Unceasing rains affect the very basis of survival of migrant labourers and the homeless

When 54-year-old Papiah saw the sunlight making its way amid thick clouds on Sunday morning, he just hoped it was no illusion. A migrant construction labourer from Khammam, Andhra Pradesh, Papiah, along with his family of 12 members has been living under the Perambur bridge for almost a week now.

“There has been no work over the last few days. All the savings are getting exhausted now. We can't even go home,” he says, even as his wife points to her three children curled up in a rug sheet made of old jute sacks, amid wooden sticks originally meant for cooking but useless due to the rain.

A nightmare

The last three nights have been nothing short of a nightmare for many homeless families like his. There are close to 20 localities in Chennai that have a significant number of homeless persons, according to NGOs working in the area of rehabilitating the homeless.

Additionally, there are many construction labourers, pavement dwellers and migrant workers who have been rendered helpless by the heavy showers.

Construction work is minimal and there are almost no jobs available for women. “The contractors say only if we come as a group of 50, we will be taken. Spraying or mixing work that women are part of doesn't take place during rain,” says Bhadramma, a construction worker in Perambur.

“Bus stands are any day better than bridges, as there is fairly less breeze, but police drive us out,” she adds.

Work for these daily wage labourers is extremely important because many of them being homeless look for shelter in shops on a day-to-day basis by paying a rent of Rs 50. “We usually rent stoves from tea stalls to cook our meals. Now, we are buying food,” says S. Nagappan, a hand cart puller, who shifted from Mint Street to his work place at Central railway station with his wife and two children, after the rain washed away his sheet.

For homeless households in George Town, the difficulties are no less.

With most temporary shelters washed away by the rains, they now have a few wooden shafts which store their boxes with necessary items.

Plastic covers are precious because they function as rain coats to encounter unexpected showers. “To fetch drinking water, we have to go to Waltax road. The sewage water is getting mixed in the water from hand pumps here,” says Menaka. For many of these people, mostly flower vendors and street hawkers, business has been rather dull, almost 60 per cent less than usual this week – yet another addition to their cup of woes.

Lack of safety

“They leave the school open for us at nights to go and sleep but due to lack of patrolling, there is no safety for women. So we spend the nights here only,” says Ganga, a flower vendor in Mint, who has been forced to relocate to the road-side.

Tarpaulin sheets and mosquito nets donated to them a few years ago by Corporation officials are the only saving grace, but their condition too is deteriorating, due to prolonged use.

“Only three of us can sleep inside the sheet. Usually the children get to, and my daughter-in-law, who has to work the next day,” says Saroja (70).

“We have one blanket but we cannot use it even if it drizzles, because it will take almost three days to dry then,” she adds.


Vasudha VenugopalJune 28, 2012