Published: 14th August 2020
Landslides washed away home and family, but online classes saved these sisters from Pettimudi tragedy
Gopika and Hemalatha had moved to their aunt's house in Thiruvananthapuram to attend online classes. The landslides hit that very week and they lost their family
Nobody knows the exact number of cadavers pulled out by cranes in Pettimudi in the past week. While many counted their blessings when they saw that the Kerala rains were kind to them this year, the situation was extremely grim in this small hill station near Munnar. According to the latest statistics, 56 people were buried while sleeping, when furious rains pushed huge rocks and a massive amount of silt on their little makeshift homes.
For many, this may be yet another sad news story. But not for Gopika and Hemalatha. The landslide wiped away their parents, their little home and all the other relatives who lived near the Kannan Devan tea plantations in Pettimudi. All of them were labourers in the tea plantations, after migrating from Tamil Nadu years ago.
The two young girls, aged 17 and 18, however, were in their aunt's house in Thiruvananthapuram on that fateful day. They still aren't in the right state of mind to go to Pettimudi and see the rubble, that once used to be their home. "They tell us that they do not want to see the soil that buried their mother and father alive," says Dhanya Raman, a tribal rights activist. They are now in their uncle's home in Munnar.
A sight from the landslide site (Pic: The New Indian Express)
The girls who used to live in the SC/ST department's hostel in Thiruvananthapuram, apparently came back home to Pettimudi in March, after the lockdown was announced. However, they returned to Thiruvananthapuram in June, after the government kickstarted the schools online. "The mobile network is quite unstable in Pettimudi. So, they came to Thiruvananthapuram to stay with their aunt Lekha until the hostel reopens and attend online classes meanwhile," says Dhanya. That was indeed a life changing decision for these siblings.
Gopika and Hemalatha did not know of the tragedy for at least two days. Unsure about how to break the news to the girls, their relatives switched off their phones and took them to Munnar to their uncle's house. It was only then they got to know what happened. "Their uncle's family is in a bad shape too. He lost his two sons in the landslide. The boys, who are both engineering students had gone to the hill to celebrate the birthday of a classmate of theirs," says Dhanya.
The activists are now demanding proper compensation to the families of the deceased and that the company ensures better working conditions for the labourers. "All of them lived in makeshift homes with asbestos roofs that often leaked. These houses were never safe. Kannan Devan has now promised a compensation of Rs 5 Lakh to the families. But couldn't they have used this money to make sure that these people had better living conditions?" asks Dhanya. "These girls will come out of this trauma. They know that they have to fight and survive and get themselves good houses, something that their parents failed to get," she says.