InPEC brings to you the “Discovery of India” log of Karthik Radhakrishnan, an engineering graduate student from the University of Southern California, Los Angeles, as he travels through India. This chapter describes the tale of a village in Tamil Nadu which is hit by floods every year and the residents do not have adequate means to get by.
Place : Thalainayar (Nagappatinam District, Tamil Nadu)
Date : 22nd July, 2013
By Karthik Radhakrishnan, 29th July, 2013
Thalainayar is a Town Panchayat in the district of Nagappatinam (For people who remember the Tsunami of 2004, Nagappatinam district had the maximum number of casualties in Tamil Nadu.) This is a story of a tiny village in this Panchayat, Santhantheru, whose residents have no food, no drinking water and absolutely no money. This village gets flooded for three months every year and the residents are put up in a nearby school, where close to a hundred families live together with inadequate food and space. The floods take away both the lives and livelihood of these poor people who rely totally on agriculture for their food.
“Once a year, our village gets flooded. The houses get washed away, there will be snakes moving around and dead bodies floating around us. We will not have time for anything, we just pick up our children and swim to the nearby school where they would put us up for three months.” - says Lakshmi, a resident. The normalcy with which these words were uttered is quite haunting and their situation, almost unimaginable.
Most of the agricultural activities in this part of Tamil Nadu are rain-fed, but it seldom rains. When it does rain, the rain water and sea water together displace the entire village. The village does not have any irrigation facilities and laying bores is meaningless because the groundwater is mostly salty. There has been very little farming in the past ten years and as a direct consequence, there has been very little money as well for the past ten years. To add salt to their wounds, the village has been converted from Village Panchayat to Town Panchayat (because of the growing size and population) which implies that they don’t get the benefits of the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act and hence, no alternate source of income. Just to put things into perspective, the average annual income of a family here is Rs. 10,000 (that’s around $166.66, less than a dollar a day!).
In spite of all the difficulties, the people have made sure that their kids go to school. The village school has classes only upto eighth grade, but they are determined to send the kids to the nearby town for further studies. A few people have managed to send their kids to college as well and try to make a living out of the little money their kids send from the cities. The “Midday Meal Scheme” is quite successful here and is keeping the kids at school. In the wake of recent controversies surrounding the meal program, this particular village and its people (especially the teachers) have made sure that the safety of the students is their top priority.
The privileged masses of India are not aware of the difficulties faced by the bottom 22%. We read about “them” in the newspapers and see “them” on television. For us, “they” are merely a statistic. But to see these guys in flesh and blood and hear their problems is an extremely moving (even haunting) experience. The villagers are quite convinced that we will never understand their problems. Maybe we never will. But let us at least start trying?
Karthik Radhakrishnan is a Structural Engineering Graduate from the University of Southern California, Los Angeles. He is originally from Chennai, India. He is in particular interested in the rural affairs of India with a focus on farmer suicides, children’s education and women empowerment. Email : firstname.lastname@example.org