How politicians con 'Iranis of Payyoli' and abandon them after every election

Nafeesa, 82, is the matriarch of the families residing at Kabuli Colony near the Payyoli Beach. Photo: George Poikayil/Onmanorama

Payyoli (Kozhikode): Nafeesa can often be spotted before MRA Bakery & Restaurant, close to Vadakara Bus Stand. The wrinkled woman would be selling trinkets to passersby till around 6 pm, before returning home to Kabuli Colony near Payyoli's Beach Road, 10km away.

At 82, she rarely misses this schedule. "I don't like to trouble anyone. I will work," she said.

A day after All Fool's Day, she got a call around noon saying UDF candidate in Vadakara Lok Sabha Constituency and Congress leader Shafi Parambil (41) would be visiting her house.

Though Malayalis named the settlement Kabuli Colony, the residents are of Iranian descent and the little children speak fluent Farsi at home. About 60 people live in 12 houses. All of them are children and grandchildren of Nafeesa and Fazlu Ali, who died at the age of 67 years on April 14, 2007. They are a closely knit community with 46 votes. Political parties do not ignore them during elections.

Nafeesa, the matriarch of the family, did not think twice before boarding the next bus to reach home. Despite being fooled and slighted for more than 10 years, she continues to pin her hopes on politicians to pull her and her children and grandchildren out of their squalor-filled lives. Their lives were turned miserable by an apathetic neighbourhood and a visionless Payyoli Municipality.

The settlement does not have road access: the 120m to their houses, west of Chalil Road is less than three-feet wide and passes through private properties; they do not have drinking water: the municipality pipeline stops 100m away; and come monsoon, the residents are marooned in their houses: stormwater from the locality rushes into their settlement, their courtyards and their walkway go underwater, and worse, septic tanks overflow, contaminating their borewell and soil with raw sewage. "Worms and snakes float around. We carry our children on our shoulders and wade through the toxic water to drop them at school," said Noori, mother of three children. Over the years, two residents were bitten by snakes.

During monsoon, the residents of the Kabuli Colony carry their children on shoulders and wade through the toxic water to drop them at school. Photo: Special arrangement

Around 8 pm that day, Shafi Parambil reached Kabuli Colony, walking through the backyards of neighbours. He immediately strikes a chord with the children.

Young men watch the event from afar. "We are tired of this. Ten days before, Shailaja 'Teacher' also came to us," said Nouri's husband and Nafeesa's grandson Riyas Ali (36). In the 2021 Assembly election, LDF's winning candidate in the Koyilandy Assembly constituency, Kanathil Jameela, came and posted the story of Nafeesa's family on Facebook. "I also shared it. But after three years, there is no sign of her," said Riyas Ali. "They don't even provide streetlights to our houses. But we have to vote for them," he said.

Shafi Parambil does not miss the disenchanted Riyas Ali, who stands tall at 6'3" with a Kabir Bedi-esque demeanour. The two talk and walk the dark narrow lane out to the asphalted road. They stop by a piece of wetland, and Shafi promises to help the residents get a motorable road. "It is tragic that you don't have space even to take your dead to the cemetery," said Shafi Parambil.

Without a blink of an eye, Riyas Ali told the candidate: "Sir, no need to promise a road. Drainage would be enough for us now".

When the candidate left, Riyas told Onmanorama that he had been hearing such empty promises since Class 12. "At least 50 candidates gave us hope," he said.

Onmanorama returned to the colony the following day again to understand the community and their issues.

Riyas Ali, the grandson of Nafeesa, is fed up of politicians flocking to them during elections and forgetting their plight later. Photo: Special arrangement

Fazlu Ali was born to a couple of Iranian descendants in Thalassery in Kannur district in 1940. They are Shi'a Muslims. At the age of 20, he married Nafeesa, a native of Meppadi in Wayanad district and moved to Changanassery in Kottayam district.

Fazlu and Nafeesa became parents to seven daughters and two sons. Riyas Ali's mother Nourangi is the eldest, and Nisha (40) is the youngest.

