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Tamilnadu Trail-Day1

by Bhairab Giri Goswami last modified 2010-12-21 17:24

Visit to Kuthambakkam

The first village of the Lok Awas Yatra was to Kuthambakkam, a dalit dominated populated village which is 30 km away from Chennai towards Bangalore. The village is peculiar in the sense that the whole village development revolves around the strength of Panchayat system. Mr.Elango who is a practical gandhian, took charge of village president post from the year 1996 till 2006. We are totally amazed by the changes that he has made in that village in these 10 years which is continuing even today though he is not the current president of the Panchayat. He being a chemical engineer came back to his village to transform it to what it is today after throwing away comfortable and lucrative scientist post in Center for scientific & industrial research (CSIR). The village has been transformed to a model village for the whole country, which was notorious for illicit arrack and communal violence 15 years before.

Though the village has been a pioneer in so many arenas of a human life, the housing part in that village holds a special significance. Mr.Elango conceptualised the concept of “Samathuvapuram” (Habitat of equananimity) much before the recognition of the importance by the state government of Tamilnadu. The then chief minister scaled up Mr.Elango’s concept of “Samathuvapuram” throughout the state as a state government scheme. Samathuvapuram is a residential area consisting ‘twin houses’ separated by a single wall where two different caste people live together in harmony. This has helped the villagers to understand the sensitiveness of other caste people and has been instrumental in mitigating communal clashes between castes. Now, after 15 years of hard work and persistence, Kuthambakkam stands proudly as a single matured village devoid of communal violence. The core success factor in the Samathuvapuram concept is people were involved in building their own houses. Mr.Elango who is from the same village has very deep understanding of behavioural aspects of people and their needs.

While building Samathuvapuram, Mr.Elango encouraged people contribute their share in the form of labour. So many families who cannot afford to contribute their share in monetary terms worked in groups to build houses for the group. For example, 4 families will come together and work together making ‘low cost mud block’ to build 4 houses. Some families even cemented their own building other than making compressed mud blocks.

We visited TVSG (Trust for self governance) which is run by Mr.Elango to sustain the livelihood activities that were created during his regime. This trust model takes care of people and their livelihoods irrespective of who is holding the president post. The trust building itself is constructed with ‘compressed mud block’ which welcomed us to the livelihood campus of Kuthambakkam villagers. Mr.Elango presented in detail on his projects, people, Panchayat academy, community participation and housing initiatives. We left Kuthambakkam after watching a beautiful 8 minute professional video about Kuthambakkam and after going around TVSG where people were working. TVSG and the village looked very vibrant and we all had a great of starting Lok Awas Yatra in this fashion. This visit set the tone of the yatra with very high standard of expectation.

Visit to Vizhupuram

We visited Kongambattu pachatyat at Kandamangalam area of Vizhupuram district on the same day after visiting Kuthambakkam. Habitat for humanity with the help of ‘Kalvi kendra’ provided us traditional Taminadu lunch before we started our journey to this village. People of this village greeted us warmly with their kids. Ms.Lakshmi, the Panchayat president took us to a home which was built with the help of Kalvi Kendra. There were 75 such houses (measuring about 250 sq.ft) which stood identical. These houses were built for the people who live in low lying areas and are seasonally vulnerable to the floods. We were happily taken around by the cheerful kids who said they awaited our visit from the morning. After having a loom at the houses we went to the community hall. On the way we interacted with farmers and other villagers. When we asked about the panchayat president and Panchayat activities, people said Ms.Lakshmi took much effort in helping the villagers get these houses though they expect lot more development in the village.

We visited the community hall where 30 women greeted us. We started our discussion in the community hall regarding the housing project. First the yatris introduced themselves, followed by a short talk on the housing project by Kalvi Kendra. Then, Ms.Lakshmi talked in detail about how Kalvi Kendra helped them form self help groups among the women though the women were very reluctant initially. She also explained about the economic process of the women groups, difficulties they faced when they started the project and the way they overcame all the odds. The yatris asked so many questions which were answered by Ms.Lakshmi with patience and enthusiasm.

She answered questions on the default rate of the women, how they overcome such issues, the pro-activeness that is needed to execute people projects especially when she represents a political party, issues related to allotment of houses, categorisation of beneficiaries and her experience as a whole being a successful women dalit panchayat leader. The discussion ended with a thinking of attaining self sufficiency in that Panchayat and how this success can be taken forward and further to other people who are yet to be taken care of.

Accidentally we had ‘extra time’ for interacting with the kids informally when our vehicles got stuck in the mud while coming back from the village. That was a nice discussion with the kids regarding their future aspirations, notions and perspectives on self image and dignity in society. Surprisingly many kids interacted well in English and unanimously promised us that they will come back to their own village and do good for the upliftment of the village even after becoming future professionals. The villagers helped us to get our van out of the mud with their farm tractor. We said thanks and goodbye to the villagers and kids to call it a good 1st day of Lok Awas Yatra.

Visit to Karaikkal

We started our second day with a presentation on ‘Habitat for humanity’ in Vizhupuram. After the presentation we travelled towards Karaikkal which is 140 kms away from Vizhupuram. Our brief visit to Karaikkal was very efficient and refreshing (Since it was very close to the coast line). Yet another unique experience! Here the houses were built for the victims of Tsunami with the help of “Development alternatives’. We visited on of the houses built to learn the concepts used in building the houses. Two of them are Rat trap method and curvy design of roads with houses on either side. While the ‘Rat trap method’ reduces the cost of the housing with additional benefits of better insulated housing for all weathers, the curvilinear roads were deliberately designed to avoid ‘straight sweep’ by wind and floods. The community were involved in the design of their houses.

One of the women was narrating how devastating Tsunami was and how animated those few days of Tsunami aftermath were. She appreciated the government for providing relief measures effectively. people travelled as far as 25 kms from their place fearing Tsunami and made ‘makeshift tents’ in the subsequent days till these buildings were built. The local NGOs have given training for making low cost fly-ash bricks, repair works and construction. A separate MoU was made with NLC (Neyveli lignite corporation) for purchasing their fly ash free of cost and using that in making mud blocks. The land for these 909 houses was procured by the government and the housing came free of cost to the people. People were given livelihood support too by payment of wages for their work in constructing the houses.

We spent little time on the beach which was 100 meters away from the housing and wet our foot. While we were calmly enjoying the sea and the waves, we were wondering how it would have been for the fishermen community who were born and brought up on the very same coast when they were washed away by the very same waves. We left the place with mixed feelings when the waves were mixing the sea water with the black sand of the coast.

By Yatri - Thirumalai

basin South Asia 2009 Designed and supported by OneWorld South Asia