In a two-roomed house, lives six families. The 25 members of the families are often spilling into the courtyard, kitchen and in the extended verandah covered by a tarpaulin sheet. In this colony located 18 kms from Kochi City, on the way to Moovattupuzha, in 10th mile lives 40 families. But that is only the official number.
All the families cook separately outside the house by setting firewood and if it rains they cook in their bed room. In each room a TV, vessels and clothes jostle for space with five or six members of the family.
The first house on entering the colony is 65-year-old Kannanâ€™s.
â€śSince the number of families increased, we divided one room into two and also converted kitchen to a bedroom. People occupied the veranda and the courtyard too,â€ť Kannan, who is a TB patient, said.
Behind his house lies more such houses that all tell tales of poverty and survival.
Until 2013, the people living here claiming to be of the Kakkalan community, fell under the Scheduled Caste (SC) Category. However, in 2013 the Kerala Institute for Research, Training and Development Studies of Scheduled Castes and Tribes (KIRTADS) released a report declaring that the community actually belonged to the Kodangi Naickar community, which doesnâ€™t fall under the SC category. The shift in nomenclature means that this community can no longer avail benefits from the government that is granted to communities under the SC category.
â€śSince then we have living in poverty with no money to send our children to school, no money to rent a house and no money to have good food and security,â€ť Ganapathy, one of the residents in the colony says.
â€śEven before 2013 many of us did not have community certificate, we had approached authorities for a community certificate but this what we got,â€ť he added.
The community had migrated from Andhra Pradesh almost a century ago and their traditional occupations are palmistry and knife making. As per the KIRTADS reports, the enquiry committee had interviewed the elderly people in the committee before preparing the report. But the people in colony denies that.
â€śNone of them have come here or asked us anything, we donâ€™t know from where they got all wrong information,â€ť Kannan says.
However, the KIRTADS report argues that the community in Kunnathunadu Taluk of Ernakulam that claims to be Kakkalam are a group of migrants who have styled themselves as the scheduled caste community Kakkalam.
â€śThe similarity of occupation of real Kakkalan community and the Kodangi Naicken community can be the reason for their pseudo caste claim. Kodangi Naicken community never practice palmistry with the help of parrots, but use a set of palm leaves which looks like a manuscript with diagrams and inscriptions on it,â€ť states the KIRTADS report.
For the community, withdrawing of the scheduled caste status means they can no longer benefit from reservation policies in educational institutions.
â€śMy son finished his 10th standard with 65% marks. He will not get admission in a government school. To study in a management school they ask for Rs 10,000 as donation, how will we pay that. So, he told me he is going to learn knife making (blacksmith works). With lot of pain I had to agree to that as I did not have money. We too have dreams to give good education to our children,â€ť Rajendran, one of the residents told The News Minute.
Members of the community, living in squalor, and hoping for government support to build houses are in despair.
55-year-old Kumari share a single room that was earlier a kitchen with her son, daughter-in-law and their 6-month-old son. Pointing towards her 6-month-old grandson sleeping on the floor she asks, â€śDo you think we are rich? We did not ask for more, we just ask to give us back the earlier privileges, so that Panchayat will help us build a small house. Do you know where we cook? We cook near the toilet because we have to sleep in the kitchen. The toilet is shared by almost 20 people in the house.â€ť
With her eye filling up, Kumari says, â€śWe have to cook at a time when it is not raining. And we can afford to cook only one dish.â€ť
John Joseph, a ward member of the Poothrika Panchayat to which the colony belongs to told the News Minute that he is aware of the pathetic condition of the community but says the Panchayat is helpless.
â€śI have heard that the people here carry vessels from their kitchen to their work place. When they want to have tea they leave their vessels as security with the shop, as they can pay only in the evening when they get paid. They donâ€™t even have enough money to buy a cup of tea. All of their kids stop their studies by 10th standard though they get good marks. Because of these technical issues even authorities are helpless,â€ť he said.
While the economic condition of this community is deplorable, under Article 341 the criteria followed for consideration of specification of a caste etc as a Scheduled Caste is â€śextreme social, educational and economic backwardness arising out of traditional practice of untouchability.â€ť Therefore, economic backwardness is not enough to claim reservation since the community also has to be seen in a historical perspective.
Edited by Kannaki Deika
Photos : The News Minute