Even food is scarce for the Irulas of Kancheepuram

Residents of two settlements cannot afford vegetables as they don’t get work

Over the past two lockdowns, residents of two Irula settlements — Nariyamputhur and Vandivakkam — in Kancheepuram district have been barely surviving with rice from fair price shops. They have been able to stretch the rice for the whole month as they have only two meals a day.

“It is always ‘puli’ or ‘kaara kozhambu’ since we cannot afford to buy vegetables as we do not get much work. Only some of us have the 100-day job scheme cards and get work for a few days a year. Earlier, we used to work on agricultural fields but now all that has stopped, which is why our men have turned to cutting trees and stones. If they get, they work as labourers in construction sites,” said Chandra of Nariyamputhur, who walks slowly with her grand-daughter holding her hand and guiding her through the rough terrain.

Asked how long the 15-odd families have been living in the settlement, which is not near any other human inhabitation, she said, “My father-in-law came here before us and before him came his in-laws. Now, I live here with my children and their children.”

They live on poromboke land with houses made of palm leaves with no power supply; hence, they have no televisions, no mixers or grinders. They also do not have gas stoves since they cannot afford LPG and depend on firewood picked from around their villages.

Windy season

“This is the windy season and we are afraid the palm leaves will fly off and the mud walls will break and fall on us. Many nights are spent sleepless. If it is too windy and the rain is heavy, we all sit in the hut that is the strongest,” explained Panchali, who got two packets of tea in the 14-item pack, part of the State government’s COVID-19 relief from her fair price shop.

“We are illiterate and since we do not know how to count, we did not know how many items we got. When each of us found different items in the bag we went back to the shop, and the man told us that we were yet to get five more items,” explained their neighbour Seetha.

Samuel Pradeep Raja, secretary of Care Trust, and his wife Priscilla have been helping them get family cards and voter ID cards. “We were helping another Irula colony in Padur and when these people heard about that, they came to us. We did a baseline survey and applied for family cards. Some have the cards, others are yet to get them. When it rains, their homes get flooded. If the district administration gives them homes on a higher elevation or pattas, it will be helpful,” he said.

Tiruvannamalai model

Ms. Priscilla, who has done her Ph.D. in social work, pointed to the example of Tiruvannamalai district where IAS officer K.S. Kandasamy, as Collector, worked a miracle to rehabilitate Irula people by arranging homes, along with other facilities.

“He, along with the DRDA, also managed to give them a livelihood by giving them cattle. If the Kancheepuram district administration sets its heart, these people too can see a sea change in their lives,” she said.

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