The August race was cancelled. It was perhaps the last thing on their mind. A flood had just destroyed their homes and lives. As much as they loved and treasured the Nehru Trophy Boat Race, people of Kerala had to forget about it.
When the floods went away and the revival began, small voices began asking and hoping for the prestigious annual race to be held. Alappuzha district authorities took it up like a challenge, to not just hold the event, but make it so big and so organised that it would be talked about for a long time.
The race got over on Saturday and the Payippad Chundan took the trophy again – it’s their fourth consecutive victory. Kuttanad looked happy. And very, very inclusive.
Persons with disabilities never came for the race before no matter how much they wanted to. It would be too crowded, they would not be comfortable. Persons with disabilities, senior citizens, women and children – they all stayed away.
Red warriors help senior citizens at the boat race
But when the authorities began organising the event, they seemed to have thought of everyone. They put together volunteers, dressed in different colours. Each colour would help a certain group of people. Yellow warriors helped women and children. Reds took care of senior citizens. Blue warriors came to the aid of persons with disabilities. Black helped them all. And green warriors made sure the green protocol – banning plastic - was followed.
“Women tend to avoid such events because of the big crowd. They fear for safety, for facilities like a toilet or a feeding room. We put up not just volunteers but also women police in every pavilion. We also gave them little gifts to make them happy,” says Alappuzha sub-collector VR Krishna Teja Mylavarapu.
The organisers figured children would be easily bored staying at a day-long event, so they got them paper toys and chocolates. And more importantly their hands were tagged with bands containing the name and number of their parents, so if they are lost, the guardians could be duly informed.
Yellow warriors come to the aid of women and children
For persons with disabilities, special toilets were constructed. Toilets that would fit in a wheelchair.
The organisers also ensured that transgender persons were included. “Two months ago, a few transgender persons had come to my office about a complaint. So I asked them if they have watched the boat race. They said that they would be harassed if they came. I asked them if they could be volunteers. So 15 of them came and became green warriors,” Krishna says.
Transgender persons turn green warriors for the event
The idea is not just to have this inclusivity in one big event, but to make it a model for all future events. “When we are talking about socially inclusive society, every segment and every community should be included. That’s the message we want to give out. That Kerala is not just back, but Kerala is special,” the sub collector adds.