‘The house is made of bricks with running water. I never dreamed I would live in a house like this.’ Velammal, a dalit and a mother of eight, has just seen her new home for the first time.
Velammal’s family survived the tsunami waves but her mud hut, located 100 metres from the sea in Tamil Nadu state, was washed away.
As a low-caste dalit family, they were not offered any compensation for their loss. The government chose to invest its resources in fishing communities instead.
Frustrated and with nowhere to live, Velammal and the rest of her village took their campaign to the local authority to lobby for help.
One week later the district official finally visited their village and on seeing their desperate living conditions, agreed to help. He provided medicines and food rations and agreed to release a piece of land 2km away with better protection from the sea.
At Christian Aid we are keen to ensure that we reach the very poorest. So when our partners alerted us that dalits and tribal people were being excluded from the tsunami relief effort by the Indian government – and in some cases by other relief agencies – we knew we needed to act.
We encouraged our partners wherever possible to include low-caste families in their response. We also began working with organisations such as New Entities for Social Action, a network of dalit and tribal people tackling social exclusion in southern India.
On learning about the plan to relocate Velammal’s village, another Christian Aid partner, the Development Promotion Group, agreed to build 72 brick houses on the new land with running water and gas tapped to each one.
Three years on Velammal’s new home has had a profound impact on her life. ‘Owning a house like this gives us confidence,’ she says.
‘We can speak out and stand up for ourselves because we own a house. We feel like a proper part of society now.’
Over the next two years we will spend a further £2 million in India to build on the social exclusion work of our partners, particularly supporting their advocacy for equal rights from the government.