Distances that cannot be traversed
The frustrations and challenges of the youth in Veerankudi were telling and they poured all these out. Veerankudi colony is around 200 ft below Malakappara which is at an elevation of 1500 ft above sea level. Despite its remote location in the Idamalayar forests under the Malakappara range, Veerankudi has been included in the ninth ward of Athirapilli panchayat of Chalakudy taluk in Thrissur district, aimed at providing easy assistance to the residents. A little further down is the Idamalayar dam. It is a forest inhabited by bears, tigers and elephants that roam around freely, adding to the challenges of the residents.
A hero's life
Veeran, whose 20-year-old house is on the verge of collapse, may have the opportunity to apply for a new house under the Life Mission scheme. But at 75, he faces physical limitations that make it difficult for him to navigate the hilly terrain and submit his application. His life was further disrupted when he was attacked by a wild gaur in the interiors of the forest. He was taken to Thrissur Medical College and underwent surgery to mend his broken leg and steel rods were cast. Finally, after three months of treatment, he was able to return to his family and people.
Veeran's post-attack situation is challenging as he did not receive any support from the government. After three months, he has to go to the hospital again to have the steel rods removed. Owing to such conditions of physical limitation and steep climbs and wild paths, he just cannot contemplate his next hospital visit. Prior to the mishap, Veeran used to trek to Malakappara to buy rice and other essentials for himself and his wife Kamalamma who has high blood pressure and cannot travel much. Gently running his fingers on the scars on his injured foot, Veeran says he is unable to provide for himself and his wife and relies on the rations provided to their daughters who live nearby.
It's government business as usual
The people in the colony were provided with an ambulance by the tribal department in Kappayakudi for use in emergency situations. However, residents claim that they often face issues in getting timely assistance, with reasons ranging from lack of petrol, unavailability of a driver, or the vehicle being out of order. The head of the tribe Anil Raghavan said that till some time ago, residents used to make a makeshift stretcher using bamboo and clothes to transport patients to Malakappara. The situation changed when actor-turned politician Suresh Gopi, during his time as MP, donated a proper stretcher to the community.
The recent case of a woman, Radhika (Ponnuchami’s daughter), taken to hospital from the colony, caught media attention. Radhika had suffered burns in the kitchen and is still undergoing treatment. It was only after this incident received media coverage that announcements were made about relocating people to Njandututalpara. Authorities claim to be in the process of identifying an 8.7-acre site and have sought assistance from the military engineering department to construct a road. But the entire programme remains on paper, and the headman expresses his frustration with the ongoing bureaucratic procedures which involve continuous visits to government offices and submission of applications.
(The children of Veerankudi do not have the opportunity to study from home, and this lack of access to education leads to many discontinuing their studies halfway. More in the next part)
Part 3: Distances that cannot be traversed