When her husband Maarappan died of Covid-19 in May 2021, Malli M decided to take a stand.
Malli is a resident of Guruthaddanur, a hamlet in Tamil Nadu’s Krishnagiri district, 90 km from Bengaluru. She is one of around 400 members of the Irula community in the village, which has a population of around 600.
Malli decided that she would bury her husband on their ancestral land. It was part of a larger patch of land that they and other members of the village’s Irula community once lived on and cultivated. But in the mid-1990s, the forest department moved the community out, after declaring that the land was forest. The Irulas were settled on a new plot, around half a kilometre north of the old land. Most Irulas, like Malli, however, continued to grow crops on the land they used earlier.
Her family had been cultivating that land for at least 70 years, according to Malli. In 2006, the rights of Scheduled Tribes, such as Irulas, to own and use forest land were recognised with the enactment of the Forest Rights Act, or FRA. Since then, Malli and her extended family have been making repeated applications for titles under the act. “We have applied at least…