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Coimbatore

Harassed tribal activist fighting against Isha lives in exile

by AR Meyyammai

P Muthammal, 43, an Irula tribal, who has emerged as an activist fighting for the land rights of her community against the all-powerful Isha Yoga Foundation, is forced to live in exile.

It has been about two months since Muthamma left her Madakkaadu tribal settlement located in Ikkarai Boluvampatti panchayat at the foothills of Vellingiri hills, where Isha Foundation headed by godman Jaggi Vasudev is also situated, and sought refuge along with her husband Palanisamy in her sister’s house in Kerala.

Mentally disturbed and deeply hurt by the volley of abuses and unparliamentary words used against her by some of her own people in the village for who too she is fighting, Muthamma has wished to stay away from them for her own safety, security and peace of mind.

“If I stay in Madakkaadu, my neighbour Ravi who works as a driver in Isha centre along with a few others keeps hurling abuses at me. He had already beaten up my husband badly last year. Ravi’s statement while abusing in an inebriated condition that we will not be able to take possession of even a small portion of the 44 acres for which we are fighting for is self-explanatory. It is needless to say who is behind this harassment,” Muthammal, the president of Vellingiri Hills Tribal Protection Society, says.

Muthammal herself had worked for about 4 years in Isha’s ashram over two decades ago as a daily wager. She stopped going there after she became an active member of a self-help group called Vellingiri Aaandavar Kuzhu as the “ashram did not provide her the luxury of taking leave and attending SHG meeting.”

Her SHG was into collecting medicinal herbs and fruits from forests and selling them. But the forest department put a spoke, calling for tenders to collect the forest produce. The tender amount was so high that they had to give it up. Meanwhile, the ashram too, according to Muthammal, fenced off the area, denying them easy access to Thanikandi, another tribal settlement, and their plea for a 3-feet wide pathway for less than a kilometre fell on deaf ears as “Isha centre had installed Linga Bairavi statue.”

Meanwhile, in 2006, two years later, the tribals, says social activist M Siva, came to know through the then Assistant Director of Land Reforms, Erode, that they have the patta right for the 44 acres of land spread from Muttathuvayal to Mullangaadu. Palanisamy too, according to Muthammal, had told her and his community members that 44 acres were donated by late Muthusamy Gounder to the 13 tribal families who worked in his farm several decades ago.

This triggered Muthamma to mobilise the tribals and launch a struggle to retrieve the 44 acres. A case in this regard is also pending before the Madras High Court which has called for a report from the revenue officials.

“After an RDO inquiry into the matter, neither the tribals nor those claiming to have ownership of the land were allowed access to the land. But after the visit of Prime Minister to unveil the 112-foot Shiva statue in the Vellingiri hills recently, the lands in question have indirectly come under the control of Isha Yoga Foundation,” alleges Siva.

It was Muthammal who had moved the Madras HC early this year challenging the approval given by the authorities to the Isha Foundation to construct the giant-sized Shiva statue.

“Though the 13 tribal families from Madakkaadu, who work for the Isha centre as daily labourers participated in the protest for land retrieval, were silenced by the powerful forces, people of other tribal settlements are standing by me,” she says.

Muthammal may be away from her settlement for a while to escape from taunts, but she has not called it quits. She visits the office of the All-India Women’s Democratic Association (AIDWA), a women’s wing of CPM, in Coimbatore frequently. From what she says, she is recouping for a renewed fight against the powers that be.

Meanwhile, The Covai Post’s attempts to reach Isha Yoga Foundation for reaction did not bear fruit. We did not receive any response to the questions sent to them by email. Its spokesperson N.Balaraman said, “Since Swamigal is observing 15 days silence, which is ending today, and he will have to attend to impending work, it will take a few days for the media relations department to respond to the queries.”