With their lives already in dire straits due to government neglect and lack of basic needs, sixty families of the Irula community, a semi-nomadic tribe spread across three villages in the Cuddalore district of Tamil Nadu, have been dealt a further blow due to the Cyclone Nivar, which has completely washed away their settlements.
At least 50 per cent of the people do not possess even a community certificate (proof of one’s belonging to a particular caste) or any other government document like Aadhar or voter ID. This group of 250 people, who live near a small piece of poromboke land in TS Pettai, Meedhikudi, and Adivaraganallur villages, have no land to farm on, no education to seek better employment and no access to get either.
The children of this tribe are forced to change schools as the families keep moving from one area to another and this results in dropouts as well. Driven by poverty, most of these Irula tribe members work as contractual labourers in brick kilns, rice mills, even as securities for farmland in Kancheepuram, Tiruvallur, Cuddalore, Nilgris, Anakatti, etc.
Murugappan Ramasamy, activist and coordinator of Irular Sangam in Villupuram, says even though people from several other backward communities are hired as daily-wage workers, only the Irula community members face harassment and exploitation.
“To avoid these harassments, some of them keep moving from one place to another every six months. Some of them stay in the land which are categorised as ‘Neer Pidipu Paguthi‘ (water catchment area) and hence the government refused to provide them patta. They reside in those areas because their traditional job of catching a snake or rat is no longer providing them a regular income. They do fishing or work as a coolie. Due to the recent Nivar cyclone, their settlements are completely washed away. Their livelihood has taken a toll,” Ramasamy says.
One reason why the local village administration doesn’t pay much attention to the community is because the Irula population is considerably low there is no party to support them, says Ramasamy.
“For some of the Irula members who have ration card, they are denied all the items. They are provided only rice in public distribution shops. Other communities are taken care of at least during the local elections. The issue can be sorted only if the government allocates the natham poromboke land and if that is not available, they can purchase any of the other lands and accommodate these people,” he says.
However, Ramasamy says not all officials are bad and some of the collectors and tehsildars like the one in Tindivanam provided electrical connection to the Irula hamlet at Jakkampetai.
According to Arumugam, the state secretary of Pazhangudi Irular Pathukappu Sangam, the government has failed to conduct a proper survey of these people, which has restricted them from providing the patta.
“The issue has been prevalent for at least three decades. The patta allocated for some of these people in 2002 is yet to be materialised. The Revenue Department officials are taking no steps to better the livelihood of these people. There are around 900 Irula houses around the Cuddalore district and only 100 or 150 of them have properly built land and houses,” he says.
“The members of the community are not seeking the help of the Sangam. They are hesitant to come all the way from Chidambaram to Villupuram, where the Sangam is located to seek a solution for their problems. The government officials too are not bothered to visit them and this issue is going on forever. Forget about ration card, some of them even are not able to get the death certificates,” Arumugam says.
However, help has poured in for the Irula community through the NGO Peace and Happiness, which has been working for the welfare of the people since 2015 and providing them with basic needs like food, shelter, clothing.
Mahesh Subramanian, the founder of Peace and Happiness, says the government needs to step in to save the community.
“Since 2015, we have also supported their children’s education by setting up computer centers in collaboration with other NGOs. They have also been provided with fishing nets, musical instruments, etc. However, there is a limit to what NGOs can do after which the government should step in. We have met the finest collectors and sub collectors in Pondicherry and Cuddalore and we hope the Irula people get their permanent and proper place to stay soon,” Subramanian says.
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