30 inches from a loan
Prasad belongs to the Ezhava community, which is classified as OBC, a community, who were warriors during the time of the Zamorins and trained in martial arts (Kalaripayattu). Their roots are traced to Sri Lanka. They had a dual classification, the status of a warrior (Kshatriya) but the caste of a Shudra (Backward caste, untouchables). However, they have always worked as agricultural labourers. Over centuries the Ezhava community has fought the upper castes for their rights, to be allowed into schools, temples and other basic rights. These denials of rights take a religious and a political flavour and the backward community are still denied the basic rights they have fought for. The Ezhavas have now moved up the social ladder from being an untouchable, a polluting caste, to an OBC, as recognised by the Government of India in its System of Positive Discrimination.
“I used to work as a mechanic, I fell ill, now I’m a coolie on farmland. From the time of my ancestors, we have never been landowners. I earn about Rs 500 a day. I also own this shop and during lean periods of farming I work here.” Have you tried to get a loan from the bank to improve this shop? “What loan can I avail of? How? I don’t have any land, no papers, nothing in fact.” But you do have this shop. “See, the distance from the threshold of the shop to the road is 2.5 feet and that’s how it’s always been. The Panchayat says it won’t give me a license till the threshold to the road distance is changed to 3 feet and I won’t get a loan from the bank till I get the license. And to make these changes to my shop I need at least Rs 200000, so we keep going back and forth”.
“I have taken a loan of Rs 10000/- from a private moneylender, he comes every day and takes Rs 100/- from me. I know I’ll be paying more interest, which is Rs 2000/- for three months, but the bank won’t give me a loan without collateral and I have to make several trips to the bank. With the moneylender, I just have to make a call and he’ll come and give me the loan and doesn’t ask for collateral.”, says Prasad. – Won’t you spend your own money and move the shop by six inches?- “No, if I spend that kind of money and renovate the shop and the Panchayat doesn’t give me a license, where will I go? I have had this shop for the past seventeen years, and I’ve paid whatever fees that had to be paid to the Panchayat and I still have no license.”