The Covid-19 lockdown has affected the livelihood of almost everyone around the world. With shops, markets, and essential services getting hit, many people lost their jobs. In the Peravurani town of Thanjavur district, Tamil Nadu, a lawyer has been forced to become a basket weaver to sustain himself and his family.
Uthamakumaran, 34, is a lawyer from the Peravurani town of Thanjavur. He belongs to the ancestral Kuravar tribe. He completed his degree after many hardships and was working rather successfully as a lawyer.
In the past he had set up the Kurinji Ezhuchi Kazhagam (Kurinji uprising movement) to help and improve the lives of his fellow tribal people. He has been continuously contributing towards the movement in all ways possible.
But when the second wave of Covid-19 led to shutdowns in March 2020, he was forced to go back to his traditional occupation of basket knitting.
When asked about his situation, he replied, “Although people from different walks of life have been affected by the Covid-19 pandemic, people from our tribe have been especially troubled by the lack of income.”
Uthamakumaran has been out of work for two months now, as all cases keep getting postponed. Before the second lockdown, he was working at the Pattukottai court for ten years.
In order to find an alternate source of income, he began to visit the riverbank to collect eecham tree leaves and knit baskets with them. But even the sale of the baskets is hampered by the lack of trading.
“There is no way to sell the already knitted baskets. Only people who are in need of the baskets come to our home to get one, but we hardly have any buyers. People like me have been affected by the lockdown. As there are no cases to follow up, I’ve been knitting baskets to make ends meet,” he said.
The traditional occupation of the Kuruvar tribe includes visiting other people’s homes for work. Members of the tribe weave baskets, service the Ammi stone (a stone for grinding spices), do apiculture and farm tubers at other people’s fields.
“As people are afraid of the Coronavirus, they are reluctant to allow us into their houses for servicing the Ammi stone,” Uthamakumaran added.
Usually, the members of the Kuravar tribe sell baskets at the weekly markets, but due to the lockdown, the weekly markets are no longer organised. The poor weavers, therefore, have a lot of unsold baskets which is severely affecting their livelihood.
“We are merely surviving each day and it is getting harder and harder. Government representatives and NGOs have announced and implemented many relief measures in various places. But there seems to be no awareness among our people and the institutions do not even know how and where to help us. We have not received any kind of relief measures. The government should take cognizance of the plight of our tribe and help us with relief measures.”
Will the newly elected DMK government take cognizance of the issues of the tribal people in Tamil Nadu? Will the government safeguard their livelihoods?
These are some of the questions that are being raised by not just a lawyer Uthamakumaran, but many tribal people like him.