HOMELESS & NOWHERE TO GO, NTO KUPPAM TELLS TALE OF WOE
After battling rising sea water for years, people of fishing hamlet have been evicted & homes destroyed to make way for a highway expansion project. The houses promised by officials exist only on paper, and there are fears that children may drop out of sc
For someone whose life is built around fish, 10-year-old Sanjay doesn’t really like to have them for lunch. “He’s a picky eater; he will not finish his food without potato or eggs,” complained his mother, Kalaivani.
On Thursday, however, Sanjay sat eating lemon rice — no potatoes or eggs, from an upturned orange frisbee, amidst the rubble that was only hours ago, his home.
Sanjay lost his home at Nalla Thanni Odai Kuppam near Kasimedu to the recent eviction drive by revenue officials of Ambattur on Wednesday. Around 130 houses in the fishing hamlet were demolished on a single day and residents allege that they weren’t even given time to recover their belongings.
Express had earlier reported how the land on which these 130 houses were built is not exactly necessary for a proposed highway. Around 230 families had earlier been evicted in the first phase six months ago, to make way for the Ennore Expressway that was proposed in 2005. A senior official from Tamil Nadu Road Development Corporation (TNRDC) had told Express that the land cleared in the first phase is enough for the highway and this was one of the reasons the remaining residents of NTO Kuppam questioned the need to evict them.
But none were ready to hear their ar- guments and after Wednesday’s forced eviction, the hamlet looked as if it were rocked by an earthquake. Clothes, kitchen utensils, toothbrushes, mirrors, and almirahs lay buried under asbestos sheets and bricks.
“Nothing. We were able to take nothing out; all my marksheets are buried inside,” said 17-year-old Mercy, Sanjay’s neighbour. Sanjay and his brother Ajay also lost their textbooks in the debris. “But I pulled the frisbee out, and some of my other toys,” said a proud Sanjay.
However, the 130 families have no place to take the broken, torn or bent remains. Land for resettlement of the residents of this hamlet was allocated but not a single brick was laid by the Slum Clearance Board so far at the site three kilometers away.
“It still hasn’t been cleared of weeds and plants. We don’t know when the government will begin the work,” said Kalaivani. As per the State government’s own statement on September 20, the government had only then “decided to expedite the tender for construction of tenements.”
Classified as ‘encroachers’, these families cannot raise questions. But these families have been living in the hamlet for at least three generations and kept moving inward due to coastal erosion.
Nothing prepared his family for what was to come. First came the oil spill, and now this. “After the oil spill, business fell and it still hasn’t recovered. We used to make a maximum of `6000-`7000 a month. Now it has halved,” said his mother Kalaivani, who sold fish, like most other women in the hamlet, for a livelihood.
So, when the government authorities handed them `20,000 per family around six months ago during the first phase of evictions to find accommodation, they used it for food instead. “What do we do when there’s no income? Besides, how do they expect us to find accommodation for over six months with `20,000? It won’t even cover the advance, “said Kalaivani.
After the eviction, none of the residents moved. They stayed the night in makeshift tents and some, in the temple, the only structure left standing. It was a bad night as it rained. “The rain was heavy last night. We didn’t have money to go anywhere else as all our relatives are here only. We took shelter in the temple but I still got wet. Look, I have running nose,” said Sanjay. “Many of the aayas were crying all night long.”
None of the nearly 50 students in NTO kuppam will go to school at least for a week or until the families manage to find another house. Around a kilometre away, Jonitha John, Sanjay’s favourite teacher at a corporation school in Washermanpet, was a worried woman.
She had heard about the evictions. The students flocking around her had whispered that Sanjay’s house has been demolished. Jonitha described him as a street-smart kid brilliant at arithmetic. “He loves outdoor activities,” she said. She recollected the numerous butterfly cocoons he had brought to class so the entire class could watch it magically turn into a butterfly.
However, Sanjay wasn’t the perfect student. Ever since his father got arrested a few weeks ago for a petty crime, Sanjay had resorted to hitting his classmates and using violence to solve issues. “He was a loner. So we started involving him in lots of group activities,” said Jonitha. “And things were looking up.” She is worried that the break could hamper the progress. “There was another boy, Adithya, in the other section. His family also belonged to NTO Kuppam and was evicted six months ago in the first phase. He’s dropped out since,” lamented Jonitha.
Sanjay said he wants to become a police officer when he grows up. With school no more the priority as he picks out his toys and books from the rubble, one can only hope the sudden tragedy will not further fuel the bouts of violence he exhibits and take him on the footsteps of his father.
Residents of NTO Kuppam had to sift through the rubble to recover their belongings |
Residents with their prized possessions on the road after the eviction drive by revenue officials |
Sanjay, who is 10, could miss school for weeks due to the eviction drive