On Monday, December 7, members of Thozhilalar Koodam, Sanhati and interested individuals accompanied Rural Development Trust, Thiruporur, to bear witness to some of the damage in the Irula villages of the Thiruporur belt. Though traditionally known for their expertise in catching snakes, Irula tribals primarily work as agricultural labourers, brick kiln and rice mill workers and are among the most vulnerable residents of Tamilnadu. They have a long history of being systematically deprived of basic rights and secure housing. The majority of the residents of the three villages we visited lacked adequate housing and pattas, and prior to the flood had been involved in a long legal battle to secure housing rights. During the floods, many Irula dwellings have been damaged–be they pakka houses or thatched roof huts. The Irula now face a battle for immediate survival, and urgently need dry rations, building materials, and medical attention.
The first village visited was Karupakkam, where 30 Irula families were living, not one of which had a patta. A small path at the village entrance was flanked with pakka brick houses, three of which had collapsed in the floods during the past week. These houses were built 25 years ago under one of the Government housing schemes.
Beyond the path were thatched roof huts, some with walls made of brick, and others whose walls were merely bundles of sticks. The water had not fully receded, and several huts remained uninhabitable, the residents relocated to a nearby church.
Arumugam, one of the residents whose home had collapsed, has issued a plea for support in the form of building materials:
In the village of Thandalam, most of the huts of Irula tribals were located on the side of the highway, several feet below road-level. Naturally flooding here would be severe, as the runoff water from the highway must flow directly through the huts beneath. We met the local NGO representative, who described to us how residents had relocated to the nearby corporation school once the severe flooding began on December 1st. The panchayat had helped evacuate them and is providing food and shelter currently. The NGO explained to us how after a long fight, 25 of the 43 Irula families had been granted pattas. However,
the sense of victory was short-lived, as these pattas were in fact issued on roadside wasteland, which gets inundated with runoff water during rains. They are therefore demanding pattas on poramboke land, but that land has been encroached upon by a private company.
On our way out of the village, we came across a few young boys who were catching tiny fish in a bottle and some small birds with their slingshot, presumably to supplement the next meal.
During the drive to the final village we passed the Siruthavur Eri, which had also been damaged during the rains when part of the road built through the eri collapsed. Even now, a torrent of water was rushing through the much-too-narrow gap beneath bridge.
Our final visit was to Alathur village, where again none of the 27 families had pattas to their land. The dwellings were mostly thatched roof huts, and the floor inside, normally hard mud, had become a wet, slimy muck. Here too most residents had relocated to a community center. They are currently relying on outsiders and panchayat leaders for food.
Dry food rations, material to build proper homes, and medical assistance are still the need of the hour. Beyond that the villagers continue to demand pattas to proper poramboke land, as a first step to a secure livelihood.