A meeting was organized in the morning with members of civil society and community leaders. The meeting was organized by Rajendren at Dindigul Multipurpose Social Service Society. These meetings are organized as ‘public hearings’. In a public hearing people share their problems publicly. This is one of the ways Ekta Parishad has to learn about people’s problems and find commonality between issues. This process also helps people develop solidarity among themselves as they realize that their problem is not a stand-alone problem but is shared by other individuals and communities. The cases and analysis shared by the participants are presented below.
Mr. Dhurairaj of Dalit Resource Centre – Madurai said that 14860 acres of panchami land is available in Dindigul for redistribution among dalits but this is not being distributed. 110 families were given land in Sirumalai hills but this land was already under the occupation of a Zamindar or landlord. Adivasis are also claiming this land as their own. A community leader said that there are 750 dalit families. The head of the village is a big landlord who is opposed to land distribution and hence their applications have not been considered. He also gave 3 examples of how Panchami land (land assigned to the Dalit community) was diverted for other purposes. The district Collector’s office is on panchami land, the ring road of Dindigul is on Panchami land and a famous cotton mill is on panchami land. Mr Vellapandi of Sirumalail hills said that there are areas where the same land (panchami land) changed hands 7 times when it is illegal for panchami land to be sold to non-dalits. To understand the current holding pattern of panchami land, he had filed 72 RTI cases but is waiting for response. Some of the information on the current holding pattern was available on a government website but this website was blocked once an activist started using this information to mobilize communities. Government officials who are sympathetic to the misery of dalits are not willing to go on record while providing information on who currently holds panchami lands. He says that dalits are restless because they do not have land.
Ms. Thangamalai from Deepan trust said that 56,000 acres of panchami land are available in Theni dist. Panchami lands are being bought in benami (family member’s) names and 90% of land is in the hands of non-dalits. As a solution to the illegal transfer of panchami lands and the land alienation of dalits, she suggest that all real-estate transactions should first be scrutinized for historical holding pattern and if the land is found to be a panchami land at some point, then such transactions should be stopped. A leader of Malaigoundanpatti said dalit lands are being bought by rich people and they are forced to live like slaves in ghettos. Their water sources have all dried up, and are forced to vote for the village henchman. Women are interested in fighting back but need support.
Another meeting organized was by Gandhi Gram University of Dindigul later in the day. Gandhigram university is an educational institution that works on Gandhi’s philosophy of education and village economics. A public hearing was organized which was followed by a response from intellectuals from the university. The following cases were presented during the public hearing.
Meeting with Intellectuals at Gandhigram
Ms. P. Saroja of Sirumalai village said “we live on the land of land-lord. We worked very hard to improve our land but the control is in the hands of the landlord. We need rights over our property.” Ms. Rajathi said that they were pushed out of their lands and in that process many trees were cut. Mr. Muthan of Thandikudi village is an adivasi person working in a coffee plantation. He does not have a housing patta nor does he own agricultural land. He has applied for a housing patta and is being made to run from one department to another for his application. He is frustrated that many applications have been submitted to government officials and elected representatives but there is no one to help him. Perumalu of Pantrimalai, Kodaikanal said that “my roof is leaking. We do not have a patta for our house. We have lived in the same place for 3 generations and there is no body to support.” Ms. Rama of Manathevu village said “We work for coffee and tea plantations . Most of the time we starve. We need house pattas for security”. Mr. Veeramani said that they have submitted applications for land but are not considered because they do not have a ration card to prove their identity. All he is asking for is a patta for homestead land. The intellectuals at Gandhi Gram were unanimous in their support for Jansatyagraha and have committed all the support that is possible to spread the word about the movement.
Later in the evening, the yatra visited a community of denotified criminalized tribes in Dindigul. Mr Puruchidas, the coordinator of All Tribal People Welfare Association organizing the public hearing. He explained that they are from Malaikuravar community, STs and Parayar community. Because the Parayar converted to Christianity, they were not given their rights as SC. They pleaded that their SC status be re-instated. Speaking about the history of Malaikuravar, a denotified criminalized tribes, he said that they were all adivasis living in forests high in the mountains. Under the 1882 Forest Act of Madras, the British sent the tribals out of the Forest and were not rehabilitated. They are also called criminal tribes because they resisted this displacement. They were required to report to the local police station every night. Women had no protection in such a situation. Hence they were compelled to move from place to place. They picked up new livelihoods to sustain themselves. They began to be identified by their profession, by the place they settled and in the process lost their original identity. Today there are 27 denotified tribes spread across Tamil Nadu. The Tribal Research Institute of Ooty learned that these 27 tribes have a common origin and are part of the same clan. Their recommended that these communities should be classified as Scheduled Tribes. This recommendation is pending before the government. They have requested us to follow up with Mr. Satyanarayana, the director of the Tribal Research Institute in Ooty. Later some members from the audience shared their grievances. Below are some of the grievances that were shared.
Ms Kaaleshwari of Bharathi Anna nagar said that they are being treated like slaves by the forest department. They get employment only from forest department and are not allowed to take forest produces. Very often those entering into the forest are punished. She feels that they have lost their freedom. Mr. Selvam P of Bharathi Anna nagar a member of the forest committee said “we do not get any loan from the bank as we do not have our own land. The forest department is not willing to distribute land, and accuse us of killing wild life. We live like slaves.”
Ms. Fatima Mary of 33rd ward of Dindigul said that their sanitation and sewage system are non-existent. She also said that she needs old-age pension as she has no other job opportunities. Ms. Kitheri Mary said that she is alone as her husband left her and is looking for housing support. Mr. Bhaskar is one of 500 families of Malaipati urban village. He says that there is acute water problem because there are only 4 water taps for the entire community. Daily life is a constant struggle. Ms. Dhanabagyam of 28th ward of Dindigul does not own a house. Her house owner is harassing her for rental problems. She says that 60 families depend on 1 water tap. She says she was working in a rice mill and the mill is closed now. Large number of women are without jobs. She says that the roof of her house is leaking and is seeking a housing patta.
Karupaiah of Adiyanooth village said that in 1986 land was taken by the railways. This was puramboke (government) land and 200 families are affected because of this project. Now they are on government land without a patta which means that they are constantly harassed by slumlords. He says that near Sirimalai adivaram (Foothills) there is a large tract of land available of redistribution and they are willing to relocate if land is provided.