Earlier this week, more than 250 people from Eriyadu panchayat blocked a national highway demanding that the authorities build a sea wall to protect their homes.

We live in fear Kerala coastal residents demand wall after sea washes homes away
news Human Interest Saturday, June 16, 2018 - 16:23

Families residing in the coastal area of Kodungallur in Kerala's Thrissur district are angry. Angry at the authorities who have shut their ears to their desperate plea for help, even as day after day their homes are flooded or worse – washed away in the waves. 

Despite the devastation cause by Cyclone Ockhi last year, authorities have done little on the ground for the residents of Eriyadu panchayat, who have been demanding that a sea wall be built. At least ten houses have been partially damaged in the high tides since the onset of the Southwest monsoon two weeks ago. All that remains of a sea wall that residents say was built 35 years ago, are just two layers of rock. 

When protests within the panchayat failed to grab the attention of the authorities, residents blocked a national highway earlier this week. Refusing to disperse unless the District Collector visit them, more than 250 people sat on the road. 

Days after the newly-appointed District Collector TV Anupama assured them that the sea wall will be built soon, residents say that they will organise more protests if the promise is not kept. 

"We have been demanding a sea wall for years, but no MLA, no minister, no government has given us that. Our homes continue to get flooded and many homes have collapsed, forcing the families to seek refuge at the homes of their relatives. We have been protesting in the panchayat for months now. No one heard us then. But when we blocked a busy road, suddenly the police, the politicians and the authorities took notice. When other people got affected by our protest, they had no other way but to address our plight. They pushed us to that extreme," says 54-year-old Sathi. 

Sathi's two-room house is hardly a 100-meters away from the sea. Sathi, whose husband is a fisherman, lives with their two grown up sons, their wives and children. 

Sathi 

"We are living in constant fear of the sea washing away our homes. The only solution is to build a sea wall, that will end our misery. We have only recovered from the loss Cyclone Ockhi caused. Now the rains have come and the sea is harsh like never before. People are sending us clothes, thinking that we are people who can't afford clothes to wear. That is not our problem. Our problem is that the sea is eating our homes," Sathi says agitatedly. 

Broken homes and broken expectations

Aleema's house is also one of the many that are built very close to what is now left of the old sea wall. This means that when the sea turns harsh, they face the brunt first. Aleema's house partially collapsed in the high tides three weeks ago. This after she had just finished reconstructing it following the devastation caused by Ockhi. 

Aleema

She now lives with her husband and son in her younger sister Shakeela's house, two kilometers away, where the sea does not torment her. She is on one of her daily inspections of her own home, when she tells TNM: "I come here every day, I check what the condition of my house is, and go back. Do you see this rod here? That's what holds up the house now. During harsh winds, the roof would fly off. I am now smiling, but will you believe me if I tell you that I have cried a lot?"

Fazal has not gone to the sea for weeks together, with the state government issuing alerts to fishermen to not venture out into the sea.

Fazal 

On the day of Eid, Firoz stands over a heap of rubble on the shore and with a bitter-sweet smile, says, "This used to be my ancestral home, where my parents lived. Adjacent to this, was the house in which I lived with my family. Both were destroyed, one in 2013 and the other during Ockhi, so I built a small house a kilometre away. I come here often to just see all this. My parents now live at a relative’s place, after spending months in rehabilitation camps."

While the sound of high tide now scares them, the residents reiterate that the shore is their home. Nazeema says that she was born in the house constructed by her father in the 3 cents of land and that the sea is her livelihood. 

"My husband is a fisherman, my father sells fish in the market. This is our home, this is our livelihood. If the government asks us to live somewhere else, why should we? We need a sea wall that will stop the sea from entering our homes. That's all we are asking for. We are six members in this family. How long can we go and stay at a relatives' houses with all these people?" Nazeema laments, speaking about the sea that she says has turned harsh over the years. 

Nazeema

Despite the worries, the spirit of Eid slowly trickles in. Fareeda, in her early twenties, shows the newly-applied mehendi on her hand and says, "We were all scared last night because the waves were so harsh. We stayed awake late into the night, fearing that our homes may get flooded. So I only got time now to put some henna."

Government Apathy 

Firoz is one of the coordinators of the people's movement that was formed a few months ago, to put pressure on the government to build a sea wall. 

He alleges that neither the panchayat officials, nor the local politicians have shown any interest in resolving their problems. 

Alli, another resident, points to the white gunny bags filled with sand, neatly laid around her house and says, "The government has done nothing for us. The road here broke last week and the sea continues to flood our homes. We have spent money from our own pockets and kept these gunny bags so that the water does not enter our home."

The horrors of the destruction caused by Ockhi is still fresh in their minds. "When Ockhi struck, it was the 85th day since my daughter delivered her baby. We ran out of the house, clutching the baby in our hands. Despite all these lessons, why are the authorities delaying constructing a sea wall? Do we not matter at all?" she questions. 

Protests 

The residents have now placed faith in the assurance given by the district collector TV Anupama, that the construction will begin soon. While many residents believe that the collector will act on her words - considering her track record of exposing irregularities by a sitting minister - they cannot help but be sceptical. 

"She is a tough officer, but will the government let her do her job?" asks Mukundan, a daily wage labourer and Alli's husband. 

If the promises aren't met, residents say that they would intensify their protests. In the protest conducted earlier this week, the police have registered cases against nearly 200 people, but they are determined that they will fight for what is their right. 

 

Show us some love and support our journalism by becoming a TNM Member - Click here.