The Tamil Nadu revenue department allegedly demolished the huts of 11 families of the Irular tribal community near a Murugan temple in Peranamallur municipality of Tiruvannamalai district on October 1 without giving a prior notice or providing an alternate accommodation.
With nowhere to go, the families took some of their belongings and occupied the tehsildar’s office demanding an immediate accommodation. Despite heavy rain, hundreds of people gathered in solidarity with the families and protested till late night. The protesters refused to budge until the homeless tribals were guaranteed house pattas.
Uprooted Irular huts. Image courtesy: Sun Network
The tehsildar had provided the land as a makeshift arrangement only four months ago until pattas were issued to the 11 families, the protesters claimed. However, the revenue department uprooted them claiming that the land is required for other purposes, the families alleged.
The Tamil Nadu Untouchability Eradication Front (TNUEF) and the Tamil Nadu Malaival Makkal Sangam (TNMMS), which is fighting for tribal rights, alleged that an influential person in the region who felt that the Irulars residing near the Murugan temