Nandan had gone out with his father Ranga, a snake catcher, to get some materials needed to restore their hutment.
Suddenly, people came out of their homes unable to contain their excitement.
“Thalaivar is coming!” everyone spoke at once.
“What’s the occasion?” asked wives to their husbands and fathers to their sons.
“Maybe, to promise just another aid,” said Nandan’s mother.
Wearily, the tribals looked at one another.
For decades, the Irular tribe in Tamil Nadu ‘existed’ devoid of any rights. They were used to their abject plight.
They lived in ‘kuccha’ hutments as they had no land to call their own. Their diet consisted of millets or veggies which they had sown.
Ranga used to go to the nearby towns to catch snakes or rats in the houses if he was called. His lineage and community made him the subject of jokes, often ribald. But only his hands trembled in fury.
How can I seek justice for myself without a jury?
However, Ranga promised before his ‘ishta deivam’ Rangaswami (Vishnu) that he would keep ten-year-old Nandan away from all this and send him for higher studies to the city.
He prayed fervently day and night, “Lord! Please have some pity.”
Years passed this way. Ranga had to accept destiny’s play.
Nandan and his sisters continued their education in a government school nearby. Though they knew that college education was a distant dream, they were determined to give it a try.
Nandan was intelligent enough to pass his boards with distinction.
He applied to a few colleges in the city without any hesitation.
His joy knew no bounds when he was called to Chennai for counselling to select his college and stream.
Oh! This seems like a dream.
“Do you belong to the Irular, a scheduled tribe?” asked the officer from behind the table.
“Yes sir,” replied Nandan, quite used to this label.
But what the officer said next hit the hardest. And on hearing it, Ranga was the saddest.
“I need your community certificate and some other documents to grant you admission. Even for the scholarship sanction.”
“But Sir, my son was called here just for stream selection, isn’t it?” spoke Ranga, almost in tears.
This incident had opened the doors to his worst fears.
“No, no….,” spoke the officer vehemently, “there’s no room for sentiments.”
Ranga and Nandan could not handle this predicament.
They mourned their status which had not changed despite several pleas made to the state government. They had to face dejection wherever they went.
Today, something unexpected was about to take place.
Everyone welcomed the Thalaivar whose smile lit his handsome face.
Most surprising, was that he announced that everyone in their tribe would get a ‘patta’ for their land and community certificates to recognize them as ‘Scheduled Tribes’ (ST) so that they study, earn and live with dignity.
This would be recognized in any city.
Ranga’s joy knew no bounds.
The entire surrounding woke up the next day to the temple bell sounds.
Thalaivar (Tamil) – A person held in high regard, here, a minister.
Ishta deivam- (Tamil) – A family or community deity.
Irular tribe- One of the many semi-nomadic tribes in South India, who were denied several rights and till today, live in deplorable conditions. The present Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu, Hon. M. K. Stalin granted them certain basic rights in 2022.
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