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The Rediff Special/Archana Masih

February 10, 2005

Outside Cuddalore's sprawling collector's bungalow, which was once home to Robert Clive, the governor general who established the British empire in India, sit a bunch of women from Madvapallam. They have come to tell District Collector Gagandeep Singh Bedi that no NGO had come to their village with any aid or food.

The fishermen in their village had begun fishing, but it hasn't been an easy ride. The collector had eaten fish cooked by them, says Mallarselvi in the village but yesterday when the men went to sea, they returned half way.

Madvapallam's problem is that it was better off than other villages. Only one person from its 82 families had died, they had received the boat compensation and had sent 10 boats for fishing.

Still scared of the sea

And that was where the problem lay.

"Fishermen from other villages are getting angry that we have begun fishing while they haven't. So 18 villages from the community have decided that we will not go fishing till all have received the compensation," says a fisherman.

The lost fishermen of Talaguda

The government has begun handing out livelihood compensation but hasn't reached all affected fishermen. While all whom correspondents spoke to in the districts of Kanyakumari, Nagapattinam and Cuddalore a month after the tsunami, had received the immediate relief package of Rs 4,000 plus provisions and Rs 1 lakh (Rs 100,000) for loss of life from the Tamil Nadu state government, a majority were yet to receive the compensation for lost boats.

Madvapallam had got its nets and boats, while neighbouring Samiarpettha hadn't.

"Two days back we went fishing but since we had to pass through Samiarpetti we did not go to the market. They probably would have killed us if they saw we were going to sell the fish while they did not even have their nets," says Arun Lakshmanan.

Return to life

Their collector had assured and reassured them of safe passage to the Cuddalore fish market but the fishermen say they were bound by their commitment to the community. Even though the collector was one of the best they had ever seen, they said they were wary of taking up his offer of taking a police escort for their catch from the village to the market.

The realities on the ground were different. Here the bonds of community often outdid the sway of the State and 18 villages were part of that common pact -- together they had decided to only begin fishing once everyone else could.

Priyanka gets a home

Moreover, there was more to getting back on their feet again. Apart from the boats and nets, they needed related infrastructure like ice and diesel. Fish had to be put in ice within two, three hours after being caught and there was a shortage of ice as many ice factories were shut after the tsunami.

Since the fish they caught in the last two days could not be sold, they ate it up themselves. After being warned by the next village not to go fishing again, the fishermen say they will wait for another month before venturing into the sea.

Sitting a short distance from small boats named Lisa, Jason, Piers, Jason and Sea Horse -- some of which have been repaired by a relief team in Bagalore -- the men mend their nets. The ladies who had gone with a petition in the morning had yet to return because the evening bus only arrived at 4.30 pm.

The last village on the narrow road that joined the main road to Cuddalore, Madvapallam had access to three buses in the morning and two in the evening. Villagers say it has no school, no primary health centre, no post office, no phone, the nearest school was in the next village two kilometres away.

What the survivors need

There is a health camp set up in the village by the Sumanhalli Relief Team but the villagers grouse is the lack of ration. "The ladies would have told the collector that no NGO has come. Not even one with food. They pass in their vans but don't stop here," says village head Narayanawamy Dharmalingam.

On the main road connecting Pondicherry to Cuddalore, many NGO vehicles with pasted banners of tsunami relief ply the roads. The hotels in Cuddalore are filled to capacity with charity and relief workers. Their jeeps have come to the neighbouring village but none seem to have found Madvapallam.

Nagapattinam copes with tsunami aftermath

Photographs: Paresh Gandhi/India Abroad

Design: Uday Kuckian

The Rediff Specials

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