When Amul Devi saw high waves crashing on her doorstep five years ago, little did she think that it would forever change her life. A resident of Thilagar Nagar, Tondiarpet, now she lives with 432 other tsunami-affected families in 10X10 sq. ft tenements provided by the Tamil Nadu Slum Clearance Board.
“Things have only changed for the worse ever since,” she says. The resettlement colony does not have basic amenities such as clean drinking water, sewage collection system and garbage clearance. Stagnant sewage water and swarms of mosquitoes greet visitors here.
“Earlier we lived in Pallavan Nagar near Kasimedu. We enjoyed the sea breeze even though our homes were tiny shacks. The fishing harbour nearby provided us employment and life was set at its own pace. The tsunami has upset the rhythm of life,” she says.
Amul spent nearly two years in the temporary shelter at Kargil Nagar. “I am afraid of even thinking of what it was like. We survived on the charity of non-governmental organisations mostly, but one day even that stopped coming and we were left to fend for ourselves,” she says.
M. Gnanasoundari, another resident of Thilagar Nagar, says that earlier when they had homes on the beachfront, women could buy and sell fish for a living. “We earned more money than the men in the family, but now our family income has dipped as we can no longer sustain the fish trade,” she says. E. Noorjahan, a widow, says that earlier she used to run a petty shop in Powerkuppam, but after relocating to the Slum Board tenement, she has lost that source of income. “Earlier, I was independent, but now I am forced to depend on my son for survival,” she says. Though nine shops have been built in Thilagar Nagar, they lie vacant as the government has not allotted them yet.
The empty shops have turned into a den for anti-social activities, residents say. Also, several tenements are in a poor condition.
R. Sekar, another resident, points to huge cracks in the wall of his house. “We live in perennial fear of the wall collapse,” he says. Though the houses are only about three years old, several residents complain about water seepage during the rains.
Residents of the nearby Hindustan Unilever (HUL) Nagar have similar woes to share, with regard to basic amenities and quality of housing.
G. Dhanalakshmi, a resident, says many tsunami victims are leading a claustrophobic existence with families of five to six persons packed in one tenement. “For peaceful sleep at night we end up lighting mosquito coils, but in a tiny house like this, one gets suffocated,” she says.
After all these outpourings, S. Panchali, another resident, says the families have learnt to put up with things. “The tsunami is the worst tragedy we could have suffered. Surviving it has taught us to deal with suffering,” she concludes.