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Sunday, 13 February, 2005

Tribal outsiders count tsunami cost - Tamil Nadu

VISITORS from outside are greeted warmly by the villagers of Melavamchur, gathered by their damaged or destroyed huts.

They are people of the Kattunayakan tribal group and according to their leader, they have lived for decades along the coast in the southern Indian district of Nagappattinam.

Nagappattinam lost more than 6,000 people to the Asian tsunami. The vast majority of those who died or lost their homes were from the fishing community and aid has generally reached such families quite promptly.

But some small groups not involved in fishing were also affected, including ethnic minorities and tiny tribes such as the Kattunayakan.

"Once we were hunters," says their leader, D Ramalingam. "Now we're sweepers and cleaners."

Fortunately, no one died among the hamlet's 80 Kattunayakan families. But they did suffer damage to their property.

But more than 45 families have so far had no compensation, while the others have only had some.

Health woes

An even smaller group, the aboriginal Kuravas, has just three households here. They earn a living selling combs and wigs.

Murugan, a Kuruva, says they did get the 4,000 rupees ($92) compensation but not the cooking oil and rice they are entitled to.

The partial exclusion of these tiny groups up to now seems to have been an accident - they come from the bottom of the social order and are unused to lobbying for rights.

C Sukumar, a volunteer doctor working in the area, says many of them are poor and malnourished, suffering typically from iron deficiency and respiratory infections.

"Most of them," he adds, "consume a lot of alcohol."

Cultural differences

Among other excluded groups are the Dalits, or so-called "untouchables", who in some cases owned no property at all.

Social activists from the cities are now helping minorities petition for their rights.

Filmmaker Revathi Radhakrishnan was shocked by the condition of another ethnic minority, the Mattukkaran, who moved to a park in Nagappattinam after tensions in the relief camps.

She says differences in culture and values and levels of literacy may have played a part in their departure.

Moreover, she says, "these people also like open spaces, they don't like to be crammed in a place, culturally."

The authorities have responded by moving the Mattukkaran into a school for the time being.

Minority leaders say they will be happy to move to new homes.

But the tsunami has only emphasised their low socio-economic status.

(Source: bbc.co.uk)
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