remotely placed from all kinds of modern amenities such as education, health care and public distribution facilities and markets for labour and services.

27The declaration of Parambikulam as wildlife sanctuary first in 1962 as confined to the catchments of Thunakkadavu (75 km2) and subsequent extension of it in 1973 by inclusion of the teak plantation area (210 km2) in 1985 restricted their activities in these forest tracts. However, this did not affect them at the current intensity since the plantation activities were providing enough employment opportunities. As more restrictions were placed on the forestry operations in wildlife areas by 1990s, the income earning options of the communities were reduced considerably. Economic situation of the community has become more depressing as collection and removal of NWFP from wildlife sanctuaries has been under ban since 1998. The formation of EDC has helped to some extent in continuing the collection of NWFP for a short period, but this is being thwarted by the restrictions on marketing. Presently, the sources of income for the population are limited to the earnings from tourism related activities and to wages from seasonal forest protection and habitat improvement activities inside the sanctuary. Lack of proprietorship on land and restrictions on income generating activities have restricted their livelihood options. In the Vazhachal division, the ongoing plantation activities and reed extraction provide seasonal jobs.


28The Malayan is the third largest group of adivasi communities in the landscape. There are 1489 individuals belonging to 402 households (Annex 6.2). Out of the 16 adivasi settlements with the Malayan population in the study area 11 are located in the fringe area of the reserved forests of the Chimmony wildlife sanctuary and the Chalakudy division. The forestland in these localities is under long-term lease for rubber cultivation. The three Malayan settlements located deep inside the forest landscape– Thavalakkuzhippara, Pongumchuvadu, Thalumkandam are distinct from the rest of the fringe area Malayan populations in terms of their subsistence activities and the extent of landholding. The fringe area settlements such as Chakkipparambu, Cheenikkunnu, Echippara and Olanapparambu have non-adivasi households also within the colony.

29Near-landless status is a salient feature of the Malayan colonies located along the fringes. The Malayan had been forest dwellers before the forest boundaries shrunk to the present state following the shift in land-use. Two processes were operational in deciding their fringe area status:

  1. The Malayan have remained in their original locations of residence even while the boundary of forests have shrunk to exclude them.

  2. In a couple of instances, it was noted that the Malayan populations inside the forests were resettled on the forest fringes.

30In either case, the land allotted was soon alienated to the settler communities especially in the fringe area settlements. Housing condition of the Malayan is rather better. Since the settlements being located in relatively accessible localities, they are able to make use of the educational facilities available to adivasis.

31Major source of Income of these forest-fringing communities is from the NWFP collection and marketing (Annex 6.2). Wage labour is an income supplementing option available to them due to their proximity to the farming communities on the forest fringes. Longer exposures to the settler population and market have considerably impoverished them of the cultural practices and subsistence options in relation to forests. The Moopan and Kani institutions are almost defunct in the community. In terms of life style and consumption, Malayan are not distinct from smallholder settler populations in their neighbourhood. NWFPs collected by the Malayan community is diverse than that of the Muthuva and Kadar communities. This is mainly because a significant proportion of the NWFPs collected is sold to the private vendors. The NWFPs thus collected are transported in some case all the way to the Chalakudy town.

32The situation is contrasting in the case of Malayan settlements located deep inside the forests such as Thavalakkuzhippara, Thalumkanam, and Pongumchuvadu, where large landholdings are common. The Community has been successful in establishing home gardens with a mix of food and cash crops, supplementing their income from the reed-extraction for HNL and KSBC.

Malasar and Malamalasar

33Malasar and Malamalasar are resident to the Parambikulam wildlife sanctuary and Nemmara forest division. There is one settlement of Malasar and Malamalasar each in Parambikulam and two mixed settlements of these communities are present in the Nemmara division. The Kachithodu colony in the Nemmara division has populations of both the Kadar and Malamalasar communities. The total population of Malasar in the study area is 730 in 202 households (Annex 6.2). The population of Malamalasar is 228 in 58 households.

34Both the communities though seen to share the premises of the same colony, they distinguish themselves from each other. Settlements of both these groups are less in number and are seen dispersed across the state border in Tamil Nadu. Both communities have the institution of Muppan and in both cases, the communities do not contribute to the maintenance of the headman. In terms of cultural practices and interaction with market, the communities are different from each other. Malasar were engaged as labourers in timber working and the NWFP collection during the colonial period itself. Malamalasar continued to be groups of nomadic huntergatherers until they had been settled by the forest department during the second half of the 19th century. They have been engaged as labourers in the plantation activities and protection woks in relatively recent times. They are also involved in the collection of NWFPs. The Malasar community was brought in touch with forest labourers and coup contractors much earlier. Both communities own only smallholdings of land. The Malasar community who were traditionally inclined to practise shifting cultivation were discouraged by the forest department from practising it. Alternatively, they were provided labour opportunities. The discontinuance of cultivation has missed them opportunity to claim agricultural land. At present, the Sungam colony of Parambikulam resembles the labour colonies in private plantations. Although they were provided with some housing facility, it is inadequate to meet the demands. The situation of Malamalasar colonies is also same. Their chances of earning livelihood from forest labour have also declined as the forestry operations inside the sanctuary were discontinued as a policy. The income earning opportunity was further curtailed when a ban is imposed on the removal of NWFPs. Facilities for primary education is available at Sungam. However, in other colonies education is rather a difficult option (Annex 6.2).


35There are five settlements belonging to Mannan in the study area, these are Arekkappu, Pettivara, Gopalankuti (Variyam), Chembumkandam (Variyam) and Koodallarkuty. All these settlements are located in the Malayattoor forest division. There are 504 individuals in 118 households.

36The Mannan community in the Malayattoor region is a part of larger populations of Mannan community residing in the Idukki, Munnar and Pathanamthitta districts. Like Muthuvan, Mannan also have legends of their migration from the Tamil Nadu plains centuries back. Compared to other adivasis they are more organised under their chieftains called Rajamannan. The system of village or hamlet headman is in vogue. Community contributes to the maintenance of his office. As married couple set to start family life in separate hut, they mostly have nuclear families. Most of the settlements of the Mannan community have resulted from migration to the present locations in 1970s following their successive displacements from earlier areas of residence by the settler communities. The Mannan settlements in the study area are seen located adjacent to those of the Muthuvan settlements and in some settlements they are seen sharing the colony premises with the Muthuvan.

