A neglected lot

Published : May 06, 2005 00:00 IST

A SIGNIFICANT feature of the post-tsunami situation in Tamil Nadu is that some sections of people who have also been affected in one way or the other by the killer waves feel ignored. Fisherfolk being the worst hit, it is only natural for the relief machinery to concentrate on them. However, there are other sections such as agricultural workers, Dalits, petty traders, hawkers and head-load carriers who have also been affected badly. Though there were fewer loss of lives among them, a large number of people from these sections, who have been dependent on the fisherfolk for their subsistence, have lost their means of livelihood.

K. Balakrishnan, general secretary of the Tamil Nadu unit of the All India Kisan Sabha, said more than six lakh agriculturists and agricultural workers were affected by the tsunami attack. According to a government estimate seawater entered 13,569 hectares of land in the districts of Nagapattinam, Kanyakumari, Cuddalore, Kancheepuram and Villupuram. The salinated and sandcast land has been rendered useless for cultivation. The tsunami was the last in a series of calamities beginning with three successive years of drought and one year of heavy rains and floods. Although the government claims that it has ordered payment of Rs.12,500 a hectare from the Calamity Relief Fund for the reclamation of the land, agriculturists are yet to receive it. "Even the basic relief has not reached a large number of agricultural workers," said Balakrishnan. He said the government should seek the help of scientists and other experts to get the affected land reclaimed at the earliest.

Dalits constitute the majority of the affected agricultural workers. In addition, Dalits who do odd jobs for fisherfolk but do not own property have also been affected badly. But their sufferings are lost sight of, mostly because of the deep-rooted caste prejudices of the dominant fishermen community, according to I. Elangovan, a Vellore-based English professor, who is the president of the Dr. Ambedkar Centre in Chennai. At several places their names had not been included in the list of tsunami victims needing relief materials, he said. "Perhaps because there was no loss of life in their families, their plight went unnoticed," Elangovan said. These people appear to have been victims of the prejudice of a section of the affected community rather than that of the neglect of the government. In many places, Elangovan said, relief teams were prevented from visiting Dalit villages by sections of the fishing community. He said that the saddest part was that even medical assistance could not reach the affected Dalits in a few places because of the hostility shown by the principal community. If the government had arranged for proper enumeration, distribution of relief materials could have been ensured, he said. He suggested that 20 per cent of the allotted funds be earmarked for Dalits as envisaged under the Special Component Plan of the government.

B. Karunanidhi, general secretary of the Tamil Nadu Fishworkers Federation, said that Dalits who accounted for about 25 per cent of the two lakh fishing workers at the Chennai fishing harbour could not get tsunami-related assistance. The reason, he said, was that they had not been taken as members of the Fishermen's Cooperative Society, through which relief was generally routed. He said that even fisherwomen, who shared 50 per cent of the fishworkers' burden of work, were barred from being members of the society.

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