On 26th itself, State president Sudha visited some of the affected areas and hospital in Cuddalore. On 28th, she visited some areas in Pondicherry and Cuddalore. State secretary Vasuki, on 26th visited 2 fishermen areas in South Chennai. Then on 29th, state level office bearers Vasuki, Jhansi, Sarala with North Chennai district leaders met the affected women in 4 areas and interacted with them. Their requirements were collected. The women were still stunned and described the Tsunami wave as black hood of the snake. Those who were in Powerkuppam near fishing harbour, Chennai ran and escaped. But nearly 32 of them who sell dry fish for their livelihood lost all the stock. They wondered in anguish how they will ever repay the loan (nearly Rs.15000/- each) raised for their business. The women in Anna Nagar, R.K.Nagar area complained that they did not get the relief amount and many of the households are being missed out by the local MLA. The MLA has reportedly told the people since many people have died, it is not possible for the Govt. to compensate everyone. He could give only Rs.2500/- per person. This angered a victim who shouted, "I will kill a family member of these officials and offer them Rs.2500/- and let me see how they feel." Our delegation met the MLA and represented on behalf of the people.
The fishing harbour was full of damaged boats. Many of the boats (called launch) cost around Rs.15 - 20 lakhs. The nets damaged cost around Rs.3 - 4 lakhs each. It was a pathetic sight to see the owners of the boats standing near them looking forlorn Actually there was a crowd in that area at the time of the killer wave since fish trade was going on. Later, the AIDWA activists met and plans were drawn to carry out the relief work more effectively.
On the 30th, a central team consisting of State president, secretary and Treasurer visited Cuddalore. Since there was a Tsunami alert, people were running helter skelter. And till the evening, we could not meet them. We waited for everything to settle down and then visited Akkaragori, Thazhanguda villages and a camp in Cuddalore area and moved on to Killai, Chidambaram. We met the women in the camp. By then, many individuals, organisations and NGOs started rushing food packets, clothes etc. We were able to determine that they needed tooth brush, paste, oil etc., collected and distributed them. In Killai, two villages were completely submerged under water and the bodies were still to be recovered (at that time). A meeting of district level AIDWA activists was organised in which 40 women attended. It was decided to integrate our work and concentrate more on Akkaragori and Thazhanguda villages.
On the 31st, the team visited Nagapattinam. It went to Kallaru and Velankanni along with the local activists. The team met women in a camp. Most of the women in that particular camp told us that they are worried about the loan they have taken from the bank; all of them belong to Self Help Groups and the loan amount or the articles bought out of that money have been washed away in water. They requested us to recommend to the Govt. that the loan may please be written off. While others in the team returned, the state secretary Vasuki stayed on for two more days. She along with local activists visited villages like Serudur, Vizhundhamavadi near Velankanni, 3 villages (Vanagiri, pudukuppam, poompuhar) in Sirkazhi taluk and one village (Kuttiandiyur) in Tarangambadi taluk. There again , a meeting of the activists was held and it was decided to focus on Vanagiri, Pudukuppam and Kuttiandiyur. Accordingly two teams were set up to keep in regular touch with the village women and do the needful as far as their immediate requirements like relief materials were concerned.
In Vizhundhamavadi, we could see that the top most branches of trees have turned dark brown. The locals explained that the salty, slushy water went up to that height and wherever it went, that branch turned dry. In Serudur, we saw a weird sight of a bore pump. Usually, above the ground level we would see only a feet or two of the pump and its handle. This particular pump was like a flag post standing 10 feet high and the handle was on top like a flag. That means, nearly 8 feet of soil got eroded by the force of water. Serudur was full of stench and we were very sure that more bodies were still buried in the slush. In V.mavadi, we saw a 11 year old boy who is studying in 6th standard. He was taking as around, explaining what had happened on that fateful day. He said, after the first wave hit the area, lots of crabs, fish and prawns were washed ashore and a crowd gathered there to collect and the second wave instantly killed them. This boy had actually carried his baby sister on his shoulder and ran for about a kilometre to safety. He showed us a particular place and asked us what we could see. Actually, we could not see anything. He said , in a matter of fact tone, that there stood his house till 26th. There was not a trace of anything there. He also told us that a mother of 5 girl children died and everyone is wondering what these girls are going to do.
Many boats had come into the village, some inside the houses and some broken into two pieces, neatly stacked on one another. The trees bore the brunt of the boats being dashed against them by the water. That area was full of thorny shrubs (Karuvela mull) and people said that many got entangled in the thorns and died. And the boats brought by the water with force, hit many people from behind the back and caused deaths. The fisher people said that if that was only water, they could have managed. This was with slush and the mud went inside the mouth and nose causing problems. While leaving the village, we saw a man cleaning his house all alone. To our query, he said that he has left the wife and the children in some other place and till the afternoon he worked for the village and only now he has started cleaning his house. Inside his house, nearly 1 - 2 feet mud could be seen.
