Orumai means ‘unity’ in Tamil. This blog is an expression of unity with all those who are currently experiencing the injustice of poverty.
Tamil is the language spoken by the majority of workers on the tea plantations of Munnar, Kerala, where I was born and brought up until the age of 9. My family moved first to Bengal and then Assam at the time of the Bangladeshi independence war when my grandparents helped to feed and provide medical care for tens of thousands of refugees. The family came to the UK in 1974.
Having witnessed at first hand India’s economic inequality and inspired by her grandparents’ response to it, I worked for many years in international development organisations or charities. I travelled widely and spoke with many people about the experience of living in poverty.
I came to understand that while charity is necessary in times of emergency, economic justice and the ability to earn a decent, dignified living is what people really need – and want. As Nelson Mandela said, “Like slavery and apartheid, poverty is not natural. It is man-made and it can be overcome and eradicated by the actions of human beings. Overcoming poverty is not a gesture of charity. It is an act of justice. It is the protection of a fundamental human right, the right to dignity and a decent life.”
When I revisited Munnar in September 2015, I happened to be standing outside the tea company’s head office when 6,000 women rose up in protest against their poverty wages and inadequate housing. It felt to me like a personal call to action. The women called their movement ‘Pembila Orumai’ – Women’s Unity, and this blog was renamed in their honour.