Chittarangudi is a small village located 8 km from Muthukulathoor town in Ramanathapuram district. Chittarangudi tank, a traditional tank, is situated on the northern side of this village. About 4 km in length and about 2.5 km in breadth, Chittarangudi tank is an important heronry. There are several other tanks around Chittarangudi. Vettangudi and Kanjirkulam bird sanctuaries are two other important ones from the point of view of bird conservation. This area has experienced a severe drought in 2000 and 2001 and the number of birds coming to these tanks has therefore decreased.
Traditionally, Chittarangudi villagers have treated birds like children, as they have realised the importance of bird droppings in agriculture and thus their economy. Sentiments associated with the birds cut across all class and caste barriers in the village. The importance of the tank in the lives of the villagers can be gauged from the fact that they explain their history mostly in relation to the tank.
In earlier times there were nearly twelve castes in the village: thevars, konars, pallars, vellalars (pillai), sakkiliars, chettiyar, brahmins, Muslims, asariyars, poosaris, vannars (washermen), and ambattayars (barbers). Now the Muslims, brahmins and chettiyars have completely left the village. Among the nine castes that live in the village presently, Kondayan Kottai Thevars are in a majority, with nearly 55 families. Most of them are engaged in agriculture; some of them own cattle as well. The four servayar families are in a position of authority here. The village heads have been mostly from this community and even now the panchayat president and the society president belong to this community.
The next most important caste in the village is Konar, with about 25 Konar families in the village. Most of them own cattle and also practice agriculture. The Pallar community also has about 25 families in the village, who are engaged in agriculture and cutting of Prosopis juliflora. The sakkiliar community comprises mostly of labourers who are engaged in the cutting of juliflora. However, there is unity among all castes and socially the entire village stands as a single unit. The people have good relations with each other and the Chittarangudi tank seems to be a common factor that binds them all.
Seasonal agriculture is the main source of livelihood in the village. Being located in a rain shadow zone, this area receives very little rainfall. Rain is received from September to November (northeast monsoon) when the tank also fills up. Paddy is grown in the wetland and chillies in the dry lands. In the off-season the land is left fallow. During the dry season people grow some vegetables in the dry tank bed (each family has occupied some land in the tank). Till the 1980s several crops were grown in the dry areas of the tank. Around that time the FD planted acacia and disallowed the villagers from using the tank.
The major source of income for the village is charcoal-making from Prosopis juliflora. In the dry lands Prosopis grows naturally and is cut every 3 years. Normally an acre of land produces 5-20 tonnes of charcoal and fetches about Rs 3000 per ton. People also produce charcoal from their own fields; sometimes the land is leased for Rs 3000-5000 per acre for charcoal production. Due to a long drought and limited natural resources, there has been an increased migration to nearby towns and big cities.
Politically, the village is divided between two major political parties in Tamil Nadu—the DMK and the AIADMK. Political positions and loyalties are stronger than the caste differentiation in the village. If at all there are clashes or conflicts in the village they are largely party politics-based. Divided political loyalties have ensured that the village lacks most infrastructure facilities, as the proposals from one group are shot down by the other.
Traditionally, the village has been administered by a village committee. This committee includes 8 to 10 members from all the communities in the village. The functions of the committee include:
1. To store the water in the tank and pond and to regulate the supply of water. Tamil Nadu 663 case studies - tamil nadu
2. To maintain the tank.
3. To collect taxes from the villagers.
4. To organise village festivals.
5. To solve disputes and conflicts within the village.
6. To solve disputes with other villages.
7. To maintain the temples.
8. To protect the village from thieves and strangers.
9. To act as a mediator with the government.
This traditional system functioned well in the past but its efficiency has gone down in the recent times mainly after the introduction of the official Panchayati Raj1 system of administration.
The present official system of administration in the village is the panchayat. The panchayat comprises three villages: Chittirangudi, Erachikulam, and Veppangulam colony. In Chittarangudi, though, even today the actual power of authority of the village is with the village committee. The panchayat only acts as an executor of government schemes.
Another important administrative unit is the District Forest Office (DFO) of the forest department (FD), which came to the village in 1979. The FD has planted Acacia sp. around the tank and in the dry parts of the tank under the Social Forestry Scheme. This plantation is maintained by the FD for the birds that come during the season.