Conversation with Siddamma

 Sanjeev Ranganathan

16 Apr 2006


Siddamma had spent the last few days at the resource center and was traveling today to Cuddalore along with Anita (her daughter).


I) Resource center


There has been a lot of activity in and around the resource center.


The government electrical department decided to lay lines right through the resource center with landing lines over the land and over some of the houses. The local people objected since there is sufficient government land available to route the lines without having to route it through private property. It has been decided to route the lines similar to how the lines routed now (around the homes and the center). However, one of the towers lands right in the center of the access road to the resource center. There is another access road that is still available, though it is presently only useful to get there by foot.


We have spoken to the Panchayat about the possibility of improving the road and they agreed since it is also useful for the new colony of houses that have come close to the resource center. The other possibility of access is a small bridge from the main road, but since this is only useful to get to the resource center there is no help that the panchayat can give.


Sudhi a specialist in horticulture and a volunteer with Bharathi Trust in Tsunami relief and rehabilitation spent the last few days at the resource center. He and his wife are engineers and were looking into how they can contribute to the resource centre.


He also looked into the bridge that would provide direct access to the resource center. He mentioned that the present plans would not meet government regulations since there is a stream and the bridge needs to ensure that water flow is maintained over the stream it crosses. He worked out modifications and ran it through the tahsildar to ensure that plans met their approval. We have decided that this was not a high priority and have kept it aside for now.


We have started our work of identifying the stakeholders from the local community in each of the areas that we plan to work on pottery, farming, weaving. We will be looking to involve these people as full time people in the resource center and work on getting them the exposure and training they will require. I think we are finally getting ready to open the resource center to general public and also start our activities. We are looking to announce the center in the upcoming Panchayat meeting. People have so far been visiting the resource center on informal basis. One of the Panchayat members visited the center to understand what we were trying to do.


Some women from the village also came to meet us to see if we can help with converting dry land to wet land. (Dry land relies on rain for agriculture and wet land uses some sort of irrigation system). Many dalits in this region have access to land, but rely completely on rain. Presently there are no community wells or distribution system. Only some people, primarily landlords have access to such systems. The primary produce is also sugarcane that people have been trying using a lot of water, however, the users are still limited and rain has not been an issue so the big players have not felt the pinch yet.


Our work on organic farming is now starting full-fledged. The people working on the land are yet some villagers volunteering their time and the couple of families of released bonded laborers who wanted to work on farming. The first few years will be needed to replenish the land since the farmer had used fertilizer and pesticides extensively.


The heavy rains very badly effected the paddy and grams this year in this area. In spite of this and the recovering land we still got 50kg of dal. But, if we look at all the investments then we would have only got 50% of all our investment. We have, however, made a believer of the farmer next door who is very surprised at the amount of dal under all the circumstances. The Karvapak has come very well, the radish and tomatoes have not come out well. The ragi that was kept in nursery has been working out quite well. The land is yet to accept the treatment completely and will take some time to recover.


The sugarcane has been cleared and we have the area open we will work on vegetables, sugarcane, leave an area for jaggery from sugarcane. We are leaving leaves of the sugarcane on the field. We are receiving another volunteer group from Belgium in June who are coming specifically to train us about organic farming. We are also looking into oil seeds for oil cakes. We have finalized the requirements for the consumption survey to understand clearly the needs in the local areas.


Sugar cane season is over and now the work is a little less and we can meet all the villagers and discuss the center with them. We will have it after May 8th since the different parties have been campaigining for the elections and we are waiting for that to get over. We would like to discuss what we want to do with the people and look for people interested in the training center and to get information about different cultivation systems, etc. We will also find the 5 local people who will spend some time with Namalwar and other similar efforts and learn from them.


There have been uncontrolled forest fires in the local hills. There is usually at least one fire each year and one of the local families get affected by them. This included RaviÕs (driver) home last year.


Q: What is the reason for the fire?

A: Some of the fires are accidental when fires from beedis, etc spread to the entire forest. There are also some fires that are premeditated since there are some beliefs that if there is fire in a mountain for three years then the next harvest will be good. We will at least try to address the accidental ones immediately and work on limiting the fires if they occur.


We also need to work on water harvesting. There were very heavy rains here, however, only a small portion was harvested. There is a large resorvior that is supposed to be filled by the rain and the canals, but most of the canals are clogged and the water did not reach it.


Q: Who will be the people working in the resource center?

A: We will be selecting local ppl and will get vols from other places to work with them and to train them.


Q: When will the school be started?

A: After consolidate info and see how many children have completely dropped out of school and are working. This will be quite clear by june when the academic year starts. Once the children are identified we will need to talk to parents and see what the plan for the child is. Girl children are usually the ones who are more likely to be asked to drop out take care of young siblings and also due to the social status. We will need to see how many parents are willing to give up the income and send the children for other vocational area.


Q: How often is Namalwar visiting the resource center?

A: Namalwar, was due to be free from his work with Tsunami dsalination in April. But, he has been invited to Thiland to do the same work there. He is expected back in May.


Q: Where does he live?

A: In Nagapattnam.


II. Cuddalore updates


Primary ongoing work is the Tsunami. There was a town hall meeting. People from 25 Irula villages participated and over 2000 people attended the meeting. The Sarpam elections had also been conducted both at the district level as well as the talku level, over 50% of the leaders are women.


We have purchased land for the communities that had no hope of getting it from the government. Around 400 shelters with the help of ActionAID, the people were trained to build their own homes and they did.


From Asha-AustinÕs end I metioned that we may know if we can support the homes of 25 families in North Pichavaram by end of may.


Another reason for the meeting was to discuss agenda issues in the Irula Convention we are planning in Chennai. The meeting is planned on April 30th, but we are still awaiting permission from the police to hold the convention. We are expecting around 50,000 people to attend the convention and the police are a little apprehensive of letting the event happen given the elections.


Q: Why canÕt we just have the convention after May 8th?

A: To be honest one of the reasons that the Sarpam leaders wanted to have the meeting is a show of strength before the elections so irrespective of which party wins the election they keep the Irulas also in their mind. But, if we donÕt get the permission this is what will have to happen.


Q: How many people from each area are expected?

A: We expect around 20,000 people from Cuddalore, around 15,000 from Vellur and another 20,000 from Tiruvallur.


Q: What decides the number of people coming from each district?

A: The Sarpam groups need to figure out the finances of renting a truck for transportation. The people need to rotate the resources so everyone gets a chance to go to a convention.



III. Tsunami area in Tiruvanmayur

We discussed about one of the Irula communities which had been displaced to Tiruvanmayur following he Tsunami. With the help of the government they have now received land in Besant Nagar. Action ADI helped with temporary shelter. Ramya to send pictures.


Govenment plans to issue enjoyment certificate so they will be provided with basic amenities and can use the land. However, the land will not belong to them and they will not be issued pattas. 2 water tanks have been provided for the people. All the homes are thatched including the walls so we are avoiding cooking at home and there is a community kitched in the open.


IV. Project Freedom

Toledo has sent support for the released bonded laborer school. Siddamma to check if support has reached.


V. Any update on hero of the year Ō06

Not been following. If it is awarded it will be on the internet and I will be intimated.