A forest hut. Indigenous people are often denied their rights to land for a home and to government housing

Palliars, the indigenous people of south India, are in limbo. Their traditional hunter-gatherer existence in the hills and forests, isolated from the agricultural people of the plains, has disappeared in recent decades.  Yet they are far from integrated into modern society. They exist on the fringes: lacking property rights and documents needed for welfare benefits, exploited by unscrupulous employers and traders, while many tribal children fail to attend school because of the cost and a culture that does not acknowledge the value of formal education.

These are the most disadvantaged people our partner Arogya Agam has ever encountered. Arogya Agam has formed village development committees in Palliar hamlets to lobby the authorities to provide drinking water, roads, streetlights and better schools. They have started children’s clubs to encourage school attendance, address wider village issues and build self-esteem and awareness of rights among the children. The children’s clubs also support the children academically with the help of a tuition teacher; as most of their parents are illiterate this support is valuable. Some 285 children are helped with school bus fares, uniforms and books. Arogya Agam also facilitates meetings for the parents where they discuss the importance of education and provide health guidance.

The Palliars, as tribal people, are entitled to special government benefits, but most Palliars do not have any property rights and fail to obtain welfare benefits because they lack documents such as community certificates, voter IDs or ration cards. Arogya Agam helps in the application process steering them through the bureaucratic system and lobby when applications are unsuccessful.

Many of the NGOs who have tried to work with the Palliars have provided them with single donations but have not supported them in sustainable way, which can help develop the community in the long run. We try to promote the capacity of the people and help them build tools for change through facilitating different committees and groups.

Watch our video The Palliars

Case study: Murugayee

Nilgiris tribal school drop-out project