TIRUCHY: The tribals of villages in Pachamalai hills are showing the way on how to prevent the movement of people during lockdown. In addition, outsiders are forbidden from entering the hills.
There are 68 villages scattered on the Pachamalai hills at elevations of 500 to 1,000 metres. They fall under three village panchayats - Kombai, Vannadu and Thenpuranadu.
While lives of the tribals have been disrupted, it has not been to the extent of those living in urban areas. They have set up a common check post at the entrance to the hills. A handful of sanitation workers stand there to disinfect villagers’ vehicles returning to the hills after making purchases of essentials. Except for officials, outsiders are not allowed entry. The villages collectively imposed a curfew of their own to ensure residents who go out to buy essentials return before 10 am. Only one family is allowed to go outside and that, too, just once a week.
It takes an hour to reach the foothills to buy essentials and another hour to return with the purchases. As they return, sanitation workers of the village panchayats spray disinfectant on two-wheelers before allowing them inside. Selvaraj of Bondhai was seen carrying an LPG cylinder on his two-wheeler. He said, “The cylinder was empty so I needed to ride 25 km to Keerambur to get a full cylinder.” Most families cook using firewood outside their houses.
The people of Kombai and Vannadu travel to Thuraiyur to buy essentials. For Thenpuranadu residents, their requirements are fulfilled at Uppiliyapuram. Both the places are about 25 km from the hills and the journey can be difficult due to the winding roads. Families go to farmlands in the morning after breakfast and return home only after 2 pm. It is a routine that has not been affected by the lockdown. “Without toiling in the fields, how can we get our food? We grow paddy and some vegetables on the hills. What we require from outside are grocery items,” said 80-year-old Vekittan. The families go to the farmlands after locking up their houses. Every member of the family, even those with Engineering degrees, and school-goers can be seen working in the fields in the morning. A recent worry for the villagers was the sudden rainfall that damaged paddy crops. Fortunately, most of the paddy has already been harvested.
Earlier. there were bus services every two hours but with the lockdown, villagers are using their two-wheelers more. Though there are a few shops in the hills, they only sell snacks for children. Baby Shalini, A final-year BE student in a Thuraiyur college, said “Our college days are eventful but here in the village, there is nothing for entertainment. There is no cellphone signal in the villages here.” All school and college students returned to their villages following the lockdown. Youth with cellphones can be seen desperately searching for areas in the hills where they may get a signal so they can speak to their friends. Sometimes, they are lucky and get a weak signal. Schoolboys play outdoor games as usual, as they are yet to be introduced to electronic gadgets. Many can be seen playing on the streets and roads.
Prabhakaran, a graduate said, “We have to travel two hours to buy essentials. There is no bus service. The district administration should arrange for mobile vegetable and grocery shops for villages in the hills so it is easier for us.” Another demand is to arrange for a mobile ATM so villagers can withdraw cash.