The older generation of displaced indigenous farmers and former indentured tribal labourers in the Poombarai mountains in Tamil Nadu, India continue to live in ostracised communities, unwelcome in the local villages. Illiterate and impoverished, they worry about community and cultural survival.
Considered “untouchables”, they have struggled against the caste system and shedding the ghosts of their tortured past. Although many of them have come a long way in terms of redefining their lives, generating sustainable income and in a few cases, even learning to be part of micro-credit coops, the social stigma that follows them continues to be a hindrance to true integration.
The village elders, most of them illiterate but fascinatingly business savvy once they got the hang of the basics, hope for nothing more than a brighter future for their grandchildren, that they at least finish Elementary school and no longer have to toil the fields. To this day, these indigenous dwellers are forced to live outside the main villages and not allowed to share the community wells simply because of their caste.
Whilst the issue of racism unravels around the world, let us not lose sight of the fact that there are other pressing social issues that demand justice,, equality, integration, and kindness. It is not just about racial equality, poverty alleviation or economic progress anymore, and many tend to forget this while being caught up in the frenzy of all the protests. For as long as the economic, social and gender gaps continue to oppress people, the work and service must continue. We cannot simply ignore or put on hold the tribal minorities’ struggles for acceptance, recognition, and integration, or the gender empowerment issues, LGBT rights, let alone all those suffering from hunger, malnutrition or other fatal diseases just because our attention is focused on the protest marches.
Yes, change is necessary, and it is also inevitable, but it must also be inclusive, wholistic and progressive. This historical time of restructuring after the #lockdown2020 and all the cries for social justice and change brought about by the #blacklivesmatter movement is a golden opportunity for all sectors to make integral and fundamental changes. Let it not be wasted.