The heavy rain played havoc in the Kallar settlement of Valparai making 23 of 25 tribal families lose their homes. Most of the houses were damaged beyond repair and the families were given six alternate houses in the tea estate within Valparai. It is a year since the havoc struck the families, yet they continue to stay in the six homes without adequate facilities and any permanent solution meted out by the government.
In August 2019, 25 families in Kallar settlement in Valparai, a Scheduled Tribe community belonging to Kadar caste, suffered huge damage due to the landslides after a heavy rain coupled with winds played havoc in the region. The homes, except two houses, turned unfit for living. The government arranged for alternate houses in a tea estate in Thaimudi of Valparai. However, till now, the Forest Department and the government have not provided any permanent housing facility or arranged for patta lands.
Recalling the turn of events on the night of August 2019, Rajalakshmi, a resident of Kallar said, “On August 20 last year, there was heavy rain and winds, and the water was entering into our homes. We were awake the whole night fearing there would be a landslide. We were living in a land surrounded by the mountains. So we knew anything can happen and just like our intuition the homes collapsed. The next morning, the forest department provided us with six homes in the estate, in which we are living till now.”
However, the life in tea estates have already turned soar and the Kallar residents are demanding the government to provide alternate land in Thepakulamedu of Kallar since they want to go back to the forest.
The estate life is difficult for the Kallar residents due to the new terrain and the practices of people in creating boundaries around their houses restricting people from entering the homes. Rajalakshmi said, “We are passing our days by just thinking that the lives in the estate are temporary. We cannot live in Thaimudi. There is no water and the current keeps fluctuating. In Kallar, we didn’t have current but a small lamp was enough to provide us light but it’s not the same here. Most of all, our children are unable to play and the people are saying ‘do not come here’ and ‘do not go there’. We do not know to live with boundaries.”
Man-animal conflicts are also a norm in Thaimudi but none of the animals will disturb us in Kallar, she said. “When we came to the estate, the elephants were always rounding the estates. However, even though we were residing in deep forests we never faced any conflict with the animals.”
Rajalakshmi, who is thirty-years-old, does not remember living anywhere outside of Kallar before the havoc took place. “We have been staying in Kallar from the time of our ancestors. Our ancestors were nomadic tribes and they were moving from a place to place. Finally, they decided to settle in Kallar. Till 2018, there was no landslide or fear of landslides. So all of us were living in Kallar and were farming pepper. We also marry within our village and only our children are staying and studying in the residential schools. So I have not resided anywhere and this is the first time I have stayed for a year outside Kallar and I want to go back to the forest,” she told TNM over a call.
Reiterating that the life in tea estates are difficult for the tribal people, P Paramasivam from the Coimbatore District Tea Estate Workers Association said, “There is no space for the 23 families to live in the six houses. The homes in the tea estates will not be more than 250 sq ft. People will do farming in their lands in Kallar and will return home to sleep in the estate. Even after a year there is no solid solution provided by the government. The workers do not even have adequate bathroom facilities in the tea estate.”
As a mark of protest to condemn the inaction of the government, the residents initially planned to stage a protest in front of the Forest Range Office on August 11. However, the forest officials visited them on Thursday and assured them of action. Hence the families have planned to wait for some more time.
Rajalaskhmi said, “The district administration is ready to provide us the land but the forest officials are denying . They say the land is a tiger reserve and they cannot provide the land.”
TNM has reached Coimbatore Collector Rajamani and the copy will be updated once we receive the opinion.