Thiruvananthapuram-based Queerythm turned their 24-hour helpline number for the LGBTIQ+ community into a number for distress calls.

Kerala Floods Queer groups organise relief for thousands help rescue hundreds
news Kerala Floods Sunday, August 26, 2018 - 16:47

Juhi Chawla comes out of the house, barking at a stranger. She settles down only when Priijth pats her and tells her it’s alright. She’s only a puppy, he tells the visitor.

By now Juhi must be used to strangers popping up at the house in Kowdiar, Thiruvananthapuram. A few days ago, it had turned into a collection point for flood relief. And several boxes of material have come in since.

Before all that, it was just the office and co-living space of Queerythm, an organisation working for the rights of the LGBTIQ+ community. When the floods became too severe, Prijith PK, the founder and president of Queerythm, turned the 24-hour helpline number (9745545559) into a number for distress calls.

“It was earlier used as a 24-hour helpline for members of the LGBTIQ+ community to call. But now we have given it out for rescue operations, passing on the messages that came to people on the ground, including the Navy,” says Prijith. They must have helped rescue at least 400 people, he reckons.

That went on till Friday. After that, they concentrated on getting relief materials, mainly food materials, to flood hit areas like Pathanamthitta and Chengannur.

Akhil and Haari, executive members of Queerythm, and Krishnapriya, a volunteer, have been actively involved in the relief work. Prijith lists more names: "Amal, Arathi, Veena, Prajith, Prathish, Nathira, Parasuram, Shalin." They would have taken relief materials to at least 7,000 people by now, he says. Even today, a team is getting ready to take some material to Alappuzha.  

Inside the house, Syama Prabha, who works as project officer at the state transgender cell, is packing the last of the boxes that would go to Kanjikuzhy grama panchayat in Alappuzha on Sunday. “We realised that the relief materials were reaching the camps but not going to people outside of it. To more remote places and to tribal areas. For instance, we came to know that 150 families were isolated and put up at their relatives’ homes in Kanjikuzhy. So we are taking these boxes of mainly food materials and clothing and essentials like sanitary napkins there,” Prijith says.

Kerala Mahila Samakhya Society is helping them with taking the relief material to tribal areas. “We have a plan to adopt a tribal settlement in the long term. People in the town could get away from it all, survive. But people in the tribal areas have lost their source of income, with the floods destroying their settlements and trees that they’d collect honey and kunthirikkam (frankincense) from. Once they recover from the floods, we want to educate and empower them, address gender issues, sensitise them about their rights, and so on,” Prijith adds.

And there is the sanitation work. Prijith and team collected bottles from camps and diluted concentrated solutions of Phenoyl. They would have taken more than 5000 bottles to Pathanamthitta, Chengannur, Thiruvalla and so on. Bleaching powder too was packed and sent off.

The queer community in Kerala has not always had a good time, unwelcome at some places, treated poorly at some others. But when trouble came to the state, they got out to help, not standing away, not holding grudges. It’s not just Queerythm. Prijith says members of the trans community in Kochi, including make-up artist Renju Renjimar, chipped in. Vihaan Peethambar of Queerala, Kochi-based organisation for LGBTIQ+ community, says, "Four of the board members of Queerala were involved actively in rescue operations. We formed a flood rescue group along with a few others and we were able to coordinate the rescue of more than 680 people."

Not that they were safe themselves. Finding it hard to find accommodation, many would be in lodges. But one of the first lessons they learn as part of becoming a community is that social work would be part of their life, Prijith says. “We spent last Christmas at an old age home in Vattappara.”

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