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Divya, Priya and Dharshini, three children from Avadi Narikuravar colony, met chief minister M K Stalin recently and asked that the government arrange basic facilities in their settlement. Stalin assured them of help. Two days after the students met Stalin, officials visited the settlement and started delivering on the promise made by Stalin. But officials are insisting on constructing toilets in front of their houses that the Narikuravar colony does not want.
Some 50 families live at the Narikuravar colony Avadi in pucca houses. The Narikuravars who were largely leading nomadic lives until then had settled down here several decades ago. In 1981, they went on an agitation demanding land rights following which they got patta for the land where they were living. The Narikuravars have built houses on their land.
The stereotype of rifle carrying Narikuravars selling beads is now on its way to becoming history. The children here are sent to school so they got a good education and could move on in life. That change has led to a 15-year-old student going to the chief minister. Education has moved them on that path.
Divya, who met the CM, says the Narikuravar have been living at the Avadi colony for three generations. Her father Kumar says the place where they lived was not clean. There were no roads, no drinking water. “We are buying water from tanker lorries. After all these years, nothing had changed,” he said.
“How can we stay in our houses if they construct toilets in front of our houses? We asked the officials that the toilets be built at the back of the houses. But they didn’t listen,” says Bhavani, adding that on both sides of the street toilets are being planned to be built.
Kumar says some officials were telling them a bridge was going to be built close by and they will have to move. That’s why the families wanted to meet the chief minister and express their concerns. “In three days, they laid a cement road. Streetlights were installed. Drinking water taps have been installed although connections have not been given. We hope the chief minister himself inaugurates the water connection,” she says.
Divya’s mother has studied up to diploma but is unemployed. “She sells beads while my father goes out to hunt so they can support our education,” says Divya.
Kumar says moving Narikuravars from Most Backward Classes category to Scheduled Tribe will help them get benefits such as jobs. “This is our longstanding demand. We hope the government takes steps in that regard,” he says.
Bhavani, a woman who lives at the settlement, is thankful that so many things were done quickly. But she has a complaint. She says the officials insisted that toilets will be built only in front of their houses and have taken measurements for that. “Though we have been living here for long, we don’t have toilets. We use public toilets at the Avadi bus stand. After our children met the chief minister, officials came and said they will build toilets for us,” she says.
The officials apparently said they will build toilets only at the places they selected. “How can we stay in our houses if they construct toilets in front of our houses? We asked the officials that the toilets be built at the back of the houses. But they didn’t listen,” says Bhavani, adding that on both sides of the street toilets are being planned to be built.
Veerakumar, another Narikuravar colony resident, says constructing toilets in front of the houses will intrude into their religious practices. Narikkuravars worship the buffalo. “We place a cloth relating to the buffalo in front of our house and worship it. How can we continue our worship if the toilet is in front of the house?” he asks.
The head of the Narikkuravars, Y Raju, recalls their agitation for land rights during MGR rule. Their children study at the government school nearby. He says his sister studied engineering and is working as junior engineer at the electricity board. She has chosen to stay here with her family, he says.
The headman Raju says the present generation among them is getting educated. BAs and B.Coms are there, he adds. Raju also echoes the demand of everyone that their community should be moved to the ST list. “We are happy that the government has moved quickly to help us. But our people will not like to have toilets in front of our houses. We ask that the toilets be built away from the front, perhaps at the back or somewhere far,” he adds.
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