37Shifting cultivation was the main vocation of the Mannan prior to their sedentarization. In general, they have larger land holdings generally put to intensive cultivation of cash and food crops (Annex 6.2). The cultivation is limited by the internal labour availability in hamlet. Since they are engaged in the agricultural pursuits, the amount of labour sold to the forest department is lower to that of Kadar and Malayan. The control of slash and burn shifting cultivation has effected social change necessitated by the shifts in the cropping pattern. Now most of the Mannan hamlets have the agroforestry oriented home-garden system influenced by the shifts in market prices of agricultural commodities. The Mannan settlements are located mostly in the reed growing areas. Income from agriculture is supplemented by the seasonal labour from reed working. Collection and marketing of selected items of NWFPs especially honey and dammar supplement income seasonally. They are more inclined to sell their produce from agriculture and forests to the private merchants who advance money. Wherever the educational facilities are accessible, children are sent to school. Housing conditions are better than that of most other adivasi communities. Most of the households in the landscape have solar powered lamps and some of the households have televisions.


38There are 34 households of Malayarayan in the landscape under study with a total population of 101 individuals (Annex 6.2). The settlement is located at Uriyampetty-Thumbimedu where hamlet premise is shared with Muthuvan. There are more enclaves settled by the in-migrant population at Vellaramchetta, Pinavoor etc. amidst Malayarayan households. The Malayarayan are enterprising agriculturists and are capable of appropriating aids and subsidies provided to scheduled tribes by the government agencies. Naturally, they have always been successful in acquiring land from all the possible sources. Instances of purchase of land from Muthuvan by Malayarayan, at the time of latter migrating to interior forests under pressure of the settler community, are reported from the study area. The Malayarayan are more competitive in interacting with the settlers and in the process they acquired better access to education and other benefits than all other adivasi populations in the area. The process of their assimilation and acculturation to the larger market-oriented society is faster and more complete in terms of consumption pattern, assets and economy. Households with relatively larger holdings cultivate a mix of cash and food crops. Households with smaller holdings generate income from NWFP and wage labour (Annex 6.2). Access to market in terms of availability of transportation facilities helps them obtain better margin on their agricultural products.

Towards a functional typology of forest dwelling communities for PFM

39A closer examination of the assets, livelihood options and cultural features of the communities living inside the forest landscape enable us to group them under different categories. These categories are sought for determining the amenability of these culturally homogenous groups to PFM activities. Besides, such a grouping followed by analysis of spatiality of groups, with respect to landscape values, would suggest activities that each group can take up during PFM. For each settlement, following parameters are considered for analysis:

  1. Ethnic identity

  2. Group size in terms of population per settlement

  3. Group size in terms of number of households

  4. Total land available to the settlement

  5. Average size of the land holding per household

  6. Percentage contribution of annual income by NWFPs, wage labour and agriculture to the average annual income

Considering the above features, the hamlets were tentatively classified in to four groups (Table 6.2). The first group consists of the settlements of Malasar, Malamalasar and Kadar (MMK). The second consist of Mannan and Muthuvan (MM) settlements. The third and fourth groups are Malayan settlements with different set of assets and subsistence patterns. The first set of Malayan settlements (M-1) are located along the fringe area of the forest landscape in the Chalakudy division (Figure 6.3). Presence of non-adivasi population or families is common in the Malayan settlements here. There are also incidents of intermarriage between Malayan and non-adivasi here. Most of the Malayan households are having only a smallholding, which is grossly inadequate to derive any income to sustain the households. The principle source of income of these households in the locality is collection of NWFPs and smaller portion of the income is due to the sale of labour in the construction and agricultural labour markets. Three settlements constitute the second set of Malayan settlements (M-2), they are Thavalakkuzhippara, Pongumchuvadu and Thalumkandam. These settlements are located deep insides the forest landscapes. Malayan population in these settlements are land owning and enterprising cultivators. Income from agriculture is also supplemented by sale of labour to reed working coupes. The land holding pattern of the categories of hamlets is provided in table below.

40Principle Component Analysis (PCA) was carried out to examine the relative influence of the landed assets on the livelihood choices of the communities. Information on ethnic identity, size of the hamlet in terms of number of households, the total land area, average size of landholding and percentage contribution of the income were considered for selected 45 settlements while carrying out PCA.

Table 6.2 Landed assets of the various adivasi communities in the Landscape



Households considered

Landholding (ha)

Average size of holding (ha)


























Figure 6.3 Spatial distribution of major Adivasi social groups in the study area

41In the scatter-plot (Figure 6.3), the settlements are segregated in to four categories. The factors which have decisive role in the clustering of observations are sources of income, total landholding of settlements and average size of landholdings in each settlement. Main sources of income to communities were collection and sale of NWFPs, income from agricultural produce and sale of labour to various agencies. The ethnic identities of the communities have a strong influence on the abovementioned factors. Total landholding of the settlement is also correlated with average size of the holdings, income from agriculture is negatively correlated with the income from wage labour and NWFP. Based on these variables four functional groups (A, B, C and D) have been identified (Figure 6.4). The characteristics of the groups are summarised in Table 6.3. Spatial distribution of these groups in the landscape is shown in Figure 6.5.

Figure 6.4 Correlation circle and scatter plot showing the relation between
different variables and clustering of the settlements, number refers to
settlements (Annex 6.1).

Table 6.3 Characteristics of the functional groups segregated based on the assets, livelihood and ethnic affiliation

Table 6.3 Characteristics of the functional groups segregated based on the assets, livelihood and ethnic affiliation

42First cluster or ‘A’ is characterised by large settlements and large average size of the land holdings with considerable proportion of the average household income contributed by the sale of agricultural products including cardamom. Main communities represented in this cluster are Muthuvan and Mannan settlements and the three Malayan settlements that have relatively larger land holdings. Most of these settlements are distributed in the Idamala- Pooyamkutty regions.

43The settlements belonging to the cluster ‘B’ are mostly of communities such as Kadar, Malasar and Malamalasar characterised by smaller land area available to the settlements where the average size of the landholding is also vary small. Main sources of income for these communities are wage-labour and collection and sale of NWFPs. Most of these settlements are located in the Parambikulam, Nelliyampathi plateau and Vazhachal - Sholayar -Malakkappara region.

Figure 6.5 Spatial distribution of functional groups of Adivasi settlements

44The cluster ‘C’ comprises of Malasar and Malamalasar communities, in some cases Kadar population sharing the colonies are located along the Nelliyampathi plateau. These communities, located along the forest fringes on the plateau, have better income earning opportunities compared to their counterparts in Parambikulam wildlife sanctuary. Though the land they own is relatively larger than that of the cluster B, the income earnings in terms of saleable agricultural products are minimal. Larger proportion of the income earned is from wage labour and sale of NWFPs.

  • 4 The same categorisation is followed throughout the forthcoming discussions on the participatory str (...)

45The fourth cluster of settlements (D) belongs to the Malayan community residing along the fringes of forest area in the Chalakudy division. Their assets in terms of size of landholding are minimal. Therefore, proportion of income from agriculture is almost minimal. Income accrued from sale of labour (to the farm holdings of settlers, forest department, and construction sector) and supplemented by the earnings from sale of NWFPs are the major component of the total household income in these settlements. Amenability of the populations to institutionalisation (in the context of PFM) varies according to physical assets, practices of subsistence and cultural features.4

Understanding the social dynamics in the forest fringes

46In the Landscape under consideration, the fringe area provides three kinds of landuse situations. These are:

  1. Continuous forest landscape with adjacent forest areas: The forest landscape is contiguous with that of the forests of Anamalai region with an area almost in equal size across the state border. Inside the state boundary, the forests of Peechi-Vazhani wildlife sanctuary, Munnar division and Mankulam special division are lying coterminous with the north, south and northeastern borderers of the Landscape respectively.

  2. Small to medium sized landholdings along the fringe cultivated with a mix of cash, and food crops: These farming households are spread along the forest fringes of the Chalakudy and Malayattoor divisions. Presently these forest fringing communities are exerting extractive pressure on the forests in terms of removal of fuel wood, fodder, small poles, bamboo, reed and NWFPs etc. Besides activities such as illegal brewing of country liquor, pilferage of timber, poaching and forest fire are reported due to the forest fringe populations in some part of the landscape understudy.

  3. Large plantations of coffee, tea, cardamom etc. at high altitudes and plantations of rubber at the lower altitudes: The plantations of coffee, tea and cardamom are on the lease lands on the east at Malakkappara on the border of the Vazhachal division and that of rubber at Chimmony, Muply, Kundayi and Chokkana on the western side of the landscape along the boundaries of Chimmony wildlife sanctuary and the Chalakudy forest division. Plantations of oil palm and rubber by Plantation Corporation of Kerala (PCK) along the boundary of Vazhachal forest division at Vettilappara and Athirappally.

Development of forest fringe habitations

  • 5 Similar process that took place in the localities outside the landscape understudy also had repercu (...)

47Travancore and Cochin princely states were encouraging food crop cultivation inside the forests from last decades of 19 century. Tax exemptions and concessions were offered as encouragement to forest cultivators. Development of settlements in the forestlands has been further intensified in the first half of 20th century. Control of malaria made the hitherto inhospitable forest tracts more hospitable. A steep increase in the price of lemon grass oil also fuelled immigration for cultivating the ‘wastes’ with lemon grass during 1920s, resulting in deforestation and colonisation along the fringes of Malayattoor forests. However, the process of colonisation of smaller patches of the hitherto inaccessible land may be associated with policy changes peculiar to the post war periods. One of the main processes that fuelled colonisation of the forest fringing areas is associated with the government-sponsored schemes for increasing land under the cultivation of food crops. Scarcity of food grains following the First World War prompted the government to take up massive forest cultivation schemes under various names such as ‘forest colonisation scheme’, ‘grow more food scheme’, ‘high range colonisation scheme’ etc. General situation of colonisation and administration of the land was chaotic due to unprecedented nature of the process and the magnitude. Large-scale clearing of forests and land grabbing took place at a number of localities in the Malayattoor and Cahalakkudy forest divisions. Another source of population built up was resettlement scheme for rehabilitation of army ex-service personnel of the Second World War. The Vettilapara in Chalakudy division and Illithod near Thattekkadu are instances of this. Between 1972 and 1974 project evicted population from Idukki Hydroelectric Project were settled in the forestlands in Chalakudy and Malayattoor Divisions. The colonisation and forest plantation development catalysed waves of encroachers to these localities. Major settler population enclaves in the Malayattoor division includ Injathotti, Thattekkad, Kuttambuzha, Urulan-thanni, Pooyamkutty, Pinavoor, Elamblassery and Mamalakkandam. In 1970s when plantations of commercial crops were being raised by various government agencies especially by PCK, the labourers occupied some of the forestlands in Kalady range. Such process alienated the land of adivasi communities such as Mannan and Muthuvan to more enterprising group of immigrants in localities such as Mamalakkandam, Elamblassery, Pinavoor etc. in Malayattoor division.5 Distribution of arable land to the landless peasants following the land reform was the final episode in shaping the broader frame of the landuse in the forest fringes.

Land use change along the fringes

48Land use in the fringe area has changed along with the changes in the market of agricultural products. For instance, lemon grass, pepper, tapioca, paddy etc. were the prevalent crops on the forest fringes during the early decades of the century. Lemon grass, hill paddy, and tapioca were cultivated in the hilly tracts often with a mix of pulses, ragi and millets; whereas the wet paddy was cultivated along the valley fills. The land reform and distribution of poramboke lands to the landless cultivators have shaped a new pattern of land use. Most of the fertile valleys were already occupied by privileged groups, who have forgone the less fertile land on the hills because of land ceiling. Cultivation in the valley bottoms was mostly wet paddy alternated with pulses and vegetables that were grown in summer. Lower slopes of the valleys were spice mixed home gardens and relatively less fertile higher slopes were cultivated with cashew or lemon grass. Emergence of smaller holders was a result of distribution of poramboke lands to landless peasants as part of land reform measures. Most of these smaller holdings were on the less fertile higher slopes often on the margins of forests, where a mix of crops including tapioca, coconut, cashew, pepper etc. were grown. Some of the crops such as areca, pineapple, cocoa etc. were tried out in later years as intercrops when the market prices for these crops soared. Land under rubber cultivation was steadily on the increase while the land under gingili, ragi, millets and pulses steadily decreased.

49The specific episodes of forest colonisation and changes in the land use pattern may vary in terms of details from location to location, but the causes and consequences of the larger process have been similar in most of the forest fringes in the landscape under study. A brief account on the development of habitations in selected fringe area localities is provided below:

Settler habitations along the forest fringe

  • 6 The list is not exhaustive as the human habitations are dispersed more or less evenly.

