For Irulas of Puducherry, a roof over their heads still remains a dream

The 20-odd families living in Pillaichavady do not have electricity connections and the children in the settlement are not enrolled in schools

In 2016 the Union government recognised the Irulas of Puducherry as Scheduled Tribes (ST) after a long struggle for over 32 years. However, more than four years after the tribes were recognised, the Irulas of Pillaichavady near here continue to be left in the cold. As many as 20-odd families have been living in huts without a roof over their heads.

In spite of successive governments promising quite often that they would be provided with basic amenities, a roof and electricity continues to remain a distant dream for them.

According to K. Porkalai, a tribal, “Most of the families at Pillaichavady have family ration cards and Aadhaar cards. A few are also getting old age pensions from the Puducherry government, but we still don’t have a house that we can call our own. The families eat and sleep in the cashew orchards where we work during the day.”

Their condition is appalling, as their is no electricity to light up their makeshift hutments located close to the orchards.

Most of the families work in the cashew orchards and they get ₹150 per day for collecting cashew fruits and peeling the hard outer shell of the nuts. For those living in the orchards, the shelter is also not permanent as they have to move out once the orchards are auctioned.

Safe drinking water is also a distant dream as they quench their thirst from a pond near the orchards that is also shared by livestock reared by them.

The habitation also has around 12 children. None of them are admitted in schools.

“We have been staying here for the last 30 years. Some of us have thatched huts while others stay in the cashew orchards. We don’t know how long we should fight for a pucca house. At least, our children should not suffer this,” says M. Pachappan.

According to K. Ramkumar, president of Puducherry Scheduled Tribes People’s Federation, “The Irula settlement is located on the fringes of the forests, away from main water sources. Most of them are addicted to liquor and they eke out a living working in the cashew groves. The families have not availed of any of the benefits set aside for tribals. Though repeated representations have been made to the authorities concerned to provide them with pucca houses, no progress has been made so far.”

The settlement also lacks toilet facilities and women and children have to answer nature’s call in the open. Their existence is only confined to the family ration cards and one fails to see how the authorities can turn a blind eye and remain insensitive to even their basic requirements, Mr. Ramkumar charged.

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