I am going to narrate a story, If you don’t have the time then just skip it.
In the early 70s few youngsters belonging to the BJP in Mayiladuthurai were deeply hurt by the plight of the Nari Kuravar community in their area. They wanted to establish a permanent residence for this community. However, the political powers were against it because most people did not want them around. After a prolonged struggle, fasting and protests they were able to establish a colony in the outskirts of Mayiladuthurai in a small village called Pallavarayanpettai.
A little bit about the Nari kuravar Community for those who don’t know about them. It is one of the most backward communities in India. The main occupation of this indigenous tribe was hunting. During British rule in India they were placed under Criminal Tribes Act 1871, which completely destroyed their livelihood. However, they were denotified in 1952, though the stigma continues.
Since their entry into the forests and hunting was prohibited. They were forced to take up other alternatives such as selling beaded ornaments, shooting pigs and birds & getting wild honey to survive. Hence, they migrate from place to place, with no permanent source of income. The children accompany the adults wherever they go, which means they never get to attend school.
Unlike other castes and tribes in India, there is reverse dowry in Nari kuravar tribe. Parents usually get their girl child married by the age of 12 or 13, as they can sell them anywhere between Rs. 20,000 and Rs. 50,000. Selling a girl child in the name of marriage is not a rare occurrence, in this community 9 out of 10 girls get married at the age of 12-13. According to the tribe as a girl grows older her monetary value decreases.
Now coming back to the main story. During the emergency brought in by Indira Gandhi, these youngsters were arrested. The fight to bring Narikuravar community in Mayiladuthurai to mainstream was severely affected. Two of those youngsters continued to fight for them. One of the two got married and moved to Chennai, while the other pursed the goal relentlessly. He gave up on good job opportunities to address the major issues the community faced like poverty, illiteracy, and discrimination.
He understood that it is impossible to change the ways of the elders among the community, and true upliftment is possible only by educating the kids and giving them self-belief. He started a school within the colony. With very limited funds, the school is pretty small with just two Classrooms, two unfinished rooms and a kitchen. The nari kuravar kids were given food and education in that school. Though several conservative kuravars did not like the idea of sending their girl child to school, they fell in line as time passed. But educating kids and showing results is not an overnight job. To raise a generation, it usually takes two decades, and our hero continued to pursue that goal. The people of the colony started loving him. They named the colony in his name, and he was given the privilege to name every newborn in the colony for the past two decades.
The hero of our story is Vijayasundaram, (fondly called by his friends as Viji) and colony is Vijayasundaram colony. The popularity of the school rose among the community and nari kuravar kids from other places like Kumbakonam, Tanjavur and Nagai also joined the school and stayed in the school premises. Even after completing the primary school, the kids stay back in the premises and the trust takes care of their food and further education. The first three students of the school are becoming graduates and last week they attended job interviews. While there are 50 kids, the facility is awfully short of funds, amenities and manpower.
Our government gives 50% of the total expense after auditing. But those in charge usually take bribe to the tune of 10% of the allotted funds. When Vijayasundram refused to pay the amount, they delayed allotting the funds. Yet he did not budge, after months of struggle and the official’s transfer the school’s finances are in a better shape. The trust has a Rs. 8 lakh deficit which continues to grow. The kitchen is completely out of shape and the trust has no funds to rebuild it. But as usual Vijayasundaram goes around with a smile, to fight another day for the school’s survival. A community which was treated as untouchables for several centuries and whose status in society is far worse than any other community, is today brimming with confidence, with concrete houses, two wheelers and well educated kids. Even after all these accomplishments, he never markets himself or the trust, he doesn’t even have an email.
Sadly this community still doesn’t fall under SC/ST (probably because they don’t have the numbers to be considered as a vote bank). So, along with building the school, they also left no stones unturned to get this community under ST. After more than a decade the current BJP govt passed the bill to bring them under ST. It is yet to be implemented.
Trivia: How do I know this story?
I am the son of the other youngster who got married and left to Chennai. I am now actively helping this school. I have given Rs. 1 lakh to the school this year and also promised to give Rs 1 lakh every year, in addition to giving annual day prizes to the kids. I never publicize my charity work, however, I am doing this because if any of you can help the school, by money or in person or through your company’s CSR initiative, then it would truly change and shape the lives of very talented yet underprivileged kids. Even if you don’t want to spend you hard earned money, any contribution like visiting the place and interacting with the kids will go a long way in helping the kids and making them feel belonged. Get in touch if you are interested in helping.