50Four clusters of non-adivasi habitations are identified along the fringes of the landscape under consideration (Table 6.4).6

Settler habitations in Malayattoor forest division


51Anakkulam is a small settler town located on the southeastern border of the Landscape and the western border of the Kannan Devan concession lands. Access to headquarters of the Kanan Devan tea plantation company at Munnar was through the old Aluva-Munnar road passing through Anakkulam. An alternative road was developed in 1931 once the old road was almost dysfunctional by 1924. The land at Anakkulam was developed into rubber plantation and a portion of this estate was de-reserved in 1920 and was sold to settlers from Palai. Another 98 acres of forestland were occupied by a group of 300 labour households in the plantation area. The land resumed of the Kanan Deven lease lands has been clear-felled and occupied by a group of settlers, ex-service personnel and retired employees from Kanan Deven Company. Though accessibility of this settlement has increased in past two decades, it is relatively difficult to access compared to most of the settler colonies in the region. Despite this inaccessibility, cost of inputs and lack of tenurial assurance for long periods, the land here is intensely cultivated with a mix of cash and food crops. People here depend on forests for a variety of needs such as fuel, fodder, small poles, etc. The small shops at Anakkulam are points of exchange of forest produce for Muthuvan and Mannans. Some of the traders of hill produce in the Anakkulam also trade cardamom and other produce from adivasis through intermediaries who organise purchase and transportation of goods from the hamlets (Balasubramanyan et al, 1989).

Table 6.4 Summary of the human ecological features of the fringe area

Table 6.4 Summary of the human ecological features of the fringe area

Pooyamkutty Pinavoor, Kuttampuzha, Vadattupara region

52The first Aluva - Munnar road passed through Kothamanagalam to Nallathanni through Thattekkadu-Kuttampuzha-Pooyamkutty-Kunjiyar-Perumbankuthu. This road was destroyed due to floods and land slides in 1924. During this period traditional reed workers from downstream of Periyar have been collecting reed and the contractors were extracting timber from these localities by making use of accessibility provided by the road and the river. During the ‘grow more food’ programme migrant farming households were cultivating the forest areas by clearing the growth in the localities such as Njayappilly, Kuttampuzha, Pooyamkutty, Knachery, Urulanthanni, Injathotti, Mamalakkandam etc. The waves of immigration and clearing of forests continued even after the ‘grow more food’ campaign. In 1956 forests at Kuttyamchal were cleared and cultivated. Repeated attempts to evict the settlers were resisted with intensive campaigns often backed by the ‘Karshaka Sangham’ and the church. Similarly, the land belonging to the forest coupe and plantation working at Vadattupara was encroached and colonised in 1969-70. Episodes of forcible eviction and vehement political and legal campaigns against eviction and legal right over the land were fought by the settlers and ultimately the title deed was issued for a thousand acres in 1970. In 1967, farmers evicted due to the Idukki Hydroelectric project were resettled at Injathotti. With the regularisation of rights, more facilities such as, road and educational institutions came up following the integration to the state and local administrations. With this, there was a second wave of immigration, though not as intense as the first one. In the Kuttampuzha region, waves of immigration are subsiding today.

53Methanappara is a generic name for the larger enclave where the main adivasi colony is Eanipparakudi of Muthuvan. Besides the adivasi population, the locality also harbours non-adivasi population in the adjoining areas. The settlements at the Eanippara came into existence with the inflow of in-migrants from the colonies at Pinavoor and Nellimala due to land alienation and encroachment by the more enterprising social groups including Malayaran community. Migration was an incessant process in the landscape all along the pre-independence period. Human movement in the landscape was mainly for slash and burn agriculture, collection of wild cardamom, honey and dammar. In the years that followed, during the Second World War, many inroads were made to these adivasi areas by the settlers as part of state sponsored settlement projects.

54Mamalakkandam valley was excellent reed forest suitable for shifting cultivation. The Muthuvan population of the Pinavoor kudi and Nellimala kudi (now in the Neriamangalam range of Munnar forest division), which were the early settlements of Muthuvan in the locality, used to practise shifting cultivation in the Mamalakkandam valley. Muthuvan migrated to other localities, as the settlers started moving in. The movement to the Eanippara and adjoining areas was accentuated with the timber working at the Mamalakkandam in 1964, and subsequently with the establishment of sale coupe, development of road network, growth of settler population and change in land use. The land use at the Methanappara used to be predominantly for lemon grass cultivation until two decades back. Cultivation of lemon grass and extraction of the oil inflicted heavy pressure on the forests for fuel wood. Now importance of lemon grass on the local economy has subsided. The nearby non-adivasi enclaves such as Karyad, Chamappara, and Kollampara have been put to cultivation of commercial crops such as pepper, areca, rubber, tapioca, ginger, turmeric etc. The cultivation of commercial crops especially the perennial crops demand more organised labour, longer gestation and higher investment. The land use at the Muthuvan colonies is gradually changing in this direction.

Asammannoor, Koovappady, Pindimana, Keerampara region

  • 7 In 1951, a lemon grass research centre was established in Asamannoor. Later it was brought under th (...)

55In Asamannoor region, the deforestation and colonisation took a different course following a wave of lemon grass cultivation. The lemon grass oil was being extracted from 1920s onwards. The steep increase in the price of lemon grass oil during 1950s caused a rush in cultivation of lemon grass.7 The cultivation of lemon grass needed land and the distilling of the oil required huge quantity of firewood. This was the worst combination of requirements as far as the forest was considered. The practice of lemon grass cultivation and distillation was in vogue until recently in most of the forest settlements such as Pinavoor, Mamalakkandam, Methanappara, Uryampetti etc. The lemon grass cultivation was practiced in the Pandaravaka lease lands also. The demand of the lemon grass oil populated these forestlands with small centres of human habitations. The places of habitation inside the Kottappara RF. such as Kayattuva, Thotakkazha, Veetimukal, Kurbanappara, etc. are examples.

56Large numbers of landless families have migrated to the originally forested eastern region in the Paingottur during 1960 and 70s. The Karshaka Sangham backed the resistance against evictions and campaigns for land title. In an incident at Odiyampara, 400 families were awarded title of land following an intensive campaign and hunger strike lead by A.K. Gopalan. The area close to the Thattekkad sanctuary has been experimented with rubber plantation in early 20th century. Small settlements of labour populations and the agricultural communities were soon expanded by massive in-migration of population seeking to own land for cultivation. Initial cultivation of food grains included ragi, sugar cane, lemon grass, wet paddy, hill paddy etc. The cropping pattern of the area is characterised by the large area under rubber cultivation.

Fringe area population in the Chalakudy and Vazhachal divisions

  • 8 Forest Industries Travancore Ltd. (FIT) was established during 1930s. The factory is located at Alu (...)

