While 66 bodies were retrieved after the landslide at Munnar’s Pettimudi on August 6, four still lay buried, including Shanmuganathan’s 22-year-old son.

Shanmuganathan, wearing a navy blue jacket and blue printed bandana, stands among the debris left behind by the landslide at Minnar's Pettimudi on August 6. He stands on a mound of debris and looks down. Photo by Nigesh Issac
news Kerala Rains Monday, September 21, 2020 - 19:21

It has been 46 days since a massive landslide washed away houses in Munnar’s Peetimudi, and buried more than 70 residents alive under the debris on the night of August 6. Since then, Shanmughanathan has been visiting the site of the landslide almost every day, to search for his 22-year-old son Dineshkumar, who went missing in the disaster. The father travels 23 kilometres every day from Munnar to Pettimuddi, hoping to find his son, who, he said, might be sleeping peacefully under the stones and soil left behind by the landslide.

According to official estimates, 70 people went missing in the landslide. The rescue team managed to retrieve 66 bodies so far, while four are reportedly still untraceable despite all the modern equipment deployed for the search operation. On August 25, the team pulled the plug on the search operation.

“But I will continue the search for my son, at least till January 2021,” Shanmughanathan told TNM.


Shanmuganathan

The father has not conducted the rites that are usually observed on the 41st day after the death of a family member. “How can I conduct the ritual without finding my son? I cannot sleep without recovering his body,” he added. 

It’s not just his elder son Dineshkumar whom Shanmuganathan lost in the landslide. His second son, 19-year-old Nithishkumar, too, is among the victims of the Pettimudi landslide.

Incidentally, Shanmuganathan, his wife Manjula and their three children, including a daughter, are not residents of Pettimudi. Shanmugam, a cashier at the Kerala Gramin Bank at Marayoor, lives at MG Colony in Munnar. His sons, Dineshkumar and Nithishkumar, went to Pettimudi on August 4 to attend the birthday function of their cousin, the granddaughter of Shanmuganathan’s brother Anantha Sivam. His brother's family members were residents of Pathumury layams (line houses of the tea plantation workers) in Pettimudi. 

Whenever they visit Pettimudi, they spend at least two or three days there. This time, however, they could not return. Their lives abruptly came to an end with the landslide.

Dineshkumar had completed his Bachelor’s degree at Dr Mahalingam College of Engineering and Technology in Tamil Nadu's Pollachi this year. Nithishkumar was an engineering student at St Joseph's College of Engineering and Technology in Kottayam district’s Pala.

After a long and arduous search, Nithishkumar’s body was soon recovered, on August 7.


Shanmuganathan conducts 41st day ritual for Nithishkumar at the landslide site. Pic: Nigesh Issac

But he still had to find his other son. And so, Shanmuganathan started going to Pettimudi every morning, and engaged in the search till evening. This has been his daily routine for over 40 days now. Every evening, Dineshkumar’s mother and his sister Vaishnavi wait for Shanmuganathan to return home and give them some hopeful news.

“I lost a total of 22 family members in the landslide. Three people from our family are still missing,” he said. Apart from Dineshkumar, the bodies of Kasthuri (26) and Priyadarshini (7) are yet to be found.

According to Devikulam sub-collector S Premkrishnan, the district administration is providing all assistance to help Shanmuganathan in his search. “As per his request, district administration deployed an earthmover and provided other assistance to help him in the search, but we have not been able to retrieve the body,” said the Sub-Collector.

Pettimudi comes under Rajamala ward of Munnar panchayat, under Devikulam block of Idukki district. The site where the landslide occurred is owned by Kannan Devan Hills Plantations Limited (KDHP) and the residents there are their plantation workers, residing in the one-room quarters built by the company.

KDHP has announced compensation only for their workers who have lost their lives in the landslide. No compensation has been announced for other people who died in the tragedy, Shanmuganathan alleged.

“If they fail to announce compensation for other victims, I will submit a complaint to the Chief Minister and move the court, too,” he said.

According to Munnar special tehsildar Binu Joseph, "The relatives of 70 people who died in the tragedy are eligible for the compensation. Our report to the Idukki District Collector has pointed this out. We have verified the Aadhaar number and other details of the relatives. We submitted all compensation-related details with the report.”

While the district administration stopped their official search last month, Shanmuganathan and his relative, Ananthasivam, are continuing their search.
Shanmuganathan at the landslide site in Pettimudi. Pic: Nigesh Issac

“I could not go there for the last two days due to extremely heavy rainfall in Idukki. Once the rainfall reduces, I will continue,” said the father.

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