‘Where’s the time for sleep when we’re wiping water off the floor?

Swathi Moorthy Chennai | Updated on January 22, 2018

Sorry plight Fisherfolk of Nochikuppam, Chennai, have beenbadly affected by the relentless rains BIJOY GHOSH

A portrait of a Chennai slum in the midst of nature’s fury

Wrapped in a thin cotton blanket, a shivering Poongothai lies on the wet floor of her one-room tenement. The frail 80-year-old, the mother of a fisherman, is down with a cold and fever, but she has nowhere to go.

Poongothai is one of the 5,000 residents of Nochikuppam, a slum settlement on the southern fringe of Chennai’s famed Marina Beach.

Many like her live in homes where water has ingressed, thanks to leaky roofs and a veritable flood of rain.

It is pretty much the same story in most of Chennai’s slums, many of them located in low-lying areas and near water-bodies, particularly the Adyar and Cooum rivers.

The rain has been incessant, help has hardly been forthcoming and predictions of even more rain have cast a pall of gloom on the community.

Says a weary-looking Devi M, a mother of two young children: “Almost right through the night we are up wiping water off the floors. Where is the question of sleep?”

Fears of epidemic

A large number of people have already caught the flu, but as some doctors warn with an air of bleak inevitability, dreaded water-borne epidemics will become a reality in the days to come. In the slums, the prevalence of mosquitoes and poorly-maintained toilets have exacerbated the plight of the people. Says Das R, a fisherman, who has not been able to go to sea since the rains began: “We can venture out. But what about women? The lack of a drainage line and poor maintenance has made their lives a living hell.” Nochikuppam’s livelihood has taken a hit over the past two weeks. Health is not the only concern, money is. Says Sivakumar, “No fishing means no food for many of us. Most households do not have provisions for more than a couple of days.”

‘Borrowing money’

Another fisherman Krishnan says he usually earns anything between ₹100 and ₹500 a day from his catch. “Now I am borrowing money to buy rations,” he says ruefully.

There has been an attempt to provide the slum with rations, but the distribution of food has been sporadic and far from uniform. Some claim not to have received any.

In the midst of their suffering, a couple of fishermen strike a philosophical note: “Nochikuppam is in the heart of Chennai and not more than a couple of miles from the Secretariat. What about the fate of those who live elsewhere in this vast city?”

Published on November 16, 2015

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