57The forest patches around Ayyampuzha, Kannimangalam, Alattuchira, Ezhattumaugham, Athirappally and Malayattoor were exploited for meeting the timber requirements of the Forest Industries Travancore Limited.8 These lands were eventually converted either to forest plantations or to rubber and cashew gardens.

58Initial large-scale in migration and settlement development in the areas during 1960s were associated with plantation activities in the Kalady Plantations of the PCK. A group of evictees of the Idukki dam project also was resettled here. The second wave of immigration and settlement occurred in late 1960s when settlers encroached large areas of forestland in the Ayyampuzha, Kannimangalam, Kunthiri etc. under the local leadership. Some of the lands under Kuthakappattom held by individuals were also taken over by the tenants and labourers during the process. Most of these lands were given title in 1980. More than 83 percent of the holdings are below 25 cents in extent. Wage labour in rubber plantations, construction sector and the weaving of basket and reed mats, form the major sources of income here.

59On the eastern boundaries of the Mattathur Panchayat, many attempts were made to cultivate forests with food crops during 1920s. Malaria was a major deterrence to human presence in these regions. The Chalakudy-Parambikulam tramway, which was operational from 1910 onwards, encouraged human habitations in the region. These localities were colonised by the settler population during 1940s. Some of the localities encroached during later decades of 20th century are yet to be awarded title deeds. The lands originally belonged to the Thrippunithura Kovilakam, were leased to tenants for cultivation through intermediaries and local chieftains. Following the land reforms in 1960s, these lands remained with the successors of the tenants. Like any other locality of in-migrant settlers, the development of Mattathur was generously promoted and coordinated under the aegis of the church and the trade unions.

60Nearly 79 km2 area in the forest fringe area in the Mattathur panchayat is under contiguous stretch of rubber plantations. These plantations belong to two agencies, the Harrison’s Malayalam Limited and the Cochin Malabar Estates and Industries Limited. The Muply (3330.60 ha.) and Kundayi (1616.20 ha.) estates belong to the former and the Puthukkadu (1068.48 ha.) estate and Chimmony Estate (1845.95ha.) belong to the latter. An estimate of the labour population and their dependents resident in these estates works out to the tune of 11500 individuals. Labourers do not own land and are put up in the lines of shelters. The plantation activities started in 1912 and trade unions were active from 1936 onwards. There are a number of adivasi settlements belonging to the Malayan community in the fringe area of forests and rubber plantations. Apart from the labour populations and the adivasi settlements, there are hardly any habitations in side these plantations. Some facilities, such as health care and education, are provided by the plantation management.

61In the Vettikkuzhi-Kodassery region, large chunk of land had originally belonged to the chieftains and intermediaries related to the Thripunithura Kovilakam. Evictees during the construction of Idukki dam have been resettled here. The hill paddy scheme for increasing food production launched in 1940s has been instrumental in settling some of the areas in the region. When the scheme of hill paddy failed to deliver the expected outcome, the tenents were unable to continue with the cultivation; two joint-farming cooperatives- the Kormala Joint Farming Cooperative (KJFC) and the Anamalai Joint Farming Cooperatives (AJFC)- were formed.

62The lands owned by the cooperatives were given back to the individual farmers after the failure of the cooperatives. Ownership of this land was given to individual farmers after the land reform. Similarly, most of the lands cultivated by the farmers on individual lease were also awarded title as part of the land reforms. These processes along with encroachments have been instrumental in the formation of human habitations on the forest fringe areas such as, Kormala, Veeranchira, Chaypankuzhi, Randukai, Vettikkuzhi etc. Early habitations in Pariyaram had come up in the beginning of last century as a part of the plantations of cash crops raised by British officers of the Cochin Princely State. This was followed by the hill paddy scheme that invited landless cultivators who were subsequently awarded right over land.

63During the pre-independence period, forestland in the Athirappally area was cleared and sold for cultivation under the initiatives of the princely state. Besides, the private land lease was also provided. The forests here were exploited for timber with which the Chalakudy-Anamalai Timber Trust and the Standard Furniture Company flourished. Fuel wood for the Cochin Potteries, Chalakudy also was extracted from the forests of the Chalakudy and Vazhachal divisions. In the post-independence period, the forestland was distributed for rehabilitating ex-service personnel and for setting up joint farming cooperatives. There were agitations for allotting land for landless cultivators during the late 50s and early 60s in Kannamkuzhy. Some 100 families were provided with 0.5 acres of land each following these agitations.

64Malakkappara was developed as a tea plantation area during the 1920s. The early lease in the area dates back to 1922. Subsequently more land was leased in 1930s. At present Malakkappara is a small plantation town with market and basic facilities. At Malakkappara 203 acres of land belonging to Tata Tea Limited were forcibly taken over as part of an agitation and handed over to Sholayar ST Service Cooperative Society during the second half of 20th century.

Fringe area population in the Nelliyampathi

  • 9 The Hindu, Nelliyampathi Estate Taken Over for Lease Pact Violation, Saturday, Jun 01, 2002

65Forests of Nelliyampathi are mostly mosaics in the larger landscape of the commercial plantations of coffee, cardamom, and tea. The reserved forests here belong to the Nemmara forest division. Nelliyampathi is the first location of South India where commercial coffee plantations were attempted in 1860s. Now Nelliyampathi has a large number of private plantations on lease and patta lands. The lands for raising the plantations by the British were first leased out in 1863 from the rulers at Kollengode and Kochi. The area leased by the Cochin State in Nelliyampathi amounts to approximately 7110 acres.9 The lease executed with the Kollengode Raja, for approximately 6,090 acres, was not recognised as government lease in the post-independence period and these land were subsequently awarded pattayam. This is the origin of private land holding in the plateaux. Labour requirements of plantations were met out of the migrants from the plains and the local adivasis. Most of these plantation labourers do not have right over land and their sole source of income is the plantation labour. The adivasi population is spread over five hamlets and some of these are inside the forests or on the forest fringes. The adivasi community supplement their income from the collection and marketing of the NWFP. Since private land ownership is limited, the development of market is marginal in Nelliyampathi. One of the major market localities in the plateau is at Pulayampara. Most of the population here are labourers and their dependents. The population in the plateau comes approximately to ten thousand individuals as per the 1991 census. Approximately 15 percent are ST population and 13 percent are SC population.

