Why Adivasis from Tamil Nadu are turning to red sanders smuggling again

Adivasis from Tamil Nadu’s villages are heading to the forests dangerously playing a cat-and-mouse game with forest guards and police officials tasked with stopping the illegal trade. Imaging: Manikandan R

Forty-five-year-old R Unnamalai and her 50-year-old husband R Raman were anxious as their meagre savings were fast depleting. It had been nine months since they returned to Tamil Nadu’s Dharmapuri having worked as daily wagers at a coffee plantation in Karnataka’s Mysuru. The work earned the couple about Rs 1,100 per day.

Unnamalai and Raman tried to grow saamai (little millet) and turmeric on their half an acre of farmland on Sitheri Hills in Dharmapuri district. They invested most of what they had managed to save on farming. Three months ago, however, when their crop was ready for harvest, a gaur destroyed it all. With no more money to invest in farming and no employment opportunities in their village, Mithikadu, and nearby towns, the couple decided to return to Mysuru in January after Pongal celebrations.

But in November, Raman told Unnamalai that he was going to Karnataka as he had found a lucrative job through a neighbour. In their 25 years of marriage, the couple had always gone out to work together. The new job, however, was only for men. Hesitant and uncertain, Unnamalai let Raman accompany three of his friends from their neighbourhood.

Dreams to death

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