Unaccustomed Migrants:Life in Arasaradi BY Arunima Kar

Shangaiyya(60), a scheduled caste farmer and resident of Arasaradi Village

“There is nothing worse in this world than being migrants. Everyone needs us but no one wants us. No one should ever be a migrant”, chokes up Shangaiyya, a scheduled caste farmer and resident of Arasaradi village

Arasaradi, the scenic village in the Meghamalai mountain range situated in the Western Ghats, 50kms from Theni District in Tamil Nadu, is inhabited by a small group of Palliyar tribes. At a distance of 10 kms from the forest check post set up on the mountains, the quaint little village is surrounded by the High Wavy Mountain and thick dense forests.
Entrance to Arasaradi

The village was set up about 70 years ago when the villagers were brought in as a part of the community reserves practices in order to grow, conserve and enhance the beauty of the flora and fauna of the region. It is known that the Government bought around 15,000 acres of land from the “Kandamanur Jameen”. People from the neighbouring district were brought in to grow it into the reserve forest that boasts of being the home to many endangered species.

About 220 people of the Palliyar tribe were brought by the government to the village in the 1950s. Now the village, which accommodates about 600 families, is considered an illegal settlement as the area comes under the reserve forest which was declared a Wildlife Sanctuary recently.
“We have been brought here by the Forest Officials to grow trees. Now that these forests are full of trees they don’t require our service so they are trying to move us.” laments Karuvayya, a farmer who has been living in this remote village for about 50 years now.

The village which is far away from the urbanized centres lacks basic amenities like electricity and clean drinking water, health care, sanitation, etc. Most of the houses are built with mud or clay with no proper bathrooms or a roof. The villagers defecate in open stretches of farmland along the hills.

Life in Arasaradi
Majority of the population of Arasaradi are landless labourers working in the coffee and pepper estates uphill. They also cultivate silk cotton for three months in a year. It is their main crop and primary source of income. They sell the cotton for a negligible amount. Rest of the population usually engage in small-scale farming but do not have any claim over the land. Draught hitting the state has made the situation worse.
Cashew and cotton plantation: Primary occupation of the people of Arasaradi
The small stream nearby which is their only source of water has completely gone dry due to the scarcity of rainfall.

Their lives have become more burdened by the new rules of not being allowed to raise livestock as they are living on a grace period before they are evicted from here. Only people with Identity Cards are allowed to keep one cow.

Adding to the already idyllic nature of the village, it has no access to electricity since 1972. Satellite and phone network services are not available here as the Meghamalai Wildlife Protection Department do not allow the construction of towers. The houses in the front barely manage to light up their houses with the dimly lit solar batteries charged from the solar panels.
The Tamil Nadu government, however, has provided them with freebies like television sets, mixers and grinders. A frustrated Karuvayya carries the television set from his house, puts it on the ground and complains, “What do we do with the appliances when we don’t even have electricity?"
There is a partially constructed bridge a few kilometres into the village separating the village into two parts. The scheduled caste families live here in way more adverse conditions in broken mud houses with no solar panels. They are cut off from the rest of the villages and receive lesser facilities than the already deprived half of the village. The political parties do not even visit the scheduled class settlement except during campaigning. Even in these circumstances, they are holding on to their caste hierarchies.
The half constructed bridge dividing Arasaradi
However, the tribal dwellers of Arasaradi receive access to basic healthcare from the Government. Doctors from Theni visit the village in the medical camp once a month while the rest of the emergencies are being taken care of by the nurses throughout the month. The nearest hospital from Arasaradi is at least 15 kms away. As Arasaradi is located within the protected area, the villagers struggle to get ambulance services. “What is the point of getting an ambulance hours after raising an alarm? A lot of people have died before the ambulance reached us”, says Vellathaayi, a daily wage labourer.

As development activities are strictly prohibited in the area, no roads are being constructed connecting Arasaradi to the neighbouring villages. This has made communication arduous for them. Vehicles can enter the area only after rigorous checking between 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. The villagers travel by Government buses which make five trips throughout the day. Thus, it is extremely difficult for them to commute to the city.

The only school in the village, Panchayat Union Elementary School, has 50 students including 22 girls. The school has two teachers, the Headmaster and an assistant teacher. The high school is located about 40 kilometres away in Kadamaligam. For higher education, they have to travel to the city which hardly anyone can afford here.
Panchayat Union Elementary School, the only school in Arasaradi
Though the Meghamalai Forest Wildlife Divison has promised houses to the residents of Arasaradi in Theni, no substitution of their farming income has been addressed.

The lack of aid from the Government and the isolated location of the village add to the already abysmal living conditions of the residents of Arasaradi village.

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