Delta Diaries: Cyclone Gaja fails to break caste barriers

Wipro School relief camp.

Nagapattinam: A week after the landfall of Cyclone Gaja over the delta districts, when the affected people were sheltered in relief camps by the government, a picture of a direction board towards one of these safe zones in a village went viral on social media. The board denoted the way to ‘SC camp’ in a hamlet named Vizhunthamavadi in the cyclone-hit region.

It triggered a big debate that communalism persists even during the hardest of times. But the situation was even worse on ground zero. This News Today correspondent happened to visit a camp in Pushpavanam, a village near Vedaranyam, Nagapattinam district. Though the visit was like to any other relief camp, the conversation wasn’t.

A group of volunteers was crossing the school where the relief camp was set up. Later, it was clear that the volunteers were from the other part of the same village where the oppressing class resides. When these volunteers were distributing relief material to the damaged houses on the street – where the school was also located – they simply ignored the camp and moved on to the next house.

At the time, one among those sheltered in the camp murmured, “Inga laam varamaataanga. Ena ithu thadai seiyya patta paguthi paarunga.” (They won’t come here. This is a forbidden area, you see).

As the volunteers passed by, he continued to speak, “We are the ones who are in dire need of help. But, they never will help us. The families here do not even have a proper house to take shelter in.”

The man in the camp said, “Even during the 2004 tsunami, this area was completely wrecked. And you know, they were not ready to rebuild this school building and were concentrating on reconstructing the damaged school where their kids study. Later, in 2005, WIPRO company sanctioned funds under its corporate social responsibility (CSR) programme, WIPRO Cares. We got our school back in 2006 because of that. For the two years since 2004, our children did not have a school to pursue their education.”

Since then, the government school is popularly known as WIPRO School in the area.

The school is located in the junction of three streets. Pointing to one of the streets, leading to the seashore, he said, “Just walk through the road and you will see how people struggle. As you reach the shore, you will also see how the fishing hamlet of Pushpavanam has been washed away completely.”

The News Today correspondent did walk towards the seashore. Almost all cottages in the area had no roof as they had been carried away by the high-velocity winds in the severe cyclonic storm. After reaching the coast, it was found that there were no houses but mounds of mud formed by continuous rain.

People at the relief camp.

A woman from the fishing village said, “All our houses have vanished and we lost everything to Cyclone Gaja. We have been shifted to the WIPRO School camp. We are involved in works under MGNREGA scheme (100 days employment plan) to clean the disaster-hit coconut farms and streets.”

What came as an even bigger blow was the announcement of the State government to vacate the camps. “We have been asked to vacate the relief camps by this weekend, as the government wants to reopen the schools. But, with no house to go back to, we are helpless,” said the woman, wringing her hands.

In the camps, villagers are given food and basic life support by the government and individual volunteer groups. They will lose even this minimum support if they leave the camps. “We are not asking for a luxurious life. All we need is a place to be safe until we construct our houses. Or else, we have to migrate to other parts of the district and end up losing the only profession we know, fishing,” said Marimuthu, a camp inmate.

Marimuthu said, “We can see officials being partial even in this. As of now, only the other camp people have been provided relief completely. They mostly live in concrete houses that were not damaged much in the cyclone. Even power supply has been provided to people of that community who live on the main roads while we, who live on the seashore or interior areas, are not even given proper support.”

Santhosh Mathevan