One day at Gaja relief camp

One day at Gaja relief camp
Photo: Deepthy Johnson
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Thiruvarur: I woke up from my nap as my phone rang a few times. My friend called me and said, "come down fast, we are waiting". I even didn’t hear him correctly. I thought that he was near to my hostel to collect money for relief camps in the delta region. But surprisingly he insisted me to sit on his bike and then I realised we are going to a relief camp straight away. I was astonished as I din’t know a relief camp was quite near to my University.

At the camp, I saw many eyes were following us. One of my juniors said that tehsildar has arrived and we have take permission first. I wondered why all these procedures. We are students and had only come there to know what was exactly happening. A day before a protest was held nearby demanding drinking water and electricity which were cut off for the past one week as the ‘Gaja’ cyclone struck Tamil Nadu. Staying in a fully fledged hostel, we were comfortable and were glad as the examinations were postponed. We were aware of the cyclone and the disasters in its wake, but din’t know why we neglected our nearby places.

One day at Gaja relief camp
Photo: Deepthy Johnson

We didn’t expect a calamity in Thiruvarur, a simple township. After asking permission we just wandered there for five minutes. An old lady came and told us that "we are here, secured, even we had food". We looked at each other.

The relief camp has been organised in a school with only two rooms and around 49 families or 250 people are there. After seeing us, many women in the camp came forward. "See, we don’t know what to do. For past one week drinking water and electricity have been cut off. We are starving," said one woman who was putting her seven-month-old child to sleep.

One day at Gaja relief camp
Photo: Deepthy Johnson

"We are stuck here, don’t know why officials didn’t turn up. We have been isolated for the past several days. We survived without water, food and electricity. The officers don’t want to give them. Only the last day strike helped us. After that they started to provide," said Saradevi.

The two cramped rooms could be their shelter for one or even for many days. "We won’t move a little until the government provide money for rebuilding our homes. Our houses, cattle and all our belongings have been affected. This was the first time I am witnessing such a disaster," said Soundarya. "They didn’t provide drinking water. We used the impure river water and I know that your University is polluting the river," she added and we were stunned. Is it so? We didn’t cross-check but saw later a small track that empties polluted water into the river.

One day at Gaja relief camp
Photo: Deepthy Johnson

I asked permission for taking photographs and when I faced my phone to them, everyone simply posed for a group photo. Even one little girl combed her hair and smiled at me. One girl was in a dilemma because she doesn’t know that whether she should smile or cry.

"Please take the photograph of my house also," said Mallika, a 70-year-old lady. "I am alone. I don’t have any children. My father passed away recently. I am totally alone. Please help me," she added. We were confused. But within a moment she smiled and turned to the cooking area.

One day at Gaja relief camp
Photo: Sanju Sanjayan

After a lot of enquiries, we finally managed to meet the tehsildar. "It is a simple issue. I know how to manage it," this was the only answer that we got from him. We again asked some questions but silenced us with one statement. "You know who gave the land for your University. It’s me. I know better than you," and he asked us to leave.

Thereafter, we didn’t wait there for a minute. We again looked at the familiar faces and tried to smile, but they were busy preparing food. Then we heard one murmuring, "first you took our land, saying that this institution is for us and then polluted our river."

One day at Gaja relief camp
Photo: Sanju Sanjayan

We didn’t turn back. We just walked away.

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