Social reproduction of forest dependency in forest margins

66As the phrase ‘forest fringing’ suggests, these are communities swept off to the fringes by the development and welfare programmes of the state. One of the most striking features of forest fringing settlements is their relative inaccessibility to public transportation, public services such as power supply, health, education and financial institutions. The imperfectly developed agricultural and labour markets, and infrastructural facilities result in a set of risk perceptions, and adoption of risk aversion strategies with implications on the nature of forest dependence. In the case of the forest fringing communities, majority are small holders with less than 50 cents of land per household and hence below what is required for subsistence. The agricultural and construction labour markets are unstable and they enhance dependence on forests for income and subsistence. Another feature associated with the smallholding economy on the forest fringes is practice of home garden agroforestry integrated with livestock. These home gardens with mixed cultivation of cash and food crops are a measure to reduce household expenditures and to supplement income. Such multiple portfolio sets and small landed assets are characteristic combinations in the agriculture dominated forest fringe economy. Poorly developed agriculture and labour markets result in low returns over agricultural products either due to under pricing or due to higher costs of transportation. Labour markets in the unorganised construction and agricultural sectors in the forest fringes also mean high seasonality and unpredictability of the labour opportunities. Prevalence of a high interest rate is another feature in the informal microcredit sector in the forest fringes. This is partly because of the insufficient property rights and failure of the state run financial institutions in reaching out to the remote and inaccessible rural areas. High rate of indebtedness and mortgages also result in the dependence on forests. Some of these factors are capable of reproducing the forest dependency through a feed back influence on the process. The schematic representation of a generalised process of social production forest dependency among the forest fringing rural communities is given in Figure 6.6. In the process of institutionalisation for PFM, it is necessary to give primacy to tackling these factors.

67Most of these farming communities are settler populations who or their early generations occupied forest lands during the various waves of immigration who subsequently obtained right over land. Some others are settled along the forest fringes as part of state sponsored resettlement programmes as described in the previous sections of this paper. The issue of land title was politically hot topic until recently as most of these households lacked title overland. In the pursuit of political lobbying for regularisation of their occupation of forestland, settlers were organised under the leadership of the church and political parties. Currently, there are isolated cases along the fringes of the forest landscape at Mattathur and various localities in the Malayattoor division where settlers are yet to receive title over land. Absence of title deed not only discourages long-term investment on land but also makes land transactions and mortgages impossible, resulting in restricted social mobility.

Figure 6.6 Social reproduction of forest dependency in the forest fringes.

Human ecological issues

Socio-ecological crisis

68From the forgoing, it is possible to sense emergence of a socio-ecological crisis amongst most of the adivasi settlements of the studied area. Probably, exception can be seen only in the settlements of the Muthuvan and Mannan. People in the other communities are not largely knitted together by institutions, customs, rituals and ceremonies of the adivasi social organisation. Nonetheless, traditional ceremonies of Muthuvan such as those conducted during childbirth, christening, puberty, marriage, pregnancy, and death are still in vogue. The family organisation and kinship structure make them different from others. The system of headman (Muppan) continues though without the prowess of the past. Certain community institutions still survive as binding forces among them. The chavadi (outhouse for the unmarried youth) institution among the Muthuvan is a good example. Others like Malamalasar, Malasar, Malayan and Kadar are disintegrated domestic segments with very little remnants of adivasi institutional and cultural ties. The Kadar constitutes the most disintegrated. These people are on the verge of a major crisis both socio-ecologically and economically due to factors such as low per capita land ratio, semi-urbanisation of settlements, impoverishment of human resources, acute unemployment and consumerism. People are accustomed to forestry works only. Extremely individualised and proletarianised, they are in the mind-set of a loner with no sense of saving, co-operative feeling, partnership ability and collective consciousness. Having completely transformed into wage labourers, their subsistence is not depended upon the forest ecosystem and its biomass. They have been detribalised by the forestry works, trade, markets, subsidies, free rations, and other aids extended to them. Such family based supports helps only to enhance dependency and impair their existence as a community.

69Most of the adivasi people, say about 70 percent of them, do not maintain any organic links with the forest ecosystem. Their strategies of subsistence as well as survival are incompatible with the landscape they inhabit. This presupposes human ecological impacts of a deleterious dimension, which call for a carefully designed management strategy capable of either rescuing them from forests or reuniting them with the ecosystem. The former is theoretically feasible though easier said than done. The latter is theoretically implausible, but politically feasible. PFM mode of management is the most viable constitutionally given alternative. However, it necessitates rigorous social preparation for reorganising the individualised and proletarianised into instituted bodies of corporate character. The most essential prerequisite is the facilitation of social capital accumulation, which alone can turn the individuals into a body of common goals, unity and collective action.

Low social capital

  • 10 Social capital was a Marxian expression with the limited implications relating to the forms and rel (...)

70Low social capital of the people in the forest and its fringes is a major issue that initiatives of institutionalisation encounter. Social capital refers to a repertoire of the norms and values in a society, which acts as the basis of ties and relationships.10 It is the net result of the accumulation of other forms of capital, such as the economic, cultural and symbolic, the aggregate of socioeconomic and cultural assets, which enables one to wield political power in a class-structured society. In short, social capital is the sum total of what empowers a person to perform effectively in the public sphere and carry forward his/her interests. The accumulation of social capital is enabled through claiming and sharing cultural capital. Social capital follows accumulation of symbolic capital of which cultural capital is the source. People owe the accumulation of symbolic capital to their access to cultural capital. Accumulation of social capital as a part of the usual social dynamic of exchange will normally involve the use of such symbolic capital that justifies the structure of domination. Therefore, exclusion from positions enabling access to cultural capital keeps such people bereft of social capital.

71Being lower class/castes, the forest dependent have no access to the cultural capital that the rich monopolise. It is through institutionalisation that the cultures of these people might acquire capital value. The positions and ranks in the institutional structure might turn up as status symbols and work as capital among the peoples. But institutionalisation presupposes the existence of a certain level of livelihood improvement at the outset and entailing social capabilities interactive co-existence. There is a lack of both in the case of the peoples under review. Their livelihood is predominantly based on wage labour that individualises and urbanises them. This intertwined process has deprived the people of the social capital contingent upon the ethnic culture.

72The most important point to be realised at the outset is the difficulty of building alternative institutions and designing empowerment-oriented praxis for the poor and marginalised to ensure their privileged access to critical natural resources. This is not accidental because in societies of grave inequalities and people bereft of binding institutions, the task turns out to be a theoretical implausibility. The social development initiatives invariably fail because normally there exists nothing with the poor that can be converted into economic gains for forming the base for the accumulation of social capital (Adler and Kwon, 1996; Portes and Landolt, 1996).

