PATHANAMTHITTA: “If this situation continues, we all may not be in Gavi during the time of next assembly polls. Our hardships are beyond words. We don’t have any hospital and education facilities. The main issue for us is that phones have no use in Gavi as we don’t have network coverage. Many people in my village still don’t know how to handle an ordinary phone. How we can live here?” asked 34-year-old Padmanabhan Selvaraj, who belongs to one of the Sri Lankan Tamil families residing at Gavi in Pathanamthitta district.
He was talking to TNIE after casting his vote at the Kerala Forest Development Corporation (KFDC) office at Gavi in ward III of Seethathodu grama panchayat on Tuesday. He reached Gavi from Pathanamthitta town after travelling 60km through deep forest.
“Though I am a voter of Kochu Pamba, I can’t live here as I am doing contract work of KSEB. Daily, I get several work-related calls. If I stay here, I cannot use phones. Here, we also don’t have hospitals and schools. So, I stay in the town area temporarily with my wife and children for better living conditions,” he said.
As many as 699 voters live in Gavi, Kochu Pamba, Meenar, Pathinalam Mile and 18 Inch Colony of Konni assembly constituency in the scenic forest area. Of them, 680 voters belong to Sri Lankan Tamil families. They speak Sinhala, Tamil and Malayalam. The Election Commission had set up two polling booths for Sri Lankan Tamil families — one at Gavi and the other at Kochu Pamba — for the assembly polls.
Though their living conditions are pathetic, they actively took part in the assembly polls on Tuesday.
“We live in a reserved forest area. Hence, we will not get land in our names. We live in the layams (workers’ quarters). We don’t want land. Every part of the world has phone and internet connectivity these days. But here, phones do not have any use. Even when there is a medical emergency or death, we have to travel kilometres to hire a vehicle. If we have phone network coverage, our lives will become easier. We have only one LP school in Gavi which was started five years ago. We also dodn’t have a hospital and ambulance facilities here. If we need any of these facilities, we have to go to Vallakadavu, Vandiperiyar and Tamil Nadu,” said Ramajayam R.
Mahendran Veeraiha, 42, said Tamils, who had gone to Sri Lanka earlier, were brought back to India as part of an agreement signed between the two governments in 1964. “Our parents reached Gavi from Sri Lanka in the 1970s. Earlier, around 700 Sri Lankan Tamil families stayed here. They cleared some portion of the thick forest and started cultivating crops.
They work in cardamom plantation of KFDC and the Gavi eco-tourism project. During 1970s, the daily wage of a worker was only `4.50. At present, the wage is `436. “The retirement age is 58 and after that, we meet our expenses using pension,” said Mahendran, who works as a clerk in the KFDC. Now, only 360 Sri Lankan Tamil families live here now. Several others left for Vandiperiyar, Vallakadavu, Kollam and Tamil Nadu for better living conditions.