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New India belongs to them

August 3, 2007

Reportage and Photographs: A Ganesh Nadar

A group of young men from Tuticorin, led by Vijay Kumar, knock on the door of a humble home in Vasudevanallur, in Tamil Nadu's Tirunelveli district.

Vasudevanallur boasts of being the biggest town panchayat in the district; it can boast too of being a scenically splendid town in the shadow of the Western Ghats, with a flourishing sugarcane-farming industry supplemented by paddy and banana crops.

In the larger scheme of things, Vasudevanallur is nondescript; just another small town in Tamil Nadu's sprawling landscape. Not many people had heard of it; even fewer from the outside world have found reason to visit it.

Now, they have. Vijay Kumar and his friends have made the trip to meet N Mallika -- one of two Dalit youth from the area to make it into medical college.

The young men have heard about the struggle the kids are having to meet expenses, and they have come to offer help -- Rs 5,000 apiece to Mallika, to fellow native Thenmozhi, who is the second to get admission, and to Esaki, from neighboring Arulatchi township, who joins the two girls in medical college.

It is a small amount, Rs 5,000, but it is enormously significant on two levels. When your father earns Rs 100 a day as a labourer and that too only when there is work, and your mother earns Rs 30 a day doing menial labor when she can find it, a windfall of Rs 5,000 is manna from unlooked-for heavens.

As it is for Esaki, who lost father Shantiagappan last year. Just when it seemed his dreams would die with his father, Esaki's mother stepped up -- she would, she said, work day and night if needed, and she would earn whatever it took to put her academically excellent son through medical college.

Thenmozhi, who scored 1082 marks in her Higher Secondary Certificate examination this year and got into the Madurai Medical College on the strength of that performance, is marginally better off. Father Ayyathuria farms on his own plot of land, about one acre. They have a house of their own and, as proof of their financial status, a cow calmly chewing cud in their front yard, unmindful of a flock of hens cackling at its heels.

Even so, the prospect of the additional expenditure a medical course entails is daunting. So yes, Rs 5,000 is a far bigger deal than the big-city imagination can conceive -- but what moves Mallika and her colleagues more is the thought behind the gift.

Also read: The Daughters of Bihar
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