The ‘new age’ Narikurava can no longer live off making beads or shooting animals
In his red T-shirt and jeans pants, 34-year-old P. Prabhu does not show any sign of being a member of a nomadic tribe.
Unlike his parents, who were happy selling animals, dead or alive, and colourful beads for a living, Prabhu is clueless how to run a family of five, which includes three children. He is a ‘new age’ Narikurava, who does not foray into forests to shoot animals.
The licensed guns found in Narikurava homes are a relic of the past.
Handmade ornaments with beads no longer sell well as machines have overtaken men.
With a certificate in automobile engineering obtained from an Industrial Training Institute, Prabhu does not have the means to get a bank loan to set up a workshop.
Prabhu is not an oddity. His generation of Narikuravars finds itself at a crossroads. They are toying with the idea of surrendering their firearms.
Their ventures outside India to sell bead malas in Thailand, Malaysia and Singapore have made them poorer by a few lakhs and dependent on moneylenders.
“We went abroad on tourist visas by borrowing money at exorbitant rates from private lenders. The few thousands we earned on each trip ran the family for a few months,” says P. Arjun. Now they are not willing to take the risk.
Residents of the Narikuravar Colony at Devarayaneri on the outskirts of Tiruchi face a bundle of problems.
Their attempts to get educated have not succeeded in a big way though at least three children from the colony have entered the portals of colleges. They include M. Swetha, a third year engineering student. Children drop out of school as they are identified as ‘kuravan’ or ‘kurathi’ in classrooms. “Wherever we go, our dialect betrays our identity,” says Seetha Mahendiran, who, along with her husband, Mahendiran, has transformed the lives of their kin through the Narikuravar Education and Welfare Society (NEWS).
Thanks to the efforts of NEWS, men and women are seen in their traditional attire only at home.
The couple is trying to bring the men out of their drinking habit. Marriages are delayed for the girls.
“My mother got married at the age of eight. In our generation, girls were married off on attaining puberty. Though our ambition is to get the marriage postponed to 18 years of age, we have only succeeded in delaying it till 14.”
“Society nurses a lot of misconceptions about us. Ours is a community that scrupulously follows a code of conduct. Here men should pay ‘paal kooli’ (dowry) to the girl during marriage. The marriage is solemnised only after the bride and her parents repose absolute faith in the boy. Relationships are clearly defined and ours is an AIDS-free community,” says Ms. Seetha.
NEWS runs Tiruvalluvar Gurukulam Primary School for Narikuravar children, along with a hostel. Children from other castes also study here. NEWS ties up with government agencies and other NGOs in organising awareness programmes and facilitating participation of Narikuravars in State-level, national and international trade fairs.
“Our Most Backward Class status has placed us in an unequal competition with other developed communities. The Scheduled Tribe status will lead us into new avenues like agriculture as we are convinced that it is impossible to live with the income from beads,” says Mr. Mahendiran.