The long stretch of Tamil Nadu from Pollachi to Chennai was covered in a period of 13 days. Almost every day new issues came up. People were raising questions related to their life in a way for which we had no answers. In a fast moving India, growth is the mantra. However, it is becoming more and more difficult to answer many of those questions.
One question that came up repeatedly was why are we being displaced, what was our crime for which we are being punished ? 120 adivasi families displaced because of a dam in village Kuppanattam of Thiruvannamalai district wanted to know where should they go now. About Rs 50,000 in compensation received for each acre of land, is already spent. Their village is already submerged. So an irrigation project for which they have sacrificed will of course improve the lives of many others but these 120 families are doomed to live in slums. The same question was asked by adivasis of Coimbatore district, Theni district as well as those in Madurai district. So throughout our trip in Tamil Nadu, the adivasi agenda came up again and again. In places like Theni, adivasi villages are adopted by police department.
The second agenda that came up again and again was related to panchami land or what you called the depressed class land. Large tracts of land reserved for the dalits during the British time, is not yet distributed to Dalit families. There are a number of Dalit movements and Dalit groups raising this issue. During my trip through Tamil Nadu, I have created a list of all the discriminations carried out against dalits and adivasis. The so-called ‘civilized’ society has somehow got into an uncivilized way of dealing with powerless people. Real civilization will mean how fast we can correct this attitude and work for an equity and justice.
There is also a third question. Tamil Nadu is struggling hard to generate more power. On one hand they have Kudankoolam nuclear power, on the other hand they are reserving about 200 km along the coastal line for thermal power plants. Many villages are going to be displaced for power generation. While we appreciate that for growth and development electricity is important we should also question this craze for generating electrical power by destroying people’s power. The human energy wasted in India can be used for a lot of creative work. We somehow fail to realize that by using human energy and human potential we can promote a better model of development rather than looking at industrialization as the only way to progress.
Through out our trip in Tamil Nadu one final issue that came up again and again for discussion was the insensitivity of government officials at the bottom level. Adivasis who are collecting forest produce for making a living are supposed to pay 60-70% of their products or income to the officials of the forest department. 100s of women who came to our public hearing session were speaking about their problems like obtaining a caste certificate, obtaining a BPL card, ration card. There is absolutely no mechanism to monitor the various programs that are being implemented at the bottom level. On one hand, we are making people dependant on these welfare programs and on the other hand we are creating a situation where nothing is available without bribes. In the recent past there was a lot of discussion about introducing a citizen’s charter where the government officials will have to commit in what period of time a particular thing will be done and if they are unable to complete in the committed time, they will have to pay a fine. There is an urgent need to make the officials accountable.
In the Chennai meeting, the issue of urban poverty came up very forcefully. Even in small towns like Shivagangai one could see urban poverty. Tamil Nadu is claiming to be number 1 in the country in urbanization without knowing what does it mean for milllions of people. Urbanization is creating more and more urban slums. Among the urban poor, women are the most affected. All around the yatra, these were women who came in large numbers to put up their cases. Many of them were crying and many others are totally depressed. By looking at their face and clothing one can understand the amount of suffering that they are going through.
There are many well-meaning voluntary organizations and people’s organizations in Tamil Nadu. They work among adivasis, dalits, fisherfolks and urban poor. Unfortunately they are not a united force to challenge the system. One important task will be to bring these groups and individuals together so that they can become a force to impact the government policies.
With warm regards,