India Uncut

This blog has moved to its own domain. Please visit for the all-new India Uncut and bookmark it. The new site has much more content and some new sections, and you can read about them here and here. You can subscribe to full RSS feeds of all the sections from here. This blogspot site will no longer be updated, except in case of emergencies, if the main site suffers a prolonged outage. Thanks - Amit.

Thursday, January 06, 2005

Despatches 42: Catching rats again?

The Irulas are a South Indian tribe who were once famous for being rat-catchers. In Cuddalore district, though, they catch fish. Their story is one of the saddest ones I have come across.

The Irulas that I visited were in a village called Sriswaminagar, more than two kilometres inland off the road that leads to Pudupettai, of which about half a kilometre we walked through woods because no car could go there. Most of the affected people in the tsunami are fishermen by the sea – so why are the Irulas suffering? Well, even though they don't live on the shore, their livelihood is fishing, which they do at the nearby estuary instead of in the sea itself.

Their tragedy is that besides losing five of their tribe – three women and two children who were standing by the river – they have also lost all their fishing equipment. Their livelihood is gone, and the government hasn't yet included them on any compensation lists, restricting those to "regular" fishermen, as opposed to this "scheduled community" living on the margins of society. What is startling to us, along with their sadness, is their fear.

"We are always worried that the waves will come back," says Chitra, a young woman holding her two-year-old child, Kamal. "We are scared to sleep in our homes at night."

This fear makes the Irulas leave their thatched huts when the sun sets and retreat to a nearby clearing which is slightly more uphill. Not only is this higher ground but, because it is open, says Chitra, "we can see the water come".

They have made makeshift shelters in this clearing by using sarees hung using sticks stuck into the sand. This is a pathetic way to live – not just the poverty, but this terror of water. "This was a once-in-a-lifetime event," we tell her. The village is so far inland and so protected by trees that the water did not actually reach here, and is unlikely to do so again. "It is safe to stay in your huts, don't worry about the water."

"No," she says firmly, "we have been told by the government that the earth will shake." Her child reaches out a tender grubby hand and touches her shiny nose-ring – they are, perhaps, all that she has. Till she starts catching rats.
amit varma, 1:36 AM| write to me | permalink | homepage

I recommend: