“Rains bring the much-needed respite to the city...” runs the news ticker every time Chennai’s baked streets get some rainy relief.
But for many in the city, this ‘much needed respite’ only brings horror as it would mean days of illness, unemployment and even debt.
“No matter how intense the heat is, I still manage to work. But that is not the case when it rains – all my goods get damaged and the only thing to do is to sit at home and wait for the rains to go away. Right now, you lose only half a day’s work, but during October and November, there is no work,” says M Kuppuswami, a rickshaw puller who lives near Thousand Lights.
The case is not so different with T Dharmaraj, a vegetable vendor from Choolaimedu. Since he sells his vegetables in the open, a slight sluggishness in covering the veggies would mean a heavy loss. “Onions will be the first to rot, followed by tomato, beans and other fruits and vegetables,” says Dharmaraj. Thanks to the heavy loss, he too is rendered jobless during heavy rains. However, a larger problem for the roadside vendors is that most people head to supermarkets for shopping during rains, resulting in losses to them.
The most affected, however, are the homeless who have no roof above their heads.
Most of them wait till the shops close at night to find a half shelter on the pavement in front of the shops or sleep under flyovers. “During the rains we cover ourselves with a plastic sheet. But the chillness makes the skin swell by morning,” says Pushpa Bhaskar, who lives on the streets near the Madras Veterinary College in Vepery. Pushpa has been living in the same place ever since she was a toddler. Today, she is the mother of two teenagers, but a sheltered home has evaded her over the years.
Children on the streets are affected too. “I had to spend Rs 250 on my children after the last rains due to fever and sickness. Once a rat bit our child.” says Seetha Chandran, who stays in the same pavement.
Social activists point out that in spite of the Supreme Court directions, the government has failed to provide shelter to its poor. “The people who migrated to the cities from neighbouring districts generations ago are still without shelter. In the case of people like construction labourers, the rainy season means no work. So they fall into debt during the period and this goes on. Construction workers who migrated from various places and built our biggest residential areas like Anna Nagar and K K Nagar are still homeless today,” says R Geetha of the Unorganised Workers Federation.