Beyond the margins in Tamil Nadu, “Untouchables” #underthemask

In many parts of the world, where margins between survival and death are thin, the Coronavirus is throwing up some very different questions to those faced in Western Europe. A report in the Financial Times recently shone a bright light on the response across much of Africa – many would rather risk the virus than starvation.  Africa, of course, is a complex mix of economies across 54 countries. Today in our featured blog we shift look at the Tamil Nadu State in India, which faces many of the same issues of poverty and privation.  


The Irula Tribe live in unofficial locations

Tamil Nadu lies in the South East of India. It’s flanked by the Bay of Bengal to and the smaller states of Kerala and Kanartaka in the West.  Andra Pradesh forms its Northern Border.

Economically, it is faring better than most states in India.  Chennai in the far north dominates the population figures with over eight and a half million. Coimbatore is the second most populous city, with just over two million.

The Country has been in lock-down since March 19th.  That’s working well for some. But in the tribal regions there is confusion and hardship.

We were moved to hear of the plight of the Irula Tribe. They are regarded among the “untouchables” in a caste system that ranks your place in society by your position at birth. The “untouchables” are the lowest of the low.

campaigner Raj helps the Irula make masks and gowns

The Irula live in unauthorized lands such as dry riverbeds or in the depths of forests, which are typically dry and provide limited resources, according to Wales based social activist Usha Ladwa-Thomas.

“They frequently lack access to potable water, proper sanitation and adequate access to food,” she writes.

“They experience extreme exclusion.

“Their children are either unable to go to school; or if they do they are usually asked to clean the toilets, or other such tasks.

“Furthermore, their young girls fear walking to schools as they could become prey to violence. Including sexual violence.

“Their stories of being in ‘bonded labour’ – including how they took exploitative loans from their employers then became enslaved labour for many years makes me angry,” she said.

These people are exploited, voiceless and powerless to begin with. Now, on-top of these hardships they are faced with the Covid-19 virus which will result in widespread deaths.

The concept of ‘social distancing’ is a mystery.  Washing with soap and water is huge stretch for communities where soap does not exist and there’s barely enough water to drink. Enforced economic inactivity through the lockdown will lead to even greater pressures on food supplies.

“This will force more to ask for loans from their employers, and further launch them into longer periods of bonded labour,” said Usha.

Usha, herself of Indian extraction, works for the Welsh Assembly government. In her spare time, she supports the work of Caplor Horizons. Caplor in its turn is administering a fund-raising effort to support over 500 Irula people who are desperate for basic food and information about how to stay safe at this time.

If you would like to know more about how you can help the Irula and support this fund raising effort you can follow the link on the Caplor website.


HG 20/4/20 #underthemask



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