Divi Seema has an agricultural economy where a handful of landlords own over 50% of the land. The rest of the agricultural population either own small patches which are insufficient to support them or no land at all. About a third of the villages are situated on low lying and exposed ground and due to their remoteness and inaccessibility are, as a result, physically and economically marginalized with fewer basic health or education facilities than the inland villages. Landless labourers, especially those in the more exposed areas, and the majority of fishermen, with low earnings and few if any assets apart from their labour, are in a perpetual cycle of indebtedness and dependency on moneylenders and landlords from whom they are powerless to escape. Kottur has a poor urban economy due to its location and marginalized agricultural hinterland.
The original fieldwork, referred to in the film was carried out in Divi Seema between 1980 and 1983 in the aftermath of a disastrous cyclone in November 1977. This fieldwork formed the basis for a research programme examining the recovery of a stratified random sample of 200 households of comparable economic status, 100 of whom had been given free concrete housing and 100 who had not. It showed that recovery was dependent on the political economy of the area and that funds, rather than strengthening the physical infrastructure of the area, would be better directed at strengthening the economic infrastructure and supporting its population, particularly the poorer households. This finding is the key plank in DSF policy, the central aim of which is to support economic initiatives mainly through womens’ savings groups and is applicable equally to both Kottur and Divi Seema.