NAGAPATTINAM : If Kodiyakkarai is the farthest point of Nagapattinam district, M Pakkiri’s thatched hut may well be its last house. When Cyclone Gaja struck in the early hours of November 16, Pakkiri’s house, in the Dalit colony of the village that may have faced the full blast of the storm, was shattered.
The 60-something-old man, his wife Selvi and their two-year-old daughter survived as they had been shifted to a cyclone shelter near the village ahead of Gaja’s landfall, with other families from the colony.
When the returned, they found the house had been flattened, and now live outside, even as the child fights a fever. At night and when it rains, they take shelter in a neighbour’s concrete house -- among the handful in the colony built as part of Tsunami rehabilitation.
Pakkiri, who depends on the MGNREGA works for income and does daily wage labour when his health allows, said his family did not have any grocery items or kitchen utensils for cooking. He was seen covering the collapsed hut with a tarpaulin to escape from the rain. Given his family’s condition, the question arises as to why they left the shelter as soon as the storm passed.
Caste discrimination, say the residents of the colony. According to them, friction between their community and the caste Hindus intensified while at the shelter, and they felt uncomfortable staying on there.“The caste Hindus caused us trouble to make us leave the camp,” a Dalit youth alleged.
“Two days after the cyclone, relief materials started coming to the camp. My friends and I unloaded and packed them for distribution. On consecutive days, we saw the caste Hindus take away quality materials. They also took materials in greater quantities and left us with just the bare essentials,” the youth charged.
The Dalit residents said they took up the issue with the village leaders but that only resulted in the rift widening. So far, each family in the colony has received 5kg rice, a biscuit packet, one water bottle and a bread pack from the relief camp.
“Now, the caste Hindus are taking the relief materials coming to the camp and distributing them. We are not getting anything. Perhaps, ours is the residential area in the district that has hardly received any relief materials,” complained another resident. Most of the colony residents are daily wagers who work on fishing boats. Similarly, women worked in salt pans. Express tried to contact district collector S Suresh Kumar for a response but was unable to reach him.