The meaning of ‘Adikamana’ in Kattunaika Adivasi language is “Our Own Kitchen House”. This is the name the Adivasi women decided to give to their canteen which was their long-cherished dream of initiating an eating place fully managed by Adivasi women in Thirunelly Panchayat. This dream project is supported by the Thirunelly Comprehensive Tribal and PVTG Development Program.
The Thirunelly Comprehensive Tribal & PVTG Development Project is a special programme initiated by National Rural Livelihood Mission for bringing sustainable development in the tribal predominant area in the Wayanad district – Thirunelly with the support of Kudumbashree District Mission of Wayanad. It started functioning in 2017. The main aims of the project are to attain socio-economic development, sustainable livelihood options and empowerment among the tribal communities in Wayanad. Paniya, Adiya, Kaattunaika, Kuruma, Vettukuruma, Cholanayka and other vulnerable Adivasi communities are the main beneficiaries of this special project.
The project functions in a mission mode among the Adivasi women of the Thirunelly Panchayat. Exclusive Adivasi Self Help Groups (SHGs) are formed in the far-flung Adivasi hamlets. These SHGs are envisaged to develop into powerful social institutions of Adivasi women, capable of taking up all the life-threatening issues plaguing the communities. In addition to alleviating the social and economic deprivation of the most vulnerable Adivasi communities, special care is given to education and literacy of youngsters and elders, health care, food security and nutritional security and overall empowerment and enhancement of their self-confidence and self-esteem.
The Adivasis of Wayanad have been subjected to years of enslavement, exploitation, suppression and discrimination from the mainstream settlers and political leaders. The overall socio-cultural collapse of the Adivasis has marginalised them to such an extent that they have lost the will to fight for their rights and entitlements. Along with forming Joint Liability Groups for organic farming, the idea of a full-fledged canteen run by the Adivasi women also came up in the minds of the women. Some of the women had started running regular catering for the programmes and trainings of Kudumbasree. The idea was to focus on Paniya Adivasi women, some of whom were already trained and experienced.
Many had doubts about whether the women will have the expertise and managerial capacity to run a canteen. It was a general feeling that Paniya women “are all the while sitting idle chewing pan” and they will never do consistent work. It was doubtful whether what they cook will be hygienic and whether people will like their food. After several meetings and heated discussions, they decided to go ahead with their dream project. It is perhaps the biggest challenge the functionaries and the beneficiaries of the Project have undertaken so far.
Training and motivation programmes were organized for a number of women who volunteered to take the risk of starting a canteen. Finally, a team of six women came forward to start the canteen. They are Usha, Meenakshi, Reena, Saraswathi and Mini from the Ambedkar hamlet and Divya from the Irumbupalam hamlet. Luckily they got a good place in the campus of the Panchayat at Kartikulam to establish the canteen right at the spot where theroad turns towards the Thirunelly temple. To set up the canteen, they have taken a loan of Rs.7 lakhs from the Kudumbashree and 3 lakhs from the bank. After that the canteen was set up beautifully and with all facilities. The dream came true at Kartikulam junction on October 23rd 2019.
The Adikamane Café Kudumbasree Mess and Catering unit at Kartikulam provides a number of ethnic specialities unique to Adivasi cuisine. The traditional food of the Adivasis of Wayanad is not only tasty and ethnic but also nutritious and medicinal. A number of ethnic preparations using more than 30 varieties of wild edible leaves (‘chappu’), many varieties of wild tubers, mushrooms, bamboo shoots, wild chillies, cherry tomatoes and many other varieties of cultivated as well as wild items are available on order at the Adikamane. All mainstream items like ‘ada’, ‘vada’, ‘bonda’, ‘bajji’, pickles are prepared with the wild edibles collected from the forests of Thirunelly. Their chicken (‘chakkothikozhi’) prepared with a variety of wild leaves and spices is a great hit everywhere they exhibit their culinary expertise.
In addition to the traditional food items, they serve all the regular breakfast and lunch items, special snacks and other sweets and eatables, tea, coffee, drinks etc. They take orders for big functions and meetings also and provide delicious ‘sadya’, biriyani, and regular meals. A meal with rice, sambar, buttermilk, ‘chammanthi’, fish curry, koottucurry and pappadam cost only 40 rupees. They often give food free for the poor people as their community responsibility.
The women who took the initiative to start the canteen have come a long way. They have faced difficulties bravely, they have taken the burden of providing food for large meetings and seminars, and they have represented Wayanad in exhibitions and food festivals inside and outside Wayanad. In the SARAS Mela at Kannur in 2019, their food was relished by hundreds of people and they were endowed with the Best Innovation Award fetching them one lakh rupees! More than a sustainable livelihood option, the confidence and capacity which the women have gained through this venture must be the most positive social impact of the Adivasi women’s canteen. Adikamane has gained visibility in the media, visual, social as well as print.
It has to be mentioned that most of the women who run the canteen are uneducated and only one among them have completed 7th standard. But they are able to manage all work, maintain hygiene and discipline, serve the demanding customers, tourists, pilgrims, local officials and general public satisfactorily. The proof of their efficiency can be seen in the popularity the canteen has gained among the public and tourists.
With the help and full support of the Thirunelly Kudumbasree CDS and the Panchayat, the team is able to keep accounts accurately and run the canteen efficiently. The most creditable factor is that they were able to repay the loan in four months. The Adikamane canteen team has gained the appreciation and admiration of all. In fact, they have become a role model for all Adivasi women. During the last three months, the Thirunelly Panchayat has selected Adikamane as a government supported People’s Hotel. This is the biggest token of appreciation ever given to the initiative of a group of Adivasi women.
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