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The Rediff Special/ Krishnakumar in Dharmapuri
In the middle of nowhere, polls don't matter
May 02, 2006
Yerimalai starts where the road ends. Situated on top of a hill in Dharmapuri district's Pennagaram constituency, there is no way to access this small village other than a five kilometre walk through the forest.
There are three such villages in the hills.
As you begin the climb, whoever laid the path for the village knew very well what they were doing. The light-shaded stones are well embedded in the rocky terrain and stand distinctly apart from the surrounding shrubbery even on a no-moon night.
The only problem with the route is that it is at a consistent 45-degree slope and at places where it is not so, only gets steeper.
As the local leading you says the next is the last turn and it's the village after that, the mind simply refuses to believe him. After all, he's been crying wolf and said the same at least 10 times in the past 70 minutes -- like a mother telling an adamant child that this is the last mouthful.
The strong and cool wind that hits you from nowhere confirms that he is, for once right. You have reached the village.
The plateau is green and vast with tiny huts dotting them. The breeze is as cool as it should be in a place where the only machine is a compressor motor squeezing whatever water is left in a well that has been the only water source for the village in the past two decades.
But all this has a price – There is virtually nothing you can do when there is an emergency, like when somebody takes ill or if a pregnant woman goes into labour earlier than expected.
The children go to the only concrete structure that is called a school and where you can't see the solitary tutor more than once a month.
The water is very dirty yellow with particulate matter floating all over. More important, there might not be a morsel to eat for the six months that separate the planting of ragi and harvest.
And, the guy who promised to rectify all this will come after five years to make the same promises again and garner votes.
"One day in every five years, the politicians climb up from one end of the hills, cover all the villages and go down the other end. That will be the last you will see of them for the next five years," says Kaliappan, an 80-year-old man who has spent all his life in Yerimalai.
"Every year, they make the same promises – that they'll lay a road from the foothills to the village, provide clean drinking water and enable us build better houses and the like. But in the 80 years I have seen, only two things have changed. About 25 years ago, the villages got electricity supply, that too after we lugged the poles up here, they just provided the connections. And 15 years ago, they built a school for the village."
Ironically, while all efforts are taken to put up a polling booth for each village up here in the hills, the public distribution shop for the villages is located at a place far from the foothills.
Ask them why they do not move to the plains and make a living there, there is a collective snap: "When did we say we are not ready to move to the plains. Give us land equivalent to what we own here and we are ready to move there. But, tell us, which government is ready to give us land in the plains?" a livid Kaliappan reasons.
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