73The limited experience of the Kerala Forest Department shows that it is possible to evolve strategies for facilitating social transformation and empowerment by intervening in the conditions and processes of the accumulation of social capital (see School of Social Sciences, 2002). The first and foremost among the Department’s experiential lessons is that social development initiatives succeed only among adivasis with a sustainable economic base and a cultural bond reinforced by common rites, rituals and ceremonies. It would be relatively easy to graft alternative institutions of nature conservation on their traditional institutions. The efforts of the Forest Department at the Periyar Tiger Reserve to organise the Mannan and Paliyan groups into EDCs by redeeming them from debt traps is well documented (School of Social Sciences, 2002). In the case of the adivasis of the Periyar Tiger Reserve, attempts at spreading critical ecological thought and sense of common property rights proved to be effective only among those who could achieve a certain degree of economic development. In the case of the totally disintegrated and marginalised groups in the same site, even efforts for developing the economic base did not succeed. The human ecological situation in the landscape under study necessitates adoption of strategies based on experiential learning from such instances.

Strategies for constituting self-regulatory forest communities

The strategy of social preparation

74Drawing on the insights from the review of human ecological conditions of the forest dwelling adivasi communities and the fringe area population, a detailed social preparation requirement is envisaged. The adivasi and the fringe area non-adivasi population are contrasting due to the relative societal homogeneity in the former and the heterogeneity in the latter. Due to this difference, their amenability to build partnership in the forest management also varies. This is accentuated by the complexity imparted by the market and other agencies. This section deals with the context and nature of social preparation.

75It is essential to understand the system of the macro world in which the micro societies and economies are situated. The macro world system that persists is that of an ensemble of diverse economies structured by the dominance of capitalism through direct subordination or incorporation (McDermott, 1991; Renick, 1981). More or less relieved from the pre-capitalist social encumbrances and placed at the mercy of market with freedom to buy and sell, the people are now integrated in hierarchies of bureaucracy attached to the state, semi-state and private enterprises. The government with its various organs representing the diverse groups, relations and interests in society, play ostensibly the central role of overall coordination, while capitalism holds the strings of real control. It is relevant to recall here the theoretical discussion of the features of the modern state described by Vincent (1988) and Green (1988).

76Theoretically, the management plan of forest conservation under the capitalist system will be steered by industrial development needs. It cannot be inclined to equity and ecological sustainability. There is no possibility of institutional development at the grassroots ensuring better access of the poor and marginalised to natural resources. Institutions of common goals and norms cannot take roots among all kinds of people.

77The poor and marginalized people owe their lack of institutional development primarily to the lack of access to economic as well as non-economic forms of capital, i.e., capital and its cultural, symbolic and social forms (Bourdieu, 1986; Boisjoly et al, 1995). Brisk exchange of economic capital for cultural and symbolic forms is a significant feature of the contemporary heterogeneous society in any locality. The poor and exploited in the forests and fringes are incapable fighting against their conditions of oppression, as they lack social capital.

Praxis strategy

78Praxis that means taking theory to social action, here refers to carrying social theory to working out ways of facilitating the accumulation of social capital for the poor and marginalised in the landscape. It is a two fold task of critical social preparation for self-reflexivity and alternative institutional designing respectively. The first part of the task is dissemination of critical thought and politicisation of the poor. Politicisation of the forest/fringe area people is the process of acquisition of critical ecological consciousness about the dominating socio-economic and cultural life-world, which leads to an individual’s reflexive self-retrieval from the social structural imposition. However, it is not easy to take critical ecological knowledge to people. Therefore the alternative is facilitation of subversion of one’s pattern of thinking by oneself, a task that necessitates strategies for enabling the people to be self-reflexive, i.e., to acquire the faculty to reflect up on their mind-set made up of the dominant social structural passions and values.

79The social structurally contingent mindset is what Bourdieu calls habitus, the operational norms of the social structure, which produce people’s class inclination from their childhood onwards (Bourdieu, 1984, 1989 and 1990). Habitus is inherent and hence not the effect of conscious obedience to rules. There are various forms of habitus, which reproduce, justify and maintain the system of domination. Habitus makes the dominated feel solidarity and fellowship to the dominant, by enabling the former to see the forms of domination imposed upon them natural and compliance normal. This naturalisation of the unbearable is realised through the strategies of symbolic representation covering the objective conditions of oppression. Praxis strategies have to be designed so carefully as to enable the target group to break the habitus, a rare strength which empowerment in the real sense of the term means. Another very crucial task is to identify and open up new sources of symbolic capital for providing social capital strength to the marginalized, which would enable them struggle in the society for establishing rights to access critical resources. It is a strategic intervention in the usual process of imitation of hegemonic symbols, accumulation of cultural capital and its use for gaining social status by the economically advancing lower class/castes. This is a hazardous task, theoretically impossible, for it means inventing new types of symbolic capital, which help the poor, accumulate social capital for liberating them from the social structural entrenchment and being empowered in the real sense.

Conclusion: human ecological insights in to forging new institutional practices

80As described above, we have a complex pattern of spatiality of forest dependency and vegetation mosaics of the landscape shaped by the interaction of equally complex process involving climatologic, geographic, and social historic factors. The attempt in this chapter was to understand these processes together on a larger spatio-temporal scale. It is evident from the foregoing discussion that the spatial patterning of the human presence and the subsistence strategies in the landscape is mutually constituted and constitutive. The analysis of the landed assets, social capital and subsistence options of the communities proved that the forest depended livelihood is fashioned by these factors but in concurrence with larger social historical processes operational in the landscape. This provides us with the crucial information for the landscape level biodiversity planning. Adivasi communities in the landscape may be regrouped under four functional categories for planning such interventions (Table 6.5).

Table 6.5 Social groups: amenability to participatory forest management

Table 6.5 Social groups: amenability to participatory forest management

81The first category of the settlements is distributed in the Idamala-Pooyamkutty regions. This region is characterised by the presence of primary and secondary evergreen forests, relatively wetter climate, highly dissected terrain and presence of reed brakes. These are communities who were practicing shifting cultivation sedentarised by governmental interference spanning more than half a century. The process had considerably altered the intra and inter-household economies and pattern of cultivation. As stronger group coherence and presence of community institutions are noted, it is relatively easier to forge mutual trust, synergy and collective expectations by grafting VSS to the existing community structure. These communities will be more receptive to and successful in performing participatory forest management involving restoration activities, agroprocessing, marketing and limited wage labour by grafting PFM on to traditional institutions.

