Idukki (Ker),May 16 (PTI): Confining himself to his forest hamlet isolating from the outside world seems to be a non-issue for Rajesh, a tribal youth living in Oonjampara, a settlement located over five kms away from Marayur here.
If anyone asks if he is not missinghis frequent trips to the nearby town these days, he has a clear but sure answer: 'This isolation is for our well-being only...to keep this disease away. Isn't it?' This wisdom has helped a section of forest dwellers in this hill district tokeep COVID-19 at bay in their hamlets, at a time when the entire country is reeling under its second wave.
Long before the government clamped lockdown officially, they were confined to their fringe hamlets isolating themselves to ensure that no one among them got infected.
They come out of the shelter of forests only rarely to collect essential articles, baby food and medicines.
They were also not hesitant to request the outsiders including police and health workers to ensure that they are not carriers of the virus while visiting them.
Edamalakkudy, the first tribal panchayat of the state located about 30 kms away from the tourist town Munnar here, is the only panchayat in the southern state now where there is zero positive case, thanks to the self isolation.
A habitation of Muthuvan community, around 3,000 people, belonging to over 750 families are living in more than 25 settlements in this village.
Located inside the Munnar forest division, the remote hamlet, having no proper road or other connectivity, has now become a model for the entire world outside to emulate in their fight against the pandemic.
Besides Edamalakkudy, the inhabitants of Koodalkattukudy, a tribal ward in Marayur panchayat, have also succeeded in keeping their settlements COVID free so far through self-isolation.
Located about five kms away from Marayur, there are over 1,300 tribals, belonging to 500 families of Muthuvan and Hill Pulaya community, living in 9 settlements in this panchayat ward.
If'oorukoottam', the tribal council, of Edamalakkudyhad decided to adopt self-isolation when the first wave of COVID-19 hit the country, the dwellers of Koodalkattukudy isolated themselves from the outside world from the beginning of this April.
Health and Forest department officials are constantly monitoring the situations and conducting periodic health checks in these settlements.
Twenty-five-year old Rajesh, belonging to Oonjampara settlement ofKoodalkattukudy, said everyone, cutting across all age groups, are diligently obeying the directives of the tribal council to follow self-isolation.
He said he concentrated more on farming, the major occupation of dwellers of his settlement, during the lockdown period and he never felt that the self-isolation was boring.
'We go down (the hills) once in every week, most often Saturdays, to collect baby food, medicines and other essential articles. Isolating from the outside world has never made me sad. We are happy with our farming and all. If everything we want is around, why should we go out,' he told P T I.
Forest officials also help them get essential articles during the time of emergencies.
Tapioca, ginger and beans were the most frequent crops cultivated in the forest-fringe farms, the tribal youth added.
Marayur forest range officer, M G Vinod Kumar said his department was giving all support to the efforts of the inhabitants of Koodalkattukudy to keep their settlements free of the disease.
'Self-isolation is the mantra that has helped these tribesmen to keep the virus infection at bay. All government departments including the forest department are extending every possible support to them for this,' he told P T I.
Only those people, who received two doses of vaccine or those possessing a COVID negative certificate, would be permitted inside the settlements.
'It is applicable even to Forest officials, health department or janamaithri police personnel or any other official staff. Recently, we did not permit an anganwadi teacher to go inside the settlement as she was yet to take her second dose,' he said.
Designated tribesmen would come out to buy essential articles once in a week.
'Lemon grass oil is one of the major produces of tribals here. As they are under self-isolation, they will inform us whenever it is ready. We will go and collect it and sell it in our eco shops and give them the money received for the product,' the officer said.
The department personnel also collect and give medicines and essential articles on Saturdays when tribal volunteers send messages via WhatsApp, he added.
District Medical Officer, Dr Priya N said so far no COVID-19 case has been reported in these hamlets.
A self-imposed lockdwon, implemented by the tribal Oorukoottam, has helped themprotect themselves and keep the disease at bay, she said.
No one from Edamalakkudy has been coming out of the hamlet for unnecessary things since the first wave of the pandemic last year.
Those tribal people, who used to come out of the forest to collect essential things,are ensuring that they are not travelling to containmentzones or other high-risk areas, she said.
'They are very cooperative with the health department directives. Our personnel are visiting the settlements in periodic intervals. No person in the hamlet has shown any symptom of this viral infection throughout these days,' she told P T I.
On vaccination of tribal people in Edamalakkudy, Dr Priya said they are willing for it.
'As of now, our plan is to vaccinate the tribesmen.A decision in this regard is to be taken jointly by the Collector, panchayat and other officials concerned,' she added.
Healthy lifestyle of people and climatic condition also considered to be the other reasons that help the tribal people to beat the disease.PTI LGKSS PTI PTI