The monsoon, however, is their biggest worry: "We almost entirely forget sleep when it rains here because the water floods our homes.
The space they call home is both like and unlike any other house - the steps leading to the house from the road are decorated with simple kolams and space for cooking, worshipping and general living is clearly demarcated. But, their ceilings are at heights ranging from 10 to 30 feet; there are no real walls, electricity or gas connections; and their toilets and bathrooms are as far away as the banks of the Cauvery during monsoons or as near as the other side of the railway station in Srirangam. Meet the over 20 families that have called the road overbridge in Srirangam home for the past 35 odd years.
“Before this flyover was built about 30 years ago, we were living along the edge of this road in huts,” says Saroja, who recalls the buses that used to ply this route. Once the flyover's construction began, Saroja says, Tiruchi Corporation asked them to remove their huts. “Without any other place to go and with no permission to rebuild our huts here, most of us moved beneath the overbridge and have since been living there ,” she says.
Though not very different from living on a platform, life beneath an overbridge comes with its own set of problems. R. Selvi, who works at construction sites says, “When sweepers clean on top, the dust comes cascading down on us and sometimes even on to what we are cooking.” For this reason, most ‘houses' in the row seem to have relocated their firewood stoves to the centre of their dwellings. Many a times, there are men who even urinate from atop the overbridge , throw glass bottles or garbage down onto their houses, she adds.
The monsoon, however, is their biggest worry: “We almost entirely forget sleep when it rains here because the water floods our homes. Until the ground dries up, we have to make do with living, cooking and sleeping over the slush,” says V. Vijaya, who is the only one from the community who has studied up to class VII .
The division of the road beneath the overbridge to create approach paths to the neighbouring railway station in Srirangam seems to have compounded their monsoon woes: “The rain water that falls down from the overbridge through the pipes on either side of our homes stagnates here because the slightly higher approach pathways prevent it from draining elsewhere,” says Vellaiyyan. Though they have asked the civic body to fix drain pipes that pass through these bifurcating approach paths, they claim there has been no response so far.
A number of the families are awaiting the ration cards they've applied for; they all pay Rs.2 every time they use the toilet near the railway track; most collect firewood from near the Cauvery for cooking as kerosene is unaffordable; and pay up to Rs.5 to shopkeepers who let them charge their cell phones. When asked about how they purchased their sim cards without any address proof, Vijaya reveals that people who live nearby provided them with the required ID proof, as long as they were well known to them.
Around five months ago, when the corporation asked them to move out from beneath the overbridge as well, a group of them approached local MLA M. Paranjothi. “He has promised to stall the eviction until houses are arranged for all of us,” says Vijaya, who adds that as long as they are sent to a place that has the basic infrastructure in place most of them are willing to move out. With most of them working within the city as construction labourers, cycle rickshaw drivers, auto mechanics, house help or basket weavers, they hope the place allocated to them wouldn't be too far away from the town area.