Tamil Nadu has 7.21 lakh tribal populations as per 2011 census which constitutes 1.10% of the total population. There are 36 tribes and sub tribes in Tamil Nadu. Literacy rate of the population is 27.9%. Most of the tribals in Tamil Nadu are cultivators, agriculture labourers or dependent on forests for their livelihood. There are six primitive tribes in Tamil Nadu. The tribal groups in Tamil Nadu are distributed in almost all the districts and they have contributed significantly in the management of the forests.
Out of total population of 12,45,899 in Theni District as per census 2011, tribal population constitute 1835, with an increase from 1686 people enumerated in 2001 census. There are two types of tribal communities inhabiting the villages of Theni District viz., Paliyars and Mudhuvars. Paliyars, the aboriginal tribes, live in the clad of Western Ghats falling in the districts of Madurai, Theni, Dindigul, Tiruppur, Virudhunagar, and Tirunelveli. Paliyars are scattered and unorganised group who are all used to live as a smaller group in the foothills. Poolavadi Puliyampatti in the Palani hills of the Western Ghats is considered to be the place of origin of this tribe. Paliyars live as isolated groups. They used to live in rock crevices and caves. The Mudhuvar tribes are usually not willing to disclose their knowledge about the uses of the plants. The knowledge about medicinal plants is rather specialized and is limited to a few members in the community who are recognized as ‘Vaidhyar’ (also known as medicine men, informants and traditional healers). The tribal communities live inside the Reserved Forests, in the vicinity in fringes and outside and are also called ‘forest dwellers’. Their socio-cultural life is centred on nature. Degradation of forests have reduced the resource availability and the employment opportunities for tribes and has also affected the food availability, livelihood options and the quality of life of the tribes.
The Paliyar inhabit the slopes of hill ranges that form a boundary between the Tamil Nadu and Kerala states. They are relatively lesser in number when compared to the other tribal groups of Tamil Nadu. The Paliyar indulge in seasonal labor in agricultural lands like ploughing, weeding, harvesting and herding cattle. Apart from this, the Paliyars are also involved in the collection and sale of NTFPs like Gooseberries, Lichen and Dwarf fan palm (Phoenix humilis). Being hunter-gatherers, they completely depend on forests and the basis of their subsistence foraging is extraction of wild Dioscorea yams and honey collection. The Paliyars along the Theni district depend on plant species for economic (making mats, nets, ropes), sustenance (food, shelter, medicine) and, cultural purposes (worship, beliefs, to ward off evil spirits). Over 500 plants have been recorded as being significantly used by the community along the Palani hills for food, dyes, tanning, drugs, narcotics, drinks, housing instruments, weapons, fibres and medicines. The Village Kottagudi has population of Pulaiyar, another tribes living here.
The knowledge about medicinal plants is restricted to a few members of both the Paliyar and Mudhuvar community called Vaidyar. There are two types of healers within the community-herbalists who diagnose the disease based on the symptoms and treat the patients using plant resources and ritualists who believe diseases are caused by specific spirits. Leaves are found to be the most preferred plant part for medicines followed by roots, tubers, stems, fruits, whole plant parts, latex, seeds, root bark/stem bark and flowers. The method of preparation can be classified as: plant parts prepared as a paste, juice extracted from fresh plant parts, plant parts used to prepare decoction with water and powder obtained from fresh or dried material.
Backwardness of Tribes in Theni District is characterised by interplay of several factors as followed.
In the past few years, ARUDECS has assisted these tribal households to approach the district administration and obtain cultivation rights through a non-transferable title issued to the Tribal Families under the Forests Rights Act 2006. After a series of processes, the district administration has started issuing titles under the act. There are 103 families who have got the titles and another 12 families possess Patta on their own. The remaining 201 families have applied for titles and half of the process has been accomplished, and they are awaiting approval. Currently, ARUDECS is involved in securing the livelihoods of the tribal farmers and landless labourers through establishment of WADI model of orchards and Non-WADI livelihood development initiatives around non-timber minor forest produces, for which the Tribal Communities have secured MFP Collection permits from the Forest Department.
Registered Office: No. 114 Old Colony, Erasakkanayakkanur (Po), Chinnamanur (Via), Uthamapalayam (T.k), Theni Dist, Tamil Nadu Administrative Office: No.2, Dr. Manavalan House, Doctors Association Street, Panorama Nagar, Bodinayakkanur - 625 513, Theni Dt., Tamil Nadu
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