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VILLAGE LIFE

‘No goats inside the house’

Living conditions in some of the Tribal and Dalit villages are appalling. Most houses are about 50 square feet. Streets are narrow and crooked with stagnating drainage water lying in a ditch. Frequently ditch water from caste villages flows down through the Dalit villages adding to the likelihood of sickness. Washing and cleaning of vessels—and sometimes bathing—is done in the street which is filthy. This leads to pools of stagnating water which harbour diseases.

Nurses and animators associated with Grihini visit the villages and try to build enough rapport with the village leaders to begin dialogue about personal hygiene. They stress that community health is not a quick fix but a path to better health. Tribals and Dalits are motivated to use doctors as well as deities when they are severely ill. These nurses explore ways of improving eating and sexual habits as a way of improving health. The following report of an animator in 1987 illustrates the importance of basic changes in village life:

When we first arrived the village was filthy. The people lived in crowded and dirty huts which they shared with their cows, goats, dogs and cats. There are no toilet facilities and the streets are used for everything from defecation to disposal of rubbish. An open sewer ran down the middle of the street. The taps in the village are reserved for the caste people. Now there is a clear improvement in the colonies and most of the villages. The drains are flushed so that sewer does not stagnate. The houses are swept and tidy. Goats no longer live inside the house. And one colony has sent a petition to the government to get tap water.

A Street in a Typical Dalit Village

A Street in a Typical Dalit Village

Selvarani
‘No more arrack!’

I was about 4 years old when my parents fled from Sri Lanka. They were forced to work as bonded labourers for the Tan India Logging Company. We were really slaves, living in coupes (grass huts) high up in the mountain forest. We had no health care, no school, no contact with our friends. We received 3rd grade rice once a week and were abused by the logging bosses. When I was ten I too was working for the logging company.

When we were finally liberated in what has come to be known as the bonded labour case, we lived in Vidulai Nagar (Freedom City). On one occasion we were visited by Fr Arokiam and Fr Amalraj, who were key leaders in the bonded labour struggle. Because we trusted these men, I was happy to join the very first Grihini class.

Some years after leaving Grihini I broke with tradition and celebrated a love+ marriage—which has lasted! I may look small and famished, but I assure you I have the courage to speak for myself and I am not afraid to lead protests for roads and other improvements in the village. Time and again I have been beaten by police, even when pregnant.

One of our protest actions became quite well known. Certain men were distilling and distributing illicit arrack in a house in our village. Arrack is a problem in our villages because husbands are tempted to spend the family food money on arrack, become drunk and beat their wives. So I and two other women led a protest, stormed the house, broke all the equipment and smashed the arrack bottles. There is no more arrack in our village.

Selvarani with group of women protesters

Selvarani with group of women protesters

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