We could hear laughter coming from a distance. A group of women gathered outside their verandah; their chatter spilling onto the streets. A loud wailing cry resounded in the air as a little boy perched on the shoulder of a young woman turned to his mother and heaved a deep sob. The crowd slowly dispersed through a narrow cul-de-sac. And, that’s when we spotted her sitting alone and lost in her thoughts. Her fingers trembled as she knotted her long white hair into a bun; her frail torso wrapped in a saree just the way her fore-mothers wore.
“Tell me, why should we work today?,” said Rengan who had just joined the group, snapping us out of our reverie. “If I am content with ‘free’ sub-par food, poor education and low quality housing, then why should I put in any effort to make my situation better? All I need to do is crib and whine about how I am not getting enough. This has perpetuated a lazy lifestyle and we are entirely responsible for nurturing such an appalling attitude,” he said with a frown.
He went on to talk about the general health and well-being of tribal people. And, he was all praise for the healthcare schemes. We were also told that pregnant women were always encouraged to go for regular check-ups. “They visit the doctor every month and are prescribed medicines. But what use are these pills, if our daughters don’t have any nutritious food to eat. Our grandparents never used fertilisers and grew organic food. Everything has been poisoned with chemicals today. We need to bring back our traditional diet of ragi, millet and wild bamboo rice. And, it has to be a collective effort. Years ago, we were allocated some land for farming. It has no water. We don’t have any money to bring water to the land. What do I grow there? We were also sanctioned water pumps by the government a few years ago. But they never arrived,” he said.
Most of the men believed that the only way the hamlet could rise from its miserable state is if every individual paid keen attention to optimising farming techniques. If they decide to farm and market their own produce, they could eliminate middle-men altogether thereby ensuring that the sole benefactor of the sales is the farmer himself or herself. They would no longer have to rely on an alternate source of income. Today, they are forced to take loans throughout the month to support their families. Some manage to pay off their debts while others don’t.
On probing further, we learnt that farmers require better storage facilities for perishable goods. Although, the Attapadi Co-operative Farming Society (ACFS) provides them lorries to sell their harvest in different towns, what they make in return is dismal. Moreover, the cost of transportation has to be borne by the tribes.
While they completely understand that the government did everything in their power to help tribal communities, they ardently feel that their downfall could only be attributed to selfishness and greed which are intrinsic to human nature. We wondered aloud what could be done to make their lives better today. A look of deep contemplation crossed Rengan’s face as he sat motionless pondering over what we had just asked. “I want clean food for our families. I want good roads so that our children can go to school everyday. I am quite certain that given a chance the younger generation will understand the significance of farming. It might be a task to convince them initially but once they realise how important it is for their future, for their children’s future, they might look forward to it.”
After a few hours, the men had to return to their chores. We soon left Paloor to drive towards another hamlet situated deep in the forests. No sooner than later, a man ran to us. His name was Nadavani. We saw him lingering around the area throughout our discussion with the locals.
We caught a strong whiff of alcohol from his breath. Teary-eyed and slightly befuddled, he gathered every sliver of courage in his heart to narrate his story. “They promised to construct a house for my family in 1992. They told us people with machines and bricks would come soon. But they never came. My father spent Rs 9500 to build a home for us. That was all we had. And, that’s the house we live in today. If they had kept their promise, we wouldn’t have struggled the way we did. Make sure you tell everyone what happened here. Make sure you tell them what they did,” he said…
(to be continued…)
Project ‘Rest of My family‘ is an attempt to connect back, re-discover our relationship with and understand our responsibility towards the larger family that we are a part of — the rest of our human family. Hence, it is titled Rest Of My Family.
Through #RestofMyFamily, we will focus on highlighting social issues and human interest stories, documenting the triumphs of the ordinary man despite all the hardships they face constantly, and help these stories reach a larger audience and wherever necessary extend support to the individuals and communities that we write about. We hope to make a direct impact to the lives of those people we meet and find suffering due to various social issues; to connect the ones who need help to the ones who can help….
Find more about the campaign here: http://igg.me/at/restofmyfamily/x/539502