An Attempt to Discover India – Chapter 1

InPEC presents to you the “Discovery of India” log of Karthik Radhakrishnan, an engineering graduate student from the University of Southern California, Los Angeles, as he travels through India. In this post, he presents the story about a village in India which “has been forgotten by both the political and administrative executive of the country.”

Chapter 2 is available here.

Chapter 3 is available here

Place : Aalapalayam (50km North of Coimbatore, Tamil Nadu)
Date : 25th June, 2013


By Karthik Radhakrishnan, 10th July, 2013 (republished)

In the past few months, I have often asked myself the question “What do I consider to be a privilege in my life?” The answer seemed to be obvious “food, shelter and education.” Now that I think about it, this might have been a very shallow response from a guy sitting inside an AC room, oblivious to the actual hardships of the world. How about eating your food without the stench of an exposed drainage that runs around your house? How about a house whose roof falls on your head with every rainfall? How about the absence of an avenue to dispose your dead ones?

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Barren, uncultivated land

A village which relied on agriculture about 15 years back, has gone completely barren. An entire generation of farmers, like the profession, has become weak and fragile. Lack of rain and the ineffectiveness of a corrupt Bureaucracy has landed these helpless people in their current predicament. The local body, namely the Gram Sabha, is the organization that has to make sure money from the State Government reaches these unfortunate souls. But corruption in every level of our bureaucracy has hampered our growth and sustenance, in some cases even mere existence. Farming has taken a back step in this village, mainly due to the lack of rain and irrigation facilities. Wells are the only other source of water and most of them have dried up. Furthermore, the cost of cultivating a piece of land (say 5-6 acres) costs about a lakh and half in Indian rupees and the farmers barely break even if they don’t incur losses.

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The wells have dried up

So automatically, the people have started looking at alternate modes of income, like selling milk (from the very few cows that they own) and construction work. “The local dairy mart buys milk from us at Rs.18 a litre and sells it at Rs.28. When I went and asked the guys for a raise of Rs.2 per litre, the guy in-charge reduced the price to Rs.17.50 out of anger” says Muthusamy, a former farmer. “I have now decided to give up selling milk as well, as I incur a loss on that as well.” 65-year old Muthusamy, like his brothers, owns a land of 6 acres which lies barren and uncultivated presently.

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The dairy tyrant

The Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MNREGA) has ensured that most of these guys have at least 100-150 days of employment in a year at a wage of Rs.140 a day. “Its easier than farming and pays the same. So people don’t want to do farming anymore.” Says Selvi, Muthusamy’s daughter, who has completed her B.Ed, but has not been able to find a job. The average savings of a person in the village is a staggering low figure of Rs. 4000.

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Women employed under MNREGA laying a mud road

Every house in the village has a color television (thanks to Karunanidhi) and a mixer/grinder (thanks to “Amma”) although there is hardly any electricity. “Every man in the village has a cell-phone, TVS-50 and a color TV” says Selvi. Under the present regime, rice is given for free in the Ration shop. She says that during Karunanidhi’s regime, a couple of street lights were installed  (which are clearly hidden from plain-sight) and a road was laid. So they keep voting for the DMK party. “All I got under Amma’s regime was my hip surgery” laughs Muthusamy. A Tasmac is closer to the village than a departmental store. Hospitals are even farther. Most houses don’t have toilets or a bath, the village doesn’t have a common toilet or a bathroom. The worst part is the houses that are surrounded by an open, stagnated drainage (sewage line) which automatically attracts flies and mosquitoes. Also the stench, oh my God, the stench! Its inhuman for people to eat, sleep and live with coagulated sewage a few feet away. Another common complaint is the absence of a graveyard for the village. The people have dedicated a very small piece of land (fits 4-5 bodies at most) for this purpose where they burn/bury the bodies. “It is extremely inconvenient. We have begged and pleaded in the Panchayat, but they don’t seem to care. We don’t have place to bury the bodies, and when it rains, we just leave the body out in the open and go back to the huts” sobs a woman who recently lost her husband.

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Open, stagnated sewage line around the house

The village is a good 3km inside from the main road and there are no street lights present, which means after sunset, people cannot walk safely on the streets. There are some more villages further inside, which don’t even have roads leading to them. Add to this the lack of adequate public transportation to get to a nearby town, it presents a very grim situation. A situation which is extremely difficult to imagine and even harder to digest.

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The tiny graveyard

These people need our support, they need a more humane form of existence. I would liked to strongly urge the reader to give a moment of thought about the privileges we have in our life, which we take for granted and sometimes even abuse. Mr. M.K.Gandhi once said that India lives in her villages. A careful observation or even a mere glance suggests that, today, India and her people barely survive in her villages. Lets shrug off our laziness and do whatever we can, in our limited power, to help the people, our fellow human beings.

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Muthusamy and his family


Karthik Radhakrishnan is a Structural Engineering Graduate from the University of Southern California, Los Angeles. He is originally from Chennai, India. He is in particular interested in the rural affairs of India with a focus on farmer suicides, children’s education and women empowerment. Email : karthik.radhakrishnan87@gmail.com

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