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Sree Puthiyil Bhagavathi Kshetra, a kottam (Picture Credit: Rupesh Kumar)

The Kerala High Court has issued a stay order on the National Highway development through Sree Puthiyil Bhagavathi Kshetra, a kottam/temple of the Pulaya community. Earlier, the 3D alignment of the National Highway through the Dalit colony of Thuruthi in Pappinisheri had received a stay order from the Kerala High Court on June 2. The court intervention was a response to the civil writ petition filed by A Pradeep, native of Thuruthi.

Yesterday, the court has directed to stop all further actions regarding the land acquisition of Sree Puthiyil Bhagavathi Temple and its properties. The petition was filed by the secretary of Sree Puthiyil Bhagavathi Kshetra Paripalana Trust. The stay order is issued for three weeks.

The Court Order on the Land Acquisition Move on Temple

Around 1200 dalits of Thuruthi village in Kannur were being asked to leave their homes for the purpose of building a National Highway over their land. The dalit families had said that the National Highway Authority of India had found a suitable alignment that did not go through their lands but it was redesigned after government officials visited the village for an initial survey of the land.

Theyyam performed during the struggle near kottam (Picture Credit: Rupesh Kumar)

The temple is over 400 years old and is traditionally worshipped by the Pulaya community in Thuruthi. Several theyyam performances are carried out in the temple every year. Theyyam is a popular ritual form of worship of North Malabar in Kerala and a living cult with several thousand-year-old traditions, rituals and customs. On 23 May 2018, around 80 Theyyam artists joined a human chain to protest against the alignment.

The Aringalayan Tharavadu (an ancestral family name) is entrusted with the temple. One of the protestors and writer who chose to remain anonymous said to TWJ, “Pulayas of the North Malabar are historically agricultural slaves. They are not sanskritised. The kottams, their centres of worship have ecological significance as well. Their prayer and worship are closely associated with nature. The kottams are mostly located on river banks and marshlands. Kottams are different from temples as they are abrahmanical. There are many such kottams with very peculiar and have unique customs and rituals in North Malabar. They have anthropological, sociological and historical significance. The aippally theyyam which is exclusively performed by members of pulaya community gives out fish as the blessing.”

For the people of Thuruthi, the kottam holds emotional significance. The pulayas of north Malabar have no written history. So the disappearance of these worship centres and their ecosystems will result in the loss of their history.

The red ink marked is the survey stone in the Kottam premises (Picture Credit: Rupesh Kumar)

“The government officials have put a survey stone inside the temple premises. They consider these people powerless. The struggle has not been hyjacked by extremist elements yet. The protesters have managed to keep their politics intact. We believe they can handle it. The officials didn’t even bother to inform the kottam committee when they planted that survey stone in the premises of Kottam. The people may be powerless and with no money but they clearly know whats happening.” he added.

The District Collector of Kannur, Mir Mohammed Ali IAS (Picture Credit: Facebook)

There are complaints that the District Collector of Kannur, Mir Mohammed Ali IAS has not yet visited Thuruthi despite the protests by the people.

A resident of Thuruthi and one of the protesters, Anupama said to TWJ, “The Court had asked the District Collector, the National Highway Authority and SC/ST department to submit reports. The SC/ST department has submitted a comprehensive report based on facts. It stresses on the unscientific manner of the proposed 3D alignment. The area was renovated as part of the MLA’s program with a funding of one crore and the same is now going to be demolished in the name of development. The kottam has been taken care of by the Pulaya community for generations.

The stay is temporary, yet it makes us very happy. It stands for hope. The Collector and National Highway Authority have not taken any actions in the changed circumstances. They keep on delaying the governmental actions.

The National Highway Authority has given a report stating that the proposed alignment is the best for technical reasons and the soil is suitable. But they have not tested the soil here. They say its to allow a speed of 80/100km per hour, but there are 4 curves in 500 meters, it cannot be so. They could never go at such speed because of the proposed curves.

Our struggle has been accepted by the civil society. They have realised it as a common cause. The people around here have come and declared their solidarity with us. They tell us never to let go of our land and has realised that the proposed alignment is unscientific. The District Collector has not even come here once. The SC/ST department, on the other hand, has given a report on our condition and stated that it would be very difficlt for us to move away from our land and to survive.”

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