Malnutrition among Irulars in Villupuram
Around 10 Irular families are living in a tiny land space in the middle of a farming field in Jakkampettai, a
village in Villupuram District. It took us 3-4 hours to reach Jakkampettai from one of the core areas in
Chennai. Men belonging to those Irular families often travel to other nearby villages and districts to earn
a living. Women work as daily wage farm labors in the same village and take care of their kids.
Their usual meal primarily consists of the rice provided by the Government through public distribution
system. Curd, pickle, green chilies etc.., serve as side dishes. Some even store the previous day’s sabji
safely and consume it alongside rice. The most fundamental items in majority of our daily menus such as
Idly, Poriyal etc.., are cooked and enjoyed by them only during festivals and functions. They are not even
aware of the names of several dishes we come across regularly.
Accessing quality drinking water itself is a task for the Irulars in Jakkampettai. Irular women have to
carry their pots and walk for almost 1 kilometer into the main village to fetch drinking water. Water is
available to fetch only for 2 ½ hours each day in the morning. Before filling their pots with water, Irular
women have to wait for women from other communities to fetch. They should not supersede them,
that’s the unwritten rule. If and when the water is over before other community women finish fetching,
Irular women have to walk back empty handed.
A half hour journey from Jakkampettai takes us to Muthampalayam, another Irular hamlet in
Villupuram. Majority of the Irular families are not in possession of ration cards to avail public
distribution system. They buy rice bought through the ration cards of other community people in their
village for a price ranging between Rs 6 and Rs 8.
To improve the livelihoods of people belonging to Irular community, the Govt needs to come up with
geographically specific plans. The govt should also make sure they all have ration cards to access the
public distribution system and other schemes. Anganwadi’s in their localities should function properly.
Small-scale businesses can be created near their localities to ensure a monthly fixed income for them.
This article first published in Samayam Tamil on August 19, 2022.