The monsoon rains have been whipping the fishermen's huts
on the Mudhiyam seashore for days together. The sea is furious.
As the angry waves' attempt to snatch away their huts
continued, fishermen rush to the Vallikkunnu panchayat president.
U.Kalanathan, with an SOS: "Please do something to save our huts from
Mr. Kalanathan along with his panchayat colleagues sets
out to meet the Government officials. They tell him there was only one
solution - to get a sea wall built. As a temporary measure, a barrier with
sand bags would do. But then the agencies were short of funds and they
could not help out.
A sea wall from scrounged bags!
The panchayat president and his men were made of sterner
stuff. They went to the nearest city Kozhikode [Calicut], and visited
scores of shops and businesses. By evening they had begged, borrowed or
retrieved from dumps, 8000 empty polythene bags. They also bought 20 kG of
twine to close the mouths of the bags.
The president called a meeting of the fishermen and other
villagers on the seashore and said they should build a sea barrier with
voluntary work. The fishermen knew if they continued to wait for the
Government to build a sea wall, their huts would be grabbed by the sea one
by one. The next day hundreds of fisher-women living in the colony filled
sand into the cement bags. Over three following days, skipping their
regular work, 300 men and women turned up. And a sea barrier of sand bags
was raised to protect huts in the Vallikunnu panchayat.
Canal work by a cast of thousands!:
The sea barrier construction through voluntary work
caught the attention of the State. Vallikunnu, a coastal gram panchayat in
the backward, Muslim-majority Malappuram district was hailed as an example
of people's participation in development.
A few months earlier, a group of 2442 villagers had
resuscitated a choked canal, which had gone into disuse for years. The
1650 metre canal now has a major role in irrigating the rice fields and
coconut groves of the village. Voluntary work involving 600 villagers
found the 1643 metre Malayattil canal also come back to life. Some 2400
people took part in the building of the Kundampaadam canal. A boat jetty
was built with the efforts of 1000 men.
People's participation in development effort is a way of
life in the panchayat. "It is with the spirit of attending a village
festival that we take part in such projects," an elderly villager
says with pride. It's not for nothing that Vallikunnu was chosen the best
panchayat for carrying out projects under the 'Janakeeya Aasootharana
Paddathi' [People's Plan]. It also won State-level award for energy
conservation. "The awards are a recognition for our people's
co-operation in the panchayat's development efforts," says the
Lady masons and barefoot surveyors:
The latest Vallikunnu project to hit the headlines is a
training programme for female masons. Masonry is one of the last few male
bastions in job-hungry Kerala. The scheme has helped 43 young women to
stand on their own.
The villagers say that the panchayat could, under the
People's Plan, achieve more development in just three years than in the
previous two decades. "Until recently planning started from above and
administrative power filtered down from the top. But under the People's
Plan, planning is from below," says Mr. Kalanathan. "This is one
of the major reasons for the success of the 'Vallikunnu experiment',"
says Mr. Kalanathan.
"When people take a deep interest and feel a sense
of involvement, it is easy to take up such projects. The biggest advantage
of people's participation is the implementation of the projects in time.
Corruption and cost escalation can be held in check."
The People's Plan programmes started in Vallikunnu in
1996. To ensure participation of the villagers in the panchayat's
administration. several committees like Agricultural development
Committee, Cultural Committee, Women's Committee, Sports Committee, Water
and Soil Committee and Education committee were set up.
Then, a Resource Survey, a Water availability Survey, a
Socio-economic Survey and a General information Survey were carried out.
These studies, conducted by voluntary workers were completed in four
months, whereas they took upto three years in other villages.
The panchayat has 13 wards and each ward has its own ward
council. The panchayat also set up 112 'ayalkkoottams' [neighbourhood
committees] which have a key role in implementing projects in their
respective areas. While the surveys take stock of the material resources
of the village, the ward councils and the neighbourhood committees play a supervisory
The development projects have substantially changed the
village in the past three years. But according to Mr.Unnikrishnan Nair, a
retired school teacher, the biggest gain has been a feeling in the minds
of the people that they too have a role in the village's administration
A beauty by the sea and a river:
However, if the development in the past three years is
set aside, Vallikunnu is like any other Kerala village with a lot of
problem. It has its share of poverty, unemployment, social evils - and a
charm of its own!
The Kadalundi river and the Arabian Sea keep this
beautiful village company. Some 20 km from Kozhikode, the 25 sq.km village
has roughly 42,000 inhabitants, of whom a little over 90 per cent are
The village has 1400 fish workers. There are 865 families
that depend on agriculture for their livelihood, apart from 1500
agricultural workers. Until a quarter century ago, one fourth of the total
area of the village consisted of rice fields.
'But the situation has changed drastically,"
Mr.Moideenkutty, a farmer said. Because of the high wages of farm labour
and rise in other input costs, my rice fields have turned into a coconut
Half of the 631 hectares of rice fields in the village
has been turned into either coconut estates or house sites. Many former
agricultural workers have moved to other sectors like building
construction. Some 2000 families still live under poverty line.
The panchayat has drawn up plans to tackle shortage of
housing and drinking water. As a result of proximity to the sea, water in
the village is mostly saline. "We are confident that with people's
participation we can solve the drinking water shortage," Mr.
