This Onam, a call to stay strong and survive

A child sketches at a relief camp in Union Christian College, Aluva, on Saturday. DH Photo/R Krishnakumar

Thankamma, 60, waits with about 15 others for volunteers to hand over kits containing a set of clothes and a towel.

It’s Onam but the group is not queuing up for festival gifts; they are at Union Christian College, Aluva, where one of Kerala’s biggest flood relief camps was set up on August 15.

Ten days later, on Thiruvonam, life here continues to move in queues— for food, medicines and survival.

The volunteers and relief managers are busy lining up events and preparing a mini-feast but for inmates— whose number has come down from about 8,000 to 500— of the camp the day is a distraction before life begins on the other side.

“I left home on the 15th. Another night could’ve left me submerged with my home,” says Thankamma, a resident of Elookkara.

Her son has left the camp to clean the house so that the family could shift before Monday. 

M M Mammali says he has a home to go back to, but his family has to start life afresh after the floods.

“Whatever was in there is gone. I don’t know how we are going to recover from this. We’ve heard the government’s announcements about financial assistance to people who are returning home but there’s no update on how the money is going to reach us,” he says.

K H Shahabas, member of Alangad block panchayat and coordinator of the camp, says shortage in supplies at the camp has been sorted but there could be an issue in relocating some of the inmates whose homes are not ready.

“The college is reopening next week and the camp has to close by then,” he says.

For 55-year-old Nazima, the deluge was a hard blow; she has been living alone after her son abandoned her.

“I won’t call it home, it’s a place I sleep in. When the floodwater was rising, I had to go and live with a friend. I’m diabetic and have other health issues. What will I do if something like this happens again?” she asks.

With thousands arriving from areas in around Aluva during the first three days, the camp had a chaotic start.

Fear and stress from living in a huge crowd of displaced people have had an impact, some of the inmates claim favouritism in the camp, some even seek money from the visitors because they don’t know when the aid announced by the government would reach them.

“It’s unfortunate that these complaints are being raised but that’s their state of mind. The camp has functioned very well even with so many people,” says Roy, an inmate.

Purushottaman, a volunteer, sees the camp as a leveller— a place where all become equal, something he sees in context of what has been a muted Onam season.

By noon, a group of visiting artistes and activists start with songs of survival and solidarity. Children and women in the camp join them.

Near the medicine counter, the inmates and volunteers have made a traditional pookkalam (floral carpet) but they’ve skipped the staple cheer of a ‘Happy Onam’ message. In Malayalam, the text reads athijeevanam— survival.

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This Onam, a call to stay strong and survive

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