Thiruvananthapuram,July 24: Even as death of a large number of tribal children due to "malnutrition" in Kerala continues to be hotly debated, Culture Minister KC Joseph on Monday courted controversy stating that consumption of arrack by expectant tribal mothers was a major cause of death of infants in Attappadi adivasi belt.
Seizing on the Congress minister's statement on the sidelines of a function at Kannur, CPI-M veteran and Opposition Leader V S Achuthanandan charged that Mr Joseph was heaping insult on tribal women instead of providing necessary support to the affected people.
"Consumption of arrack is rampant in tribal colonies of Attappadi. Liquor consumption by expectant mothers is one of the reasons for the death of infants. It is important that they shed the habit to maintain their health," Mr Joseph said.
Reacting to the minister's statement, Mr Achuthanandan said, "After starving the tribals to death, they are now insulting them."
CPI state Secretary Pannian Raveendran sought an apology from the government for "humiliating" the tribal population.
Significantly, the minister's statement came close on the heels of the visit of Prime Minister's principal secretary TKA Nair to Attappadi for an on-the-spot assessment of the situation.
As many as 42 tribal children have died in the last 18 months in the area, most of them either due to malnutrition or ill health of mothers.