In Pudukuppam, we met a woman with 7 children; all of them miraculously escaped. She refused to leave the house when the wave came. She made everyone to climb on the cot. When the water level raised, she made everyone climb the attic. Some said that they were holding on to the window and escaped. She had just received 2 kilos of rice and she was cooking it. When we stood there and talked to her, she genuinely called us to share the food she was making for the children. That gesture really touched our hearts. She also told us that the so called community leaders receive all the relief materials and pass them on to the people whom they are close to. She asked us to ensure that relief materials reach every family.
When we tried to go to Kuttiandiyur, the auto driver , as soon as he heard the name, refused to carry us and went off. We did not divulge the name to the next auto driver, allowed him to ride for sometime and then slowly asked him to go to Kuttiandiyur. He also refused. The reason is that the entire stretch of 3 kilometers from the main road to the village is stinking with stench. We had to convince him quite a bit to take us to the village. When some ruling party men saw us talking to the women, they curtly told us that we should consult them (village leaders) before we do anything. We said that we would surely consult the village elders, elected panchayat members and since we belong to a women's organisation, we are interested in consulting women too. They said that women can do only certain things and they are not capable of doing everything. We politely argued with him and got our way.
Then the state secretary Vasuki and Vice presidents Gnanam and T.R.Mary visited Nagercoil, Kanyakumari district. The team along with local leaders visited three camps (Thenthamaraikulam, asisi campus and Saveriyar church)and Manakudi which is an affected village. Just two months back, a bridge was constructed between Mela Manakudi and keezha manakudi villages. A small river was running between the villages and sea was a bit far off. Now after the Tsunami diaster, the bridge has been broken into 3 pieces, one has fallen on Melamanakudi village, the other in keezhamanakudi and the third one was beyond 2 kilometres. Sea is running between the villages now. We could actually see the waves in the water running between the villages. In Nagercoil also, a meeting of AIDWA activists was convened and action plan worked out. It was decided to concentrate on two villages - Kurumpanai and kodimunai.
Work in districts:
In North Chennai, South Chennai, Pondy, Cuddalore, Kanyakumari, Kancheepuram, one part of Nagapattinam and Tuticorin districts, our women were in the field from 26th onwards. They started immediate collection of old clothes, medicine, food items etc. In Nagapattinam, Tarangambadi Taluk, Thirukkadaiyur area, 2 of our activists came to the main area at 9 am itself on the 26th. People from coastal villages had come there seeking protection. The only available accommodation was a Govt. school which was locked. Even leaders of political parties were confused as to what to do. Our women took a big stone, broke open the lock and led the people inside. 400 kilos of rice were collected, vegetable pulav cooked and distributed to everyone affected in that area.
Before the visit of AIDWA central team, the relief work in the districts was not too organised, without AIDWA's identity. The meetings organised and addressed by the central team had a good effect. The work got focussed; more organised; more women could be involved; short term and long term goals made clear; teams and camps set up; most of all AIDWA's identity was established.
South Chennai district:
For the past 10 days, a team consisting of 30 women has been organising camps in Srinivasapuram and Nochikuppam - 2 of the worst affected places in South Chennai. Medical camps were organised; relief materials like rice, new clothes, utensils, dhal, paste, soap, drinking water were distributed through tokens; on seeing our camp, many individuals and agencies gave their donations (in cash or in kind) to us. One person gave us Rs.5000/-. Around Rs.2 lakhs worth relief measures have been undertaken. Nearly 1000 persons were benefited out of our medical camp.
Survey regarding extent of damage etc. is being done. On the basis of it, memoranda were collected from the women and submitted to the collector. 43 persons died in this area; out of this, 13 had come there for walking. 2 AIDWA members have been affected.
Apart from this, our team visited the camp in which Tsunami victims from Andaman were staying and distributed Rs.5000/- worth relief materials.
North Chennai district:
One camp at Anna nagar near Kasimedu was set up; relief articles to nearly 1000 families were collected and distributed. Our women are in regular touch with 2 other areas - fishing harbour and Ennore. Recently, when women of Anna Nagar questioned the local MLA for not distributing certain relief materials, the local secretary of his party used very filthy language on the women. AIDWA organised a picketing immediately and the road was blocked; The Asst. commissioner of the police had to come to the spot. Later, we wrote a memorandum, collected the signatures of the women and submitted it to the Deputy Commissioner demanding action against the ruling party secretary. The women thanked AIDWA stating that usually they get beaten up by the police whenever they demand something and this time since AIDWA leaders were there, they were spared.
One camp at Thriukkadaiyur has been set up under the leadership of district AIDWA president Kalaichelvi. State office bearer Ambika from Tiruchy, state committee members from Tiruvarur and Tanjore stayed there for 3 days and worked. In 8 of the villages, our team organised local women and helped them elect a small team from among themselves. This enables us to work in co ordination with the local people. Surveys are undertaken and relief materials as per their requirements are organised. 2 aidwa members have been afftected in Thirumullaivayil area.
We saw some vehicles carrying relief materials being intercepted by officials. Later we came to know that these materials are directed to the collectorate and there was a plan to distribute them through the ruling party men.
One camp at Killai has been functioning well. We could not set up a proper camp in Akkaragori and Thazhanguda for want of money. But our women are in regular touch with these villages. Here too, on seeing our banner, many individuals and agencies gave the relief materials to us for proper distribution. Nearly 150 members of aidwa in Akkaragori have been affected.
When everyone was distributing sarees alone, our women thought of and collected petticoats and undergarments and women specific materials like sanitary napkins and distributed. Some text books for 12th standard were also given. Most of the relief work has been undertaken by churches in this district. Our women helped organise ambulances and also arranged with local churches to bury the bodies. 2 aidwa members are affected.
Other districts like Virudhunagar collected materials worth Rs.50000/-, Madurai worth Rs.20000.- and given to Kanyakumari district. Similarly Salem district sent materials to Cuddalore district. Help was forthcoming from Kerala too.
Immediately after the disaster, people affected in coastal areas could not find an accommodation. Our women along with other organisations pressured the thermal and harbour authorities into organising accommodation. Food was prepared and distributed at the initial period.
When everyone was running to safety, the AIDWA district secretary Palaniammal went in the opposite direction to help the people. When she saw some movement on a tree right in the middle of the water, she guessed that somebody is alive there. She tried very hard to save them, went to the police station, contacted the collectorate and finally managed to bring in a helicopter and saved 2 children sitting with 3 dead persons. State committee member Shanthi with local leaders visited almost 11 villages and organised relief work.
Following is the list of demands, submitted to the Chief minister's office:
- We observed in general that a section of the fishing community was quite well off. So, after a few days, they did not want old clothes (some clothes were really bad which cannot be accepted by anybody) and packed food. When they articulate loudly about their dislike, others who are poor and in need could not come forward in the camps to claim the materials. The roads in many districts were strewn with old cloth bundles and people were seen selecting from it. Recently there was a news from Nagapattinam that a boy who hid behind the clothes while playing with his friends, died due to suffocation.
- Even bread and biscuit packets became play things after a few days. We feel that a better co-ordination between the agencies would have avoided the situation. If it seems impossible, then the donors atleast must meet the people , find about their requirements and give what the people wanted and not give what they (donors) want.
- There is a proposal to co-ordinate with like minded organisations and an NGO called Aid India and think of some long term assistance. For eg., we could help people form co-operatives and boats could be given to the co-operatives, instead of individuals. This will make all of them owners of boats and this owner - worker inequality could be changed atleast in one or two villages. There is an idea that we could provide loan assistance to the self help groups in these villages to start some production work. All this may need consistent work with the villages for about 18 - 24 months.
- State women's commission convened a meeting of women's organisations and NGOs in Chennai. AIDWA participated. Ultimately, aidwa's charter of demands was released by women's commission as the outcome of the meeting. AIDWA was able to formulate appropriate demands since it interacted with people, listened to their woes and identified the actual requirements, instead of just dumping the relief materials and walking away.
Many heart rending instances are not posted here since there are too many. There are instances of parents losing all the children, children losing both the parents, only grandmother or grand father surviving with grand children - both need protection and cannot be independent. Marriage fixed and all the jewels and marriage articles kept in the house and the entire thing being washed away in the water; many families losing one or the other member. No house, no articles, no work and no identity - is the issue which is looming large now. So, distributing relief materials may solve their immediate problems, but being in touch with them and assisting in reviving their process of livelihood is what is needed in the long run. AIDWA pledges to make sincere efforts towards that.
- Relief materials should be distributed in a fair manner
- There are certain sections of people who are not fishermen but dependent on fishing. Eg. Fish traders/sellers (large number of them are women) . In some districts, women are engaged in collecting shells, making them into decorative pieces and selling. We have demanded certain relief to them. Similarly, because of sea water, many acres of paddy and other produce are affected. Compensation has to be given to them.
- Cleaning of debris and ensuring hygiene must be done right away
- The loans taken by SHGs in these affected areas must be written off
- Liquor shops near the camps and villages must be closed atleast for a month
- Relief should be given as far as possible, as materials; In case of money, it should be given to the women; relief work to be undertaken in villages in consultation with the local people.
- Special attention to pregnant women, lactating mothers and infants needed
- Ration card and kerosene supply must be ensured by the Govt.
- Counselling to the traumatised to be given.
- Text books/note books to 10th and 12th standard students who are going to face the public exams in a short while must be distributed at the earliest. All other students in coastal areas who are affected should be promoted to the next class unconditionally
- Since sea has encroached and is very near the existing hutments/houses, fisherpeople want to move away from the sea coast and yet not far away which would affect their work. Govt. need to find a suitable alternative accommodation. This should be done where it is really necessary and not done in the way it suits Govt. idea of promoting the coastal belt into a tourist area.
- Women complained that prawn farming has led to soil erosion and facilitated the entry of sea in certain villages. They need to be regulated.
- Govt. should be very cautious about the process of adoption of children orphaned due to Tsunami. The credentials of the agency/organisation/individual must be checked thoroughly.