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Thorns and broken branches obstruct the entry to Kalaignar Road in Tiruvallur district, which is about 40 kilometres from Chennai. Kids cycle through the streets as men sit around, playing cards.
The Narikuravars are indigenous nomadic people who move from one place to another every three months. But the group of Narikuravars who live near Kalaignar road have made this place their home for over 30 years.
The Quint visited the community to understand how the lockdown has impacted their livelihoods and why nobody here wants to get vaccinated.
Traditionally, their livelihood depends on hunting but they've been forced to take up other occupations such as selling beaded ornaments, accessories and recycling metal parts.
No Testing During the Second Wave
The municipal corporation officials had come to test the people here for COVID only during the first wave of the pandemic, in 2020. At the time, 25 persons out of the 300-odd population had tested positive. Since then, there have been no tests conducted.
Annakka, 40 years of age, told The Quint that she had tested positive for COVID in April 2020 and had to stay in quarantine in a COVID care centre for five days.
“I got scared that they might administer any injections or if they will give us electric shocks. I was weeping as I left. But they took good care of us by giving us three meals every day. I had fever, headaches and breathing difficulty,” she said.
Santhi was asymptomatic but she was made to stay in the quarantine centre along with her 7-month-old child.
“They told me to stay in home quarantine for 14 days but I couldn't do that because I have to take care of my children,” she said.
There have been no deaths due to COVID reported in the settlement so far and they believe this is because they have great immunity.
“We consume sparrows, cranes and even cats. That gives a boost to our immunity. We also work very hard and are always exposed to the harsh sun,” said Munusamy.
People Fear the Vaccine More Than the Deadly Virus
The people here are hesitant to take the COVID vaccine because they fear that it could cause instant death. No vaccination camps have been held so far.
“I heard that only if you are healthy, the vaccine works. But if you have the slightest allergy you could die,” said Prasanth.
“If everyone in my community gets vaccinated, then I'll have the courage to do it. We have never had the habit of taking medication or injections,” said Annakka.
Locked up in Poverty
The Naikuravars said that their livelihoods have come to a halt due to the lockdown.
“During lockdown at the time of the first wave of the pandemic, we didn’t struggle as much, as the government provided us with rice and pulses. But during this second wave, we have received provisions only twice and that is not enough to take care of our immediate needs,” said Santhi.
Munusamy told The Quint that they sold whatever gold they had to afford daily expenses.
The Narikuravars told The Quint that no corporation official or health inspector have visited their locality to provide basic amenities.
A sewage stream, overflowing with garbage flows adjacent to their homes, that has been the hub for infectious diseases. There have been several dengue cases in the last few years and the families here said at least one person in every family has a respiratory illness.
“Every year, politicians promise to close this drainage lane
in exchange of votes. But nothing has happened so far. There are many kids in the locality and these mosquitoes get into our ears, eyes and mouth,” said 15-year-old Sandhya.
The corporation had set up makeshift spaces for toilets but the Narikuravars have been using them as storage units because according to their religious beliefs the toilets can’t be near their homes. So, there is rampant open defecation.
Unlike other Narikuravars, this group had been encouraging their kids to study. However, hit by financial crunch due to the coronavirus pandemic, many children have been pushed to quit school. There has been a rise in child labour and marriages in the community.
“We are a poor family that is struggling. So, we were made to quit our education and do the household chores or go to the bus stand to sell accessories. We all dreamt of completing school, getting into college and then becoming doctors or nurses. But none of that will ever happen,” Sandhya
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