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A Better Rat Trap – A Better Life

The Irulas are one of the lowest groups in the Hindu social order, found in Tamil Nadu. Many of them work as rat catchers in the farms of others, who pay them a small sum for each rat they catch. This being the chief occupation, the Irulas live in abject poverty.

Jerilyn Watson writes about this tribe and their ways of catching rats in this article:

The traditional way they catch rats is to light a fire in a clay pot. They blow air through a small hole in the bottom to send smoke into the underground spaces where rats live.

Then, for food, the catchers dig out the rats and any grain stored in their burrows. But often the rats escape, and the rat catchers get burned on their lips and hands. Many also suffer lung and heart disease from breathing the smoke.

Sethu Sethunarayanan, the director for the Development of Disadvantaged people in Chennai looked for a way to improve this technique, and dvised a new steel trap.

With the new trap, the rat catcher still forces smoke into the burrow. But the trap is attached to an air pump operated by hand. The catcher no longer needs to blow into the trap. And the pump has a wooden handle to prevent burns to the hands.

The Irulas asked for and received almost one hundred thousand dollars from the World Bank. They used the money to establish a factory to build the traps. It employs fifty women. The traps are sold for about twenty-five dollars each.

This small contraption has led to a dramatic improvement in the lives of the nearly three million Irulas. They’re earning more money, getting better health care, and more importantly, their children can now go to school instead of catching rats.