“Hunger will kill me before coronavirus does,” says the 85-year-old Johny from the Gond community in Tamil Nadu’s Coimbatore. On March 30, when The Federal met Johny, it was his second consecutive day without a meal.
As people are stocking groceries and other essentials amid the 21-day mandatory lockdown, for the Gond community in Coimbatore, having a square meal is a task.
“It wasn’t that difficult until this lockdown, since my son and grandson were going for work and they fed me. But, after this lockdown, the situation has became so worse that we haven’t had a satisfying meal in the last three days”, says Johny.
The Gonds are the indigenous tribes of Maharashtra who moved to Coimbatore decades ago and settled in the foothills of the Western Ghats. Unlike the other tribes in Tamil Nadu who are mostly dependent on the forest produce, the Gonds are involved in the daily wage works including construction works, painting works, tying wires for car steering and selling nuts.
Stocking groceries a luxury
The lockdown imposed by Prime Minister Narendra Modi has left the Gondi colony starving as they were not prepared for the lockdown till April 14.
“When the Prime Minister announced the lockdown, people in the neighbouring areas started running to the grocery shops to stock up essentials, but we were clueless as we could not stock,” says Mallika, a resident of Gondi colony.
Mallika also says that initially, the community thought COVID-19 was not a poor man’s disease. “We thought it would not affect the poor as only people with foreign travel history were tested positive. But, we did not think that it would devastate our lives too,” she adds.
Government food packets not enough
Walk through the Gondi colony and you will hear the deprived voices asking for groceries and discarding the food packets supplied by the government.
“We are 2000 people here the government distributed only 400 food packets a few days ago. I cannot go and fight in the crowd to secure one food packet for whole family. Can the Government arrange for more food packets or can they provide groceries, so that we can cook on our own and keep it for days,” asks Ram Singh, another distressed Gondi colony resident.
Patriarchy haunts Gond women
The Gond women blame the custom in the community of not sending women to work. This they believe is making things tougher.
“It is not that women in our community are not educated. Since we are third generation here, all our daughters are well educated. But, men in our community don’t allow us to work”, says a 26-year-old woman who is an MSc graduate.
“Had we been allowed to work, we would work from home now and our families might not have suffered,” she adds.
Government’s plan for the needy
Coimbatore city municipal officials said that they have tie-ups with NGOs in the city through whom they have been distributing food packets to the needy.
“There are about 14 community kitchens being set up in the city. More community kitchens would be set up, based on the demand for the food,” an official in the city municipal corporation told the Federal.