THIRUVANANTHAPURAM: On the verandah, her feet tucked under her, Sheeja sits on a low stool cleaning fish. Makeshift brick stoves, firewood, clotheslines, plastic buckets and children’s bicycles surround her. ‘’We came here two years ago. There are families which moved here four years back. Now they tell us that people evacuated during the cyclone are also to be brought here,’’ she says, swinging the kitchen knife in a lazy arc.
At a time when the government has evacuated more families from the coast to nearby schools after cyclone Ockhi struck, many that were hastily shifted in the same manner during past monsoons are still stuck in school rooms. The St Antony’s Higher Secondary School, Valiyathura, is a perfect example. At least 30 people - men, women and children - are crammed into three classrooms of a standalone block on the school campus. It has been so for the past four years, and politicians now scarcely dare to enter the place as promises remain unkept.
‘’Two to three families each occupy each of the three rooms,” Sheeja said. “The authorities ignore us. There is no water if the Church does not provide it. Then we cannot bathe, cook food or use the toilet. People don’t even know that we exist.’’
Sheeja, husband Sebastian and their children were shifted here two years back. But several other families have been languishing here for four years. Inside the classrooms, saris have been strung up to make partitions, so that the women enjoy some semblance of privacy to change. Chairs, almirahs, fans, mosquito nets, cots and other household goods take up most of the space. Outside, two or three outboard engines - for the fishing boats - are fastened to a scaffold. ‘’We have grown-up boys and girls here. No one seems to be bothered that we have been living here for so long,’’ said Jonamma Selvan, who moved here four years ago after coastal erosion threatened her home.
There is only one toilet for the families, and that is more or less unusable, she said. Two Sintex tanks are placed nearby, one on the verandah and one outside. They were given by the government, but water supply remains a distant dream. Since it is a working day, classes are in progress in the main building of the school, but the students rarely approach the block of classrooms that are now relief camps. After Cyclone Ockhi struck, men from the coast are still missing in the sea. For the rest, there is no work, says Sebastian. ‘’There is no ‘Kadalppani’ now. It’s very tough to get by,’’ he said.
At least 30 people - men, women and children - are crammed into three classrooms of a standalone block on the school campus
It has been so for the past four years, and politicians now scarcely dare to enter the place as promises remain unkept