When we reached the Government Regional Fisheries Technical and Vocational School, Valiyathura, the grief of the residents had turned to rage. They had just heard the news that the officials of the village office who were entrusted to assess the value of the land which the government was planning to purchase for them has now excused themselves from the task.
Those who heard the news passed it on to the others and a sense of disquiet spread across the settlement. Thirteen families have been living in this school for past five years, ever since they lost their houses to sea erosion during the monsoon. The fishermen families from various parts of the coastal village in Thiruvananthapuram were sheltered in the school as a temporary arrangement. They are still waiting for the houses and compensation promised to them by the government.
The thirteen families, with at least three members in each family, are packed into three big rooms.
They hesitate when we try speak to them. Julias, a fisherman, says, â€śWe are homeless and the agony of it should be experienced to realise. Can you people live in multi room houses imagine the suffering of a family who all have to sleep in half space of a room.â€ť
The inadequate space affects the girls the most. Treasa says that the hardest thing is to protect their girl children. Two months ago couple of boys during the night had tried to forcefully enter their rooms. â€śTheir objective was to abuse our daughters. Somehow we managed to call the police. There is only one toilet and one bathroom. When our daughters bathe, some people living in the nearby compound sometimes throw stones at the bathroom. We have to guard them from all these,â€ť She says.
â€śThe girls here have no privacy. They have to sleep in the middle of men. How we can have separate space for women or girls in a room. When they need to change dress we the elder women would first ask the men to go out,â€ť Treasa says.
The desperate residents are now wondering if some drastic form of protest can bring some attention to their plight.
60-year-old Brigit, another resident, says, â€śWe had never gone to block roads, to stage protests in front of the Secretariat. The authorities will move only if we resort to such methods.â€ť A widow, she is certain that they would not have gone through this ordeal if her husband was alive.
The families depend on fishing or fish vending and opted to live in the school as renting out a house were beyond their means, hoping that someday they would have a home again.
In the absence of a home, Hridayamma, who has two daughters, conducted the wedding of one of her daughterâ€™s at a relativeâ€™s house.
Another resident Sunitha, moved to the school months after she delivered twins. Her five-year-old twins Abhilash and Athira now go to kindergarten.
While the residents were promised Rs 10 lakh for each family to build homes, they say that the revenue officials have not kept to their promise and continue to delay the process. â€śThey need bribeâ€ť, says Jose.
They are not the only families to have found shelter in a school. In a distance of hardly a kilometre is St Antonyâ€™s UP School, Valiyathura run by the Latin Catholic diocese.
In a shed in the school compound next to the school building lives five families. The shed has two rooms. The concerns here are the same. They all worry about their girls living without the security of a house.
â€śI was not willing to come to live here. I was worried about my daughter who is a plus two student. Girls are not safe even inside homes, so how can I take her to somewhere which is not our home. Then the church vicar convinced me,â€ť says Sheeja, who live with her two children and husband in the shed. They lost their house in May last year.
â€śIn the beginning my children were really sad to live here. My daughterâ€™s friends were reluctant to come here to meet her. Now they are used to it,â€ť she says.
In their case it is the church that came to their rescue. The church provided them with water and electricity. Whereas, the water authority has not yet resumed the supply of water to the shed disrupted a week ago.
Arun, a plus two student of the St Antonyâ€™s UP School, lives in one of the three rooms. He too finds it hard to face his friends as they all know that he has lost his home. â€śWe have nothing else, but only worries,â€ť says the teenager.
A little away from here another eight families live in the Valiyathura Government UP School. Here 29 people have to fight for space in four rooms.
â€śWe all came at different times. In the beginning the government used to supply food items. The worst thing is that when government gave us food, there was a rush of people to come and live here who are trying to misuse this. For us it was our last resort,â€ť says Lourd, who is working as a domestic help.
Since regular classes continue in the school, the residents have to plan their daily chores around it. Mini, another resident, washing utensils in a hurry said, â€śWe have to finish our household works before the school time is over. We choose to stay inside the rooms during the play time of the school children,â€ť she says.
In the absence of any tangible help, residents only have prayers to rely on.
Suma, a resident, says, â€śNobody has ever come to see if we are dead or alive. The toilets are overflowing, we pray for someone to come and fix at least that for us.â€ť
People living in the St Antonyâ€™s and the Government UP School lost their homes in different times during the past three years. All are inhabitants of Valiyathura who lost their homes to sea erosion.
No politicians approached those who live in the Fisheries School in the last Assembly election in May and they didnâ€™t cast votes. But those living in the other two schools did cast their votes. â€śWe were given fresh promises during election and we trusted that,â€ť says Mini.
While the government has begun constructing apartments at Muttathara on 3.5 acres of government-owned land, the people living in the schools have no idea whether they will be allotted any houses in the project.
Local MLA and former Health minister VS Sivakumar of the Congress said that these families will housed in the flats once the construction is over. "The fund was allotted for the project during the time of the previous United Democratic Front was in power. The present Left Democratic Front laid the foundation stone. All the families who have lost homes will be provided houses in the flat," he told The NewsMinute.
Pics: Sreekesh Raveendran Nair