Sellers gathered in Chengannur for the mela, but were forced to leave their goods behind in the floods. Now, they don’t know what their future holds.

All I have left is my life Artisans who came for Kerala mela recall horror of floodsAll Saints College in Thiruvananthapuram
news Kerala Floods Monday, August 20, 2018 - 13:57

“We worked so hard to make the products, we made them all with our bare hands and now I have lost goods worth over Rs 2 lakh,” says Kushal, an artisan from Uttar Pradesh who makes handicrafts.

Kushal, along with several other rural entrepreneurs and artisans, came to Kerala to take part in the Kudumbashree initiative, the Saras Mela, scheduled to take place here between 14 and 23 August. However, what was meant to be an entrepreneurial exercise quickly turned into a horror story, for the place they were staying in Chengannur got quickly inundated, and they were all rescued and brought to the All Saints College relief camp in Thiruvananthapuram.  

Talking to TNM, Ajith Chacko, the Chief Operating Officer of Kudumbashree, says, “The mela is an initiative by the Government of India under their National Rural Livelihood Mission (NRLM).”

“It was supposed to be held between August 14 and 23, but due to the floods it had to be cancelled and all the people who came from various parts of the country to sell their products had to be rescued and brought to the camp here,” he adds.

While the artisans are relieved they are alive after the ordeal, they have also lost their livelihood, and are now stranded here.

“I didn’t just lose my work, I have also lost my money, my ATM card and my ID cards,” says Kushal. “All I have left is my life now.”

The sellers gather at the college’s quadrangle to discuss what kind of compensation they can demand from authorities, and how much.

Leelavati Kumari came all the way to Chengannur from Jharkhand to sell dal, pulses and honey.

“I didn’t come here just to make money, but also to meet people from different parts of the country and to learn from them as well as to teach them whatever I know,” a visibly distressed-looking Leelavati tells TNM. “I lost all my money and the materials I brought with me to sell in the mela because of the floods.”

The topic soon moves to how they were rescued from their flooded accommodation.

“When the rains started getting heavier, the organisers told us to keep our goods on top of a shelf and asked us to leave immediately,” says Leelavati.

All the sellers were moved to a wedding hall for some time, but when water started entering the hall, they were moved to Thiruvananthapuram.

“I am glad we are all alive,” says Sarojini, who came from Yavatmal to sell turmeric. “There was water until our chests, we all thought we would die.”

While everyone is relieved they all made it out alive, there is also palpable anger over losing their goods.

Many say that when they demanded they be compensated in some part, officials refused saying it’s just a mela, and hence they cannot be compensated.

Shradha came to Chengannur all the way from Nagaland to sell dry flowers. Her condition is no different from the others. She also lost all her flowers in the floods and is expecting some compensation from the authorities.

“I am not asking for complete compensation but I want at least half of the money I lost. Only then I will be able to restart my business,” she says.

Thousands across the state are taking refuge in relief camps across the state. With rescue operations going in full swing, the government has a huge task ahead to offer relief and rehabilitation to the people.

All photo taken by Sreekesh Raveendran Nair

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