Kerala, After The Flood: In relief camps, Onam celebrations bring joy to lives of people struggling to recover

Keralites in most parts of the world skipped their harvest festival of Onam on Saturday in solidarity with their brethren whose lives were devastated by the century’s worst flood in the state that battered more than three-fourth of the southern state.

But they have ensured that over 7.25 lakh people staying in around 1,925 relief camps across the state have not missed the spirit of the festival that marks the prosperity of the people. The civil society, which played a huge role in the rescue and relief operations, were at the forefront.

Psychiatrists view this as the first step in the rehabilitation of the people displaced by the calamity. Members of various civil society organisations have done this well by making Onam a different experience for those who are still not able to return home.

They brought cheers to the face of the anguished inmates in most relief camps across the state by providing them with new clothes and sumptuous feast besides Onam gifts to their children and organising a variety of cultural, art and sporting events.

Women make a 'rangoli' as they celebrate 'Onam' at a flood relief camp in Kochi on Saturday. PTI

Women make a 'rangoli' as they celebrate 'Onam' at a flood relief camp in Kochi on Saturday. PTI

According to legend, Onam marks the annual visit of King Mahabali after he was pushed into netherworld by jealous Lord Vishnu to Kerala to see the well-being that he ensured to his subjects during his golden rule.

“Mahabali would be very happy with his visit this Onam as he can see a rare unity among the people in helping their suffering fellow human beings return to their life. He must also be happy to see the indomitable spirit displayed by the displaced that they cannot be pushed down by any adversity,” said Shafi Parambil, a Congress MLA who visited many camps in Palakkad district.

He said that the people in the camps prepared the feast together and jointly participated in the Onam merriment. Shafi said that all people in the relief camps enthusiastically joined the celebration, forgetting their loss and worries at least temporarily.

The celebrations in most camps were in traditional style. Women welcomed Mahabali with flower carpets in front of the camps in most places. Apart from the flower decorations, women also performed Thiruvathira, a popular group dance usually performed around a lamp by the women folk in typical Kerala dress. They also sang songs in praise of Mahabali.

People’s representatives and celebrities pepped up the spirit by taking part in the feast and the festivities. Super star Mammootty visited three camps in Ernakulam district and shared the feast with the inmates in one. Inmates in the camps were overjoyed by the presence of the celebrity.

“This is a different experience for me. Usually, we prepare the feast at home and share it among ourselves. This is the first time in my life I have celebrated the Onam in such a large group,” says Lakshmi, an inmate at a camp in Thalayolaparampu in Kottayam district.

Apart from voluntary agencies, people who did not celebrate Onam in their homes due to the calamity went to the camps with food, new clothes and gifts that they usually have during Onam. They came individually and in groups and some even shared the food with the inmates and participated in the merriment.

Sasi Kumar, who led a group of youths from Ponthanpuzha in Pathanamthitta district, said that they had decided to celebrate Onam with the victims to lift their spirit. The group went to St Mary’s College relief camp at Thuruthy in Kottayam district with all the materials people needed during the Onam. The camp houses about 1,500 people displaced from their homes in Kuttanad.

“The people were overjoyed when we reached the camp with food, clothes, gifts and other materials on the eve of the Onam. We organised sporting events for the children and helped the women to perform Thiruvathira. The gloom in the camp suddenly gave way to joy,” said Sasikumar.

Similar was the scene in most of the relief camps across the state. At one such relief camp in Alappuzha, women cheered and danced in celebration. "We don’t want to talk about the condition of the house right now. We cannot go there for a long time. We are trying to forget it and enjoy our days in the camp," said one of the women at the camp.

State finance minister Thomas Isaac, who is coordinating the relief and rehabilitation activities in Alappuzha district, tweeted:

His party boss Sitaram Yechury greeted Keralites on the occasion of the harvest festival, saying that the agony and distress faced by the state is matched by its verve and spirit in meeting the challenge.

Psychiatrists said that the joint celebration of Onam would immensely give a big boost to the post-flood mental rehabilitation as it would help the victims realise that they are not alone in their sufferings. Dr C J John, a psychiatrist practicing at Medical Trust Hospital in Kochi, said that the joint celebration would reduce the stress induced by the calamity.

He told Firstpost that stress levels of people in the camps may have substantially come down as the victims have been living together and sharing the effects of the flood calamity with the other inmates for several days together. The Onam celebrations would further give a boost to them.

“Such self-help groups are effective in alleviating the post-flood trauma. However, they may find difficulties in coping with the realities once they return home. Many may not be able to come to terms with the economic loss they have suffered,” he said.

Murali Thummarukudy, Chief of Disaster Risk Reduction in the UN Environment Programme, said that the relief to the victims from the trauma would considerably help them to cope with the loss they have suffered. He said that the victims could be saved from serious mental disorders if the economic rehabilitation is carried out in tandem with mental rehabilitation.

Dr Roy Abraham Kallivayalil, secretary-general, World Psychiatric Association and head of the department of Psychiatry, Pushpagiri Institute of Medical Sciences, Tiruvalla, says that disasters often lead to hopelessness, despair and depression. If unattended, this may even lead to suicidal thinking.

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He said that some of the 200 patients whom his institution examined to provide them with medical and psychological support had expressed their wish to die as this setback seemed insurmountable to them.

“Disasters can trigger fear, anxiety, sadness or shock among the victims. If the symptoms continue for weeks or months in anyone, it indicates an emotional disorder which needs urgent attention,” he said, adding that there was a need for massive effort to bring the victims back to their normal life.


Updated Date: Aug 26, 2018 08:37 AM

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