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The Rediff Special/ A Ganesh Nadar in Kanyakumari
'The tsunami helped me get married'
February 27, 2006
The Melamanakudi temporary tsunami camp in Kanyakumari district is a noisy melee of people where radio and television broadcasts compete for attention.
Helen, who looks sad and lost, says she has just married and candidly confesses: "I am 32. No one wanted to marry me. My mother died in the tsunami. I got a lakh (Rs 100,000)from the Tamil Nadu government. This helped me get married. But I haven't got the one lakh promised by the central government. Do you know when I will get it?"
Kanyakumari District Collector Sunil Paliwal, who is in charge of disbursement of compensation, says 69 such cases are still pending with the central government and assures this correspondent that the money will definitely come.
Viji, an educated girl in her early 20s, got married on January 20. She too lost her mother to the tsunami and received one lakh from the chief minister's relief fund and another lakh from the prime minister's relief fund.
She is waiting for the additional Rs 3 lakhs (Rs 300,000) that the chief minister had promised orphans who had no one to look after them. Viji lost her father early in life and had been staying with her brother just before her marriage.
After the tsunami she had moved to an adolescent's home that the government had set up. Many young women in Kanyakumari district lost both their parents to the tsunami. Some had lost one parent earlier and lost the other to the tsunami. Chief Minister J Jayalalithaa did not differentiate among such cases and declared that both categories of young women would benefit from government support.
Orphans would either receive Rs 300,000 or Rs 500,000 -- those under 18 would get Rs 500,000 and those between 18 and 35 would get Rs 300,000. This was over and above the earlier compensation they received from the chief minister's fund and prime minister's relief fund.
The earlier compensation -- from the chief minister's fund and prime minister's relief fund -- was shared among all surviving heirs. But this amount is for every individual child. So if a family left behind two heirs, both would be entitled to this compensation. This money is not being given in cash like the earlier amount. It is in the form of bonds -- fixed deposit bonds of the money that the government has deposited in government undertakings.
The money cannot make up for the loss of one's parents but it can definitely make the child more secure.
Amazingly, in Kanyakumari district, all orphans eligible for these bonds are girls and young women.
2,536 houses have to be built in Kanyakumari district to rehabilitate the fishermen who lost their homes. Of these 600 fishermen have already been given homes. Another 426 houses are ready and will be alloted this month. The rest will be alloted in the next six months.
In Colachel, the state government has decided to build permanent houses in an area that was earlier a saltpan. There was some doubt whether the location was right, so the district administration called in a geologist, Professor Shantakumar of the Indian Institute of Technology, Chennai. On his advice the land was filled with soil. The cost of this worked out to be over Rs 10 million or a crore rupees.
Professor Shantakumar and students of the Thiruvanathapuram College of Engineering are now undertaking soil tests to make sure it is fit for construction. They test nine points on the land. Testing on each spot takes two days. They drill and conduct a plate load test. Collector Paliwal assures us that "9 tons is the needed load bearing strength of the filled soil but we have got positive results for 30 tons." That means the land can be used for construction and there is no risk of the soil sinking with the weight of the houses.
While the non-governmental organisations have built all the permanent shelters they had promised, the government has spent Rs 75 million or Rs 7.5 crores on acquiring land. Ninety per cent of the mechanised boats are back at sea. Partially damaged boats have been repaired while the fully damaged boats have been replaced.
Of the 1,032 affected cattumarans (small wooden boats) 226 have been replaced. The others are being built. Of the 176 damaged vallams or fibre boats, only 21 have been replaced so far. These are government figures and do not include what the NGOs have done.
The central government announced Rs 51,000 as a bank deposit for the higher studies of the orphans. It also grants Rs 300 every month for the education of children who have lost one parent. Lists for both these schemes have been sent to the central government.
The state government had set up Seva Illams -- homes -- for the adolescent girl victims of the tsunami. Soon after the catastrophe, almost 20 girls lived here. Mercie is studying to be a nurse while Jesurani is studying desktop publishing. Jesurani shows me a bright jewelled ring on her finger and says, "I am engaged, I am going to marry in August."
Chandra, who lost her mother to the tsunami, is now doing a three-year nursing course at the James Hospital, Colachel. She sounds very upset. "You remember Malar my cousin?" she asks this correspondent, "She lived with me in the Seva Illam when you first came here in January last year. Her mother scolded her for something. She doused herself with kerosene and set herself ablaze. She died."
Chandra always wanted to be a nurse and is realising her dream thanks to Dr James Premkumar who does not charge her any tuition fee.
There is another tsunami shelter for young children in Nagercoil district. When the parents moved to temporary shelters, the children returned to them. Now this shelter only has two children. One child is very young while the other studies in Class XII.
Antony Mary, the elder of the two, is very tense as her final exams begin on March 2. She is the youngest among five sisters who have lost both parents. Under pressure from her elders to score high marks she grimaces, "Mummy always advised me, she never nagged me to study all the time."
We don't know whether she will score high marks, we don't know what the future holds for her. One thing we know for sure is that fate dealt her a cruel blow on December 26, 2004. The government cannot take the place of her parents but Jayalalithaa is definitely trying.
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