For years, Cholanaikkan, the hunter gatherer tribe living in deep forests of Nilambur, of Malappuram district, have been only casting their votes to register their representation in democracy. But this time, 21-year-old Sudheesh C is set to change that trend by becoming the first member from the community to contest in local body polls.

A native of Alakkal colony of Cholanaikkan, Sudheesh is contesting on LDF ticket from Vazhikkadavu division of Nilambur block panchayat. The Cholanaikkans living in around 20 settlements in the forest of Nilambur are one of the most primitive tribes in the country and the only remaining hunter-gatherer tribes in South India. They are on the verge of extinction as the population ratio of the community has become one woman to ten men.

 For a decade, the people of the tribal community are actively participating in the election process by casting their votes at polling booths set up in forest border areas. It is the first time that a member of the community is contesting in an election. Sudheesh, who is a plantation worker, said that he has decided to contest in the election as he wants to serve people sincerely. “I am hopeful that I can support tribes people in the region, by providing them assistance to make their life better,” he said.

“I will give priority to the development of tribal areas and implementation of welfare programmes for tribal people. I think this is a golden opportunity for me to bring the issues of tribes people in Nilambur region into the notice of authorities. As a people’s representative I can do more things than a common man,” he said.

Sudheesh has already begun his election campaign. He leaves his home in Alakkal colony situated in deep forest around 5 am and reaches Nilambur around 8am to join the LDF campaign team. He will return to the colony around 6pm, after the door-to-door visit of houses across the Vazhikadavu division of the block panchayat seeking support from the part of voters.

 Local committee secretary of CPM in Vazhikkadavu, C Vinayachandran, said that the party decided to field a person from Cholanaikkan community with an aim to ensure the active participation of voters of the community in the election process. 

“As the seat was reserved to scheduled tribe community, the party’s local leadership unanimously decided to field a person from Cholanaikkan. After discussion, Sudheesh, who has completed Plus Two, was selected for the role,” he said.

Among the total 12,000 voters in the division, more than 200 voters belong to the tribal community. By fielding a man from Cholanaikkan as candidate, LDF is aiming to garner support from the community in entire tribal areas of Nilambur

Cover image: Sudheesh, centre, with his friends during election campaign