82The second category of the settlements belongs to communities such as Kadar, Malasar and Malamalasar characterised by smaller land area. Main income sources of these communities are wage-labour or collection and sale of NWFP. Most of these settlements are located in the Parambikulam, Nelliyampathi plateau and Vazhachal-Sholayar-Malakkappara region. The community level institutions are almost dysfunctional indicating a lesser group coherence for taking up any collective activity without rigorous community development inputs. Involvement of these groups in the local governance is unenthusiastic and the formal institutional linkages are rudimentary. The group may be considered amenable to PFM involving forestry, tourism and NWFP activities. However institutional space needs to be crafted by adopting enterprise oriented approaches, local processing and efficient marketing.

83The third group of communities comprising Malasar and Malamalasar (in some cases Kadar population sharing the colony premises) are located in the Nelliyampathi plateau. These communities have better income earning opportunities compared to their counterparts in Parambikulam sanctuary as they are located along the forest fringes on the plateau and outside PA. Though the land they own is relatively larger than that of the previous group, the income earnings in terms of saleable agricultural products are minimal. Larger proportion of the income earned is from wage labour and sale of NWFPs. As in the case of previous group in this group also community level institutions are almost dysfunctional. Considering the opportunities in the region and the skills possessed by the group, this category of settlements may be considered amenable to PFM involving tourism, agricultural and NWFP activities. Crafting new institutions by adopting enterprise-oriented approaches will have better potential for success.

  • 11 See chapter 11 of this book for specific action plans for institutionalisation and social preparati (...)

84The fourth category of settlements belongs to the Malayan community residing along the fringes of forest area in Chalakudy division. Their landed assets are minimal. Therefore, proportion of income from agriculture is also minimal. Income accrued from sale of labour (to the farm holdings of settlers, forest department, and construction sector) is supplemented by the earnings from the sale of NWFPs. Community level institutions do not wield any definite influence on individuals so institutional space has to be crafted afresh based on an enterprise oriented approaches or based on individual excellence.11

85The fringe area non-adivasi settlements are result of a distinct social process as described in the relevant section above. Major characteristic of the fringe area population is heterogeneity and contradictions in perceptions, attitudes, socio-economic attributes and the nature of forest dependency. Coordination of such a heterogeneous population will be a tremendous uphill task demanding full time engagement, trained man power and ingenuity to adapt to local specific challenges. As far as the adivasi and non-adivasi populations are concerned, their successful organisation into self-regulating communities requires addressing the inherent complexities involved in the social formation. So a simplistic, generalised strategy will be inadequate to address the complexity of social realities. So what we prescribe here is crafting and grafting of exclusive, site specific and tailor made programmes for each category of the VSS if not for each VSS.


1 Adivasi meaning ‘original inhabitants, ’ in many Indian languages including Malayalam, is the term used in the paper to refer to the people commonly called as tribes.

2 Some of the non-adivasi settlements along the fringes with population assuming large size but having less dependence on forests are discussed separately.

3 For instance the area of distribution of most of the present day Kadar settlements are in localities of their labour camps. Settlements are either on the erstwhile route of the Cochin Forest Tramway and plantations (Kuriarkutty, Anapandam etc.) or on the sites of dams where they were employed as construction labour (Parambikulam, Earth dam, Poringal, Mukkumpuzha, Sholayar etc.)

4 The same categorisation is followed throughout the forthcoming discussions on the participatory strategies for management of resource, conservation and restoration zones in the landscape.

5 Similar process that took place in the localities outside the landscape understudy also had repercussions on the forests of the study area. For instance, Adimali is one of the major settlements developed during the 1940s-and 50s along the new Aluva - Munnar Road. Original name of the place was Mannamkandam referring to the Mannan settlements in the locality. As part of the state’s (Travancore Princely State) policy to increase food production, nearly 3000 acres of land at Adimali were sold in auction. Palai Central Bank was actively involved in the auction and settlement of the land. Gradually the land of the Mannan and Muthuvan settlements here was alienated to the settler population and Mannan and Muthuvan communities retreated to interior forests. The Diaspora of Mannan communities from these localities have reached north up to Edamalayar valley by now. The origin of some of the households of Mannans at Adichilathotti settlement near Kappayam can be traced back to old Thopramkudi settlement near Adimali.

6 The list is not exhaustive as the human habitations are dispersed more or less evenly.

7 In 1951, a lemon grass research centre was established in Asamannoor. Later it was brought under the Kerala Agriculture University.

8 Forest Industries Travancore Ltd. (FIT) was established during 1930s. The factory is located at Aluva. FIT manufactures furniture and joiners, provide materials and technology for interior decoration and panelling and chemical treatment of wood. The objective of establishing the industry was to exploit and to sell timber and other forest products form Malayattoor Forest Division and elsewhere in Travancore. During the world second war, FIT was mobilised to supply wooden manufactures for the British Indian army. In 1960 FIT, become a state owned company.

9 The Hindu, Nelliyampathi Estate Taken Over for Lease Pact Violation, Saturday, Jun 01, 2002

10 Social capital was a Marxian expression with the limited implications relating to the forms and relations of wealth in pre-capitalist social formations. Pierre Bourdieu developed his concept of social capital in the 1970s and early 1980s broadly within the Marxian sense but by delving deep into the processes and relations thereof and unravelling their working in the complex realms of the profoundly buried social universe. His concept of social capital is woven into the framework of his reflexive sociology. He conceived capital in four forms: economic, cultural, social, and symbolic of which the first three forms operate in society through the mediation of the last, which sets the norms of ownership, transference and exchange of them (Bourdieu, 1986; Bourdieu and Wacquant, 1992).

11 See chapter 11 of this book for specific action plans for institutionalisation and social preparation.

Table des illustrations

Titre Table 6.1 Forest dwelling communities: Demographic details (
Crédits source: Panchayat records, Census of India reports and from the rolls of ST Service Cooperative Societies. The information could be considered a fair approximation for the year 2001)
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Légende Figure 6.1 Location of Advast and non-Advast settlements (see Annex 6.1 for index)
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Légende Figure 6.2 Percentage composition of different adivasi population.
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Légende Figure 6.3 Spatial distribution of major Adivasi social groups in the study area
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Légende Figure 6.4 Correlation circle and scatter plot showing the relation betweendifferent variables and clustering of the settlements, number refers tosettlements (Annex 6.1).
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Titre Table 6.3 Characteristics of the functional groups segregated based on the assets, livelihood and ethnic affiliation
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Légende Figure 6.5 Spatial distribution of functional groups of Adivasi settlements
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Titre Table 6.4 Summary of the human ecological features of the fringe area
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Légende Figure 6.6 Social reproduction of forest dependency in the forest fringes.
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Titre Table 6.5 Social groups: amenability to participatory forest management
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