- Wayanad district is host to Kerala's largest tribal population
- Malnutrition is a pressing issue for a major chunk of this population
- "Who?" says Suneetha, a resident, on being asked if she knew Rahul Gandhi
Kerala's Wayanad district, which has become a national battleground after Congress chief Rahul Gandhi announced his intention to contest polls from here, is host to Kerala's largest tribal population. Despite the colonies being located barely 15 kilometres away from the district's administrative centre, they remain neglected and relegated to a corner. A significant chunk of the tribal population, for whom malnutrition is a pressing issue, has no information of the heavyweights who are contesting from here.
"Who?" says Suneetha, a resident, on being asked if she knew Rahul Gandhi, BJP's Thushar Vellapally and the left's PP Suneer, were contesting from Wayanad. Suneetha's house, she says was inundated during the Kerala floods, but she received no help from any parties, apart from un-kept promises.
"No candidates come to us. No one tells us anything about candidates. Just before voting day, some party workers will come and ask votes. But otherwise we are forgotten," she said.
Suneetha's home has had no electricity for the past two weeks, as she has no money to pay her bills.
20-year-old Vijisha has a severely malnourished child. Just a short walk from her home, lives Geeta, a lactating mother, whose seventh new born is medically categorized as underweight, like four of her other children.
Its lunchtime, but with no food for her children, she simply says, "I have not entered the kitchen. I have to take care of these five children. I have to take care of work outside. It's difficult to do everything."
Despite 18 per cent of Wayanad's vote share consisting of tribals, the district does not have even a single government tribal specialty hospital, nor does it have a single medical college.
Beyond the government hospital - the only option is a 80 to 110 kms drive to neighbouring districts.
The local Anganwadi keeps a tab on growth charts of infants, in line with World Health Organsiation Standards. "We keep weighing them and recording all the data. The growth graphs are compared. Severely underweight children are even taken to Mananthavady hospital and admitted. Recently we had a check-up for all children below 3 years of age," says Salomi Thamby, an Anganwadi teacher.
"Lifestyles have changed. The people used to work in agricultural sector, eat locally grown rice and vegetables. All that is no more. They are not used to wheat which is given to them. They don't have vehicles to commute to schools, or hospitals, but during elections, all parties send vehicles to collect them in groups for voting. They don't know candidates, or any details of what is assured to them through manifestos," says Sunanda, the project-in-charge of an NGO.
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