End to spooky boats and black magic men:
Recently, a drinking water scheme for the islet of
Bilathuruthy in the middle of Kadalundy river [here the water is saline
because of the inflow of sea water] was completed in a novel way. A half
of the material cost was borne by the 20 families on the islet. Voluntary
work by the villagers and support from the panchayat made the scheme
successful. "For many years, we fetched water in boats from the main
village. Since this was possible only during the high tide, at times we
had to wait until late into the night. Now we get enough drinking water
from the new scheme," a housewife in Bilathuruthy, Sujatha said.
Until three decades ago, there was no modern medical
facility in Vallikunnu. A few traditional medical men and some black magic
men took care of the medical needs of the people. Today there is a
profusion of medical facilities in the village. These include a primary
health centre and an ayurvedic clinic run by the Government sector. And in
the private sector: a homeopathy hospital, 7 homeopathy clinics, 10
ayurvedic practitioners, 20 traditional vaidyas and one traditional
snake-bite specialist. However, there are no hospitals with in-patient
facility. There are 18 leprosy patients in the village.
Despite all these medical facilities and great advances
in medical care, people still go for miracle cure and faith healing.
Dr.V.P.Sasidharan, an associate professor at the Calicut Medical college
who hails from Vallikunnu, points out: the death rate in the panchayat
area is 6.2 while the birth rate is 24. Both are much higher than the
State average. And, the average family size is six.
As always, women cop tough luck:
Like in most other Kerala villages, there are more women
in Vallikunnu than men. But the women's participation in public life is
very low. In the 1970s, two women's associations were very active, but
they are almost defunct now. Women are generally confined to the home. The
number of unemployed women is high. Besides, women casual workers are
discriminated against in wages. While a male farm hand is paid Rs.100 a
day, a woman gets Rs.60 to 70. In the weaving and coir yarn making units,
the wage rates are even lower as they employ only women.
Upto plus Two level, girls outnumber boys and also
perform better, but in higher education the number of girls from Vallikunnu
drops dramatically. Those who go for higher education prefer to train as
The society has changed a lot, but the role of women at
home and outside has not. Says Vilasini, a young mother who works in a
co-operative canteen for women set up for the panchayat: " I get up
at 4 am and do household chores until 6 am. Then I go to the canteen where
I work late into the afternoon. After returning from work, I continue my
household chores till bed time." Housework is still a woman's
responsibility, whether she is employed or not.
Women do not show much interest in the administration of
the panchayat. Very few women attend the neighbourhood and ward meetings.
Their participation Gram Sabha meetings too is negligible. Middle class
women and office workers generally keep off such meetings, while women
labourers show some interest.
Since women rarely go to the local library cum reading
room, the panchayat started a mobile library for them in April [ 1999].
For this the panchayat area has been divided into five regions. There are
five volunteers who are paid Rs.500 a month each. They go to the
individual homes to lend books. As the reading habit caught on, the system
got streamlined and books are now distributed at selected 'anganwadi' s in
each of the five regions. In nine months, some 25000 books were issued to
women. " Reading is necessary for women to improve their
thinking," Mr. Lakshmanan Paruthikkad, who heads the cultural
committee of the panchayat remarked.
Craze for English medium schools:
There have been great social changes in Vallikunnu in the
past half century or more. Like other parts of Kerala, casteism,
untouchability and social stratification were prevalent. " I still
remember how the feudal lords used to beat up and torture low-caste Hindus
in the 1920s and 30s,' says the octogenarian freedom fighter Mr.Pannat
Kunhiraman Nair, who later on brought the Communist Party to Vallikunnu. .
He recalls a revolutionary anti-untouchability movement in the village in
the 1940s; the activists took dozens of 'untouchables' to the temple tank
to take a mass dip. This led to a great furore, but helped end
About 90% of the lands in the village is owned by a few
upper caste Hindu feudal landlords. With land reforms implemented in the
1970s, the 'lords' lost their land and most of the Vallikunnu inhabitants
came into possession of pieces of land. The change in the land ownership
caused revolutionary changes in social relations also. Mr. Kunhiraman Nair
remembers that the Vallikunnu people have always been politically
One reason for this consciousness could have been the
exposure of the village to modern education. The first school in the village
came up in 1920 - the Mappila Board School. The first high school was set
up in 1962 and the second in 1976. Now there are a total of 18 schools
attended by 9300 children. However, there are no colleges, technical
institutes or computer training centres in the Vallikunnu panchayat area.
The Calicut University which is a few kilometres away fro Vallikunnu, has
made no contributions to the educational status.
Though the total literacy movement of 1990s had made the
village almost 100% literate, the winding up of the programme midway has
caused a relapse into illiteracy: now about 10% of the inhabitants are
unable to read and write. Another disturbing trend according to the
retired teacher Unnikrishnan Nair is the craze for English-medium school.
"Even though there are so many Malayalam-medium schools in the
panchayat area, many parents send their children to far away
English-medium schools," he said.
And finally, the verdict:
Talking about the changes that have come to the village
over the past quarter century Mr. Lakshmanan Paruthikkad noted the change
in the attitude of the youth: " They have become too individualistic;
they care two hoots for social work." In his days the young were
fired with a zeal for social change and welfare. "There was a high
degree of camaraderie and togetherness among the youth and they were
actively involved in one social project or the other." These days, it
is very difficult to collect a few for a cause. He also regretted the
spread of liquor among the youth. But his son Ajay Kumar countered this
view: " Our village reflects the changes taking place in other parts
of the world. It cannot remain insulated from the outside." One
change noticed by Ajay Kumar is the gradual death of football and
basketball clubs in the panchayat area. Everyone is into cricket
But Vallikunnu people would say with one voice that there
has indeed, been all round development in their living conditions. Though
not to their expectations.