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2005 66 -
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Society!
Tamilnadu!

'TSUNAMI' AND ITS AFTERMATH IN THE VILLAGE OF 'VENPURUSHAM'- A FIELD REPORT

report by latha Ramakrishnan

Latha RamakrishnanHow melodious the word 'tsunami' sounds! But, how disastrous its effects are.. May be, this is one of the innumerable contradictions that life has in store for us. The tragedy called 'tsunami' has erased thousands of lives from the world. And, its traces are everywhere along the sea-shores of Indonesia, Srilanka and India. Ven Purusham is one of the small villages along the sea-shore of the Bay of Bengal, located next to the famous tourist resort of Tamilnadu- Mahabalipuram, which is also known for its rich cultural heritage. There are about 280 persons - men, women, children and  also aged persons - living in this small and remote rural area. Their means of livelihood is fishing. While the men go out into the sea and fetch fish, the womenfolk go to nearby places and sell the fish. As the 'sea' in this place is free of rocks, lots of 'iraal' fish could be caught here. Fishermen even from nearby places used to come here for fishing purposes. And, as fishermen have the sense of unity among them which happens to be one of the basic requirements of their hazardous profession, the Venpurusham menfolk never objected to those visits except at times when the fishermen from neighboring areas came with their motorboats. For, then the whole lot of fish would be hauled by the motorbotists, leaving nothing to the local men. This is one of the seaside localities hit by the tidal waves on the 26th of December, 2004. Fortunately, as the people when confronted by the first wave itself left everything and came to the road well away from the sea and also on  a high ground level, there was no casualty , but, they too have lost all their belongings and means of livelihood ( some ten or twenty bodies from god knows where had reached this shore, said the people). The second wave which was as tall as two palm trees one on top of another revealed multi-colours, and , above all, the sea was all black then, recollected the people of Ven purusham. Though helping hands are being extended towards these people they await the day when their boats and nets would be ready so they would go fishing once again.

Mr.Priyam, a qualitatively good poet in Tamil was initiated into collecting aids for the 'tsunami' victims, both in cash and kind, by Father Gregory
Devasenan, correspondent of Don Bosco School of Perambur, Chennai, and he ,in turn, initiated his friends, Mr.Durai Raj, a worker in Simpson Factory and
also Mr.Lakshmipathy, his friend and co-worker. And, they were encouraged by several good Samaritans of the area, like Mr.Rajarathinam(Tamil Teacher),
Mr.Y.A.Nathan(a counselor of Chennai Corporation), Mr.Ezhilarasu (publisher-cum-writer) and several others. And, the response from the public proved overwhelming. Soon, the team went  to various 'affected' areas in and around the city and distributed rice, dhal, utensils etc. And, as the next step they set out with some 100 stoves, plastic mugs and the like to be distributed among the hapless victims of Ven Purusham. And, in this second visit they invited some writers also to go with them and register in writing their impressions, observations and suggestions about the work undertaken. Thus, writers Pa.Jayaprakasam, Amaranthaa, Vasanthan and myself  accompanied the team on their visit to Ven Purusham. The team stayed in the small village for more than three hours, taking stock of the damage caused by   'tsunami' and speaking to the people there,  trying to find out the basic requirements for their rehabilitation. And, the information collected by the team are given below:-

THE TEAM INCLUDED MR.PRIYAM, MR.PA.JAYAPRAKASAM, MR.VASANTHAN, MR.DURAI RAJ, MR.Y.A.NATHAN  , MR.LAKSHMIPATHY, MS.REVATHY(STUDENT0, AMARANTHA LATHA RAMAKRISHNAN AND TWO LOCALS.

1/ Fishing is the sole means of livelihood of the people here.

2/ Tsunami' waves have taken away all their belongings. Their boats and nets are in a terrible state, completely broken and torn. More than 40 boats
were terribly damaged. Fibre boats would be 26 or so. Catamarans and fishing nets are destroyed beyond repair.

3/ Each boat costs upto 75,000 rupees to one lakh. Fishing nets are of various kinds with their price ranging from 10, 000 rupees to 25,000 or 30,000 rupees
each. A fisherman needs to have minimum three different types of nets for catching different varieties of fish. Nets called 'mani valai' , 'sevil valai' , 'iraal valai' are a must for even basic fishing.

4/ Some fifteen houses are severely damaged. And, of the remaining houses some forty-five have been smashed by the 'tsunaami' waves.

5/ There are no 'insurance schemes' available  for fishermen. They need to repair their boats once in every two years. And, the Department of Fisheries'
give them grant upto rs.10,000 only towards repairs undertaken in motor boats. Fishermen of Ven Purusham want such grants to be made available to all kinds of
boats and also 'insurance schemes  be made available to them.

6/ The village has no proper toilet facilities. The women there expressed their anguish at this saying that toilets are built in all the neighboring localities, but, for Ven Purusham it is yet to be, as a result of which they suffer the most.

7/ The women of Ven Purusham used to go, selling the fish that their men brought. But, now, everything has come to a standstill. In this situation, if some
'self-employment schemes' are introduced in this area, it would benefit them both materialistically and also psychologically', said they in unison. There are about
120 women and if some NGO or Government Agency comes forward to train them in some 'income generating' projects, it would help them a great deal in building their future.

8/ In Ven Purusham there are about five to seven aged women who  are widows and destitutes. They are fed by the villagers. It would be of great help to these
'senior citizens ' if old age pension and housing facilities  come their way  so enabling them live in their familiar surroundings itself but in a self-sufficient manner.

9/There are make-shift tents or tenements built for the locals. But, they need urgently 'stable houses' and safety measures to safeguard themselves against
the possible onslaughts of Nature. Further, growing suitable trees along the seashores is a must, and the earlier the better, said the people of Ven Purusham,
in one voice.

10/ Mr. Durai, headman of this area and Mr. Ravi who is the secretary of the forum comprising the shop-keepers of 'Aindhu Ratham' area in Mahabalipuram,
Mr. Azhagumuthu, another resident of this area handed over to the visiting team a list of their people's immediate needs  and , in that, access to new boats
and fishing nets top the list. Though the sea's rage has greatly unsettled them psychologically too, they don't abhor it or fear it unduly but want to go
fishing at the earliest.

11/ Ven Purusham's drinking water was very clean and tasty till recently. But now, the people here have to go to neighboring places to fetch drinking water.
And, they get water from 'Ooruni' too.

12/ When the team visited Ven Purusham in the month of January, the festival of Pongal was fast approaching. But, the people there were in no mood to look forward to the festival gaiety, bereft of all their belongings as they were. 'Even our children's toys were sucked into the sea', said they feeling miserable.

13/ When so much chaos have come to be, why should there be the usual 'dance festival' in Mahabalipuram, asked some of them ,feeling sad and bitter.

14/Kilpauk Medical Association was camping in the area at the time of this visit and the members of the association were offering medical services to the people which included counseling therapy too. Twenty-five students from Madras Christian College were taking evening classes to the children of the village and the Kanchipuram Collector had visited them, making arrangements for the distribution of essential goods like rice etc. When 'tsunami' caught them unawares they just left everything and went away, walking miles together and reaching a choultry where unknown faces and some organizations came to their rescue, feeding them. And, the Ven Purusham folks expressed their profound gratitude to these helping hands .

We cannot retrieve all those lives and their movable and immovable assets that 'tsunami' had taken away. But, we can atleast help the survivors reconstruct their lives by enabling them get all that is necessary for their rehabilitation. More than food these people look forward to secure some means of livelihood, which would enable them lead a life of dignity. Further, for the the dead bodies found the relief  money of rupees one lakh was immediately handed over to the  relative concerned, but, for those 'missing' no relief comes to the suffering family and this should be rectified, said the people. Though there was no communal tension or caste based divisions evident in Ven Purusham it is said that in many other relief camps and 'tsunami' hit areas these divisions and discriminations were said to be causing tension and hampering the relief work. If in the face of 'tsunami' we still hold fast to those divisions, we are unfit to be called human beings endowed with the 'so called' sixth sense, observed the members of this 'fact-finding' team.

Hope the  situation in Ven Purusham has  improved in these three months. Subsequently   Amarantha, Jeevasundhari(a journalist of repute), Rebelin ( a professional social worker and myself paid a visit to Nagappattinam also. Children who have lost their parents and 'sense of security' , elders who have lost their off springs and  so the 'will to live' are everywhere in and around the place. 'In one terrible stroke  we  have become refugees in our own land', said those men and women affected by 'tsunami'. True this is an unprecedented calamity  but then, Welfare States are expected to rise to the occasion and  do their best in rehabilitating these hapless people. The 'temporary shelters in Nagapattinam  have no proper ventilation facilities or sewerage facilities. For those who  are used to inhaling fresh air, these shelters prove suffocating. And, the children's day-care centers did not have any toys. Due to excess heat the children and even elders were developing various 'skin' and other diseases. When the temporary shelters mostly built by 'World Vision' are going to be there for several months arrangements should be made  to have a congenial environment with green lawns and  open spaces with  shades. And, the fishermen should be given full-fledged grants (and not loans) to reconstruct their boats or buy fresh ones.  Till the time they can go back to the sea alternate arrangements should be made to enable them  have   avenues of alternate employment.  Media can do a lot towards the rehabilitation of these hapless victims and not that it is not doing, but still, it is disheartening to see some of the present serials busily doing business with the 'vaadagaith thaai' concept when they can and should propagate  the adoption of kids who have been orphaned by the deadly 'tsunaami'. And, last but not the least,  let not the political parties politicize this natural calamity.

ramakrishnanlatha@yahoo.com


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