Tamil Nadu polls: Loss of loved ones and livelihood in floods breeds anger in Cuddalore

70-year-old Amirtham points to her temporary residence, a tin-sheet shelter constructed by the Tamil Nadu government following the floods of December 2015. She has been living there with a few others from the Arundhathiyar Colony in Periyakaatupalayam village for close to six months.

Amirtham lost eight family members and all of her belongings in the floods. “The government has not done enough to help,” she said. She and others like her in this village are categorical – on 16 May, they want to exercise their franchise to vote a new party into power.

Last Diwali, incessant rains caused floods that tore through Cuddalore district, changing the lives of the people forever. In the villages that were affected by the floods in November, the situation is yet to return to normalcy. In some places, people are still being housed in temporary shelters, while in others the damage done by the floods have not yet been corrected. This election, rather than seeking the ever-tempting freebies, people in the flood-affected areas ask that the victor must help restore their lives to its former state.

Representational image. AP

Representational image. AP

“Even though we received Rs 5000 from the government, and I received Rs 5 lakhs for my family members, with no livelihood and no house to call my own, I can say that this government has failed us,” said Anjalai, a resident of Periyakaatupalayam village.

People in this relief camp in the village are all from the Arundhathiyar Colony – Arundhathiyars are Scheduled Caste Dalits and amongst the poorest section of the state. While a few of them have been processing cashew over the last two months, the barren fields have meant that there is nothing to sustain them. “Earlier, there were five families living in one 10-by-10-foot enclosure, but now many families have decided to move out. Only the families that have no place to go and no money have been forced to stay here,” said 60-year-old Neelamma, one of the residents of the relief camp.

“The government gave us mixies, grinders, televisions, and other appliances, but all of them were washed away in the floods. Now, it feels like the government itself has washed its hands of us, leaving us to rot here in the temporary shelter, which they are threatening to dismantle after the elections,” she continued.

Government sources say land has been identified to build permanent shelters for the 10 to 15 families that continue to live in the shelter. The work has been stalled because of the elections, but they expect to relocate them soon after the new government takes over.

People outside the colony in Periyakaatupalayam, too, say that they are finding it difficult to make ends meet. S Velmurugan used to run a cable TV business in the village. “Since the floods, I have lost several lakhs worth of equipment, and I have no house left,” he said. His family has been living in his father’s house, a local AIADMK (ruling All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam) functionary. “If the AIADMK had allowed Sorathur Rajendran to stand as MLA in the Neyveli constituency, they would have stood a chance, since he knows the people well. The candidate, Sorathur Rajasekar (Rajendran’s brother), has very little support in Neyveli, and many people are against the AIADMK after the floods, making it difficult for them to win,” he adds.

The situation is similar in other villages that faced extensive damage in the floods. Kalkunam village was flooded by water released from the mines in the Neyveli Lignite Corporation (NLC) through the Sengal Odai canal. Villagers say the government has promised to rebuild the canal through which water comes in from NLC, but allege that no one has come in yet to survey the area. “Many of the families in the area have not received the money that the government promised to help rebuild their houses. Although this village was filled with AIADMK supporters, after the floods, we have decided to switch loyalties,” Poongodhai, a resident stated.

While Periyakaatupalayam and Kalkunam were flooded by water released from the mines of the NLC, in Visur village, water from the surrounding forest entered the village, destroying several acres of farmland and over 100 houses. “Our village has become a tourist site, with several politicians, actors, and reporters visiting, but so far, nothing concrete has happened,” Sarangapani, a local landlord lamented. He has lost around eight acres worth of paddy yields, and even now the government has not helped paid the full amount they promised. “All the houses received Rs 5000 after the floods, but there was no help in levelling the fields. It was only a local NGO that helped ensure that we have some agricultural work this year,” he said.

Rajavelu, an agricultural labourer, says that the government has promised Rs 1.2 lakhs to help rebuild houses, but this amount is not enough. “This election, a group of us have decided not to vote, since none of the parties will help us rebuild our lives to what it was,” he said.

Residents of Melkangeyan Kuppam Colony echo the sentiment. Here, all the women depend on processing cashew nuts for their livelihood. Processing cashew leaves them with blackened hands, which break out into blisters when they spend too long working. Neither the employers, nor the government offer them safe working conditions, and the women say that they spend more on medical expenses than they make processing cashew. “We all received Rs 5000 on our ration cards, but the government has not done anything else for us,” 35-year-old Bhagyalakshmi, a cashew worker said.

Another repeated demand is that of assurances of safe working conditions for cashew workers, most of whom are women. “If any of the parties will ensure us jobs throughout the year, a factory for livelihood, or even safe working conditions for the women who process cashew, we would be tempted to vote for them. Now, however, it seems like none of the parties are even willing to discuss our problems during the elections,” she shook her head.

In Cuddalore, the floods and its aftermath have neither been forgiven, nor forgotten.

Updated Date: May 18, 2016 17:33 PM

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