In 1988, the family of 11 members shifted to Payyoli. "My father did not like Changanassery. He wanted a safe place for his daughters," said Nisha.

Fazlu bought 42 cents near the Beach Road at Payyoli. "When we came, this place was beautiful. The soil was like sugary sand. We lived in tents," said Nisha. Those days, there were only two houses in the neighbourhood, said Nafeesa.

The entire family -- men and women -- sells and repairs spectacles and sunglasses on the streets for a living. "We get clients even from Kannur and Kozhikode because our service is good and cheap," said Nisha. Nafeesa shifted to selling trinkets because of old age.

Majnu Bhanu, a cancer survivor and daughter-in-law of Nafeesa. Two men from her neighbourhood used videos of her incomplete house and raised money from the Gulf. They used the money to make their own house. Photo: George Poikayil/Onmanorama

Since 2005, people have been buying land around their plots and building houses. New neighbours left no space for the road to Kabuli Colony. They also walled their properties and elevated their plots by dumping earth. "Suddenly our land became a low-lying area for rainwater to accumulate," said Nafeesa.

Today, if Nafeesa's family had to build or renovate a house, they would have to spend more money for manually transporting the materials from the road to their plot than on the materials.

Payyoli -- famous as the hometown of BJP MP and sprinter P T Usha -- became a municipality in 2015. Nafeesa's children and grandchildren raised their issues first with Payyoli grama panchayat and then with Payyoli municipality. "But they advise us to adjust or move out to another place," said Riyas Ali.

Every monsoon, the residents of Kabuli Colony are marooned in their houses, stormwater from the locality rushes into their settlement, their courtyards and their walkway go underwater, and worse, septic tanks overflow, contaminating their borewell and soil with raw sewage. Photo: Special arrangement

He said the elders in his family mindlessly vote for the Congress because the party's election symbol is similar to the protective and sacred hand (panja) carried during the procession of Muharram. "The day they realise the Congress's hand is not their religious symbol, they will stop voting for the Congress," he said.

Panja, religious symbol of Shia Muslims. Photo:

Riyas Ali said his family assimilated into Kerala society generations ago, speaking Malayalam as fluently as Farsi, Hindi or Urdu. "My wife speaks Tamil too. But the people of Payyoli always consider us as outsiders. We feel that in the way they treat us. The only exception is the municipal chairman V K Abdurahiman," he said.

After his BCom, Riyas Ali wanted to do an MBA in Bengaluru and approached the local bank for a loan. "The manager wanted me to bring a neighbour to vouch for me," said Riyas Ali. He did not get the loan.

His elder brother Sarfarash Hussain did manual work and helped Riyas Ali complete his master's in commerce. Today, he works as an accountant with a jewellery store. Sarfarash and his wife Kubara run a gym.

Their houses are congested, dilapidated or incomplete. Riyas Ali was sanctioned Rs 4 lakh under the LIFE Mission housing scheme, but the family has not got the full amount.

Kubara has set her kitchen and dining space outside her one-room house, for lack of space. Photo: George Poikayil/Onmanorama

Kubara and Sarafarah have just a six-ft by 4ft room. "My husband doesn't even fit into the room," she said. A tarpaulin-covered space outside the room is their kitchen and dining room, an arrangement that works only in the summer season. A plastic pot and two buckets of water are lined up on the dining table. "We get drinking water only once in four days. That too only two pots of water per family," she said.

Majnu Bhanu (48), a daughter-in-law of Nafeesa, is a cancer survivor. Her house is unplastered and unfurnished. Her family does not have a ration card or power supply. "Once two men from the neighbourhood came and took videos of the condition of my house. They said they will raise money in the Gulf for us," said Majnu.

"Later we found out that the men sold our plight to raise money for themselves. They made a big house for themselves," she said.

During the monsoon, Nafeesa spends her time holed up in her tiny room, which is almost entirely occupied by a bed. "I sleep in the north-south direction. If I were to die, where is the space to place my body in the east-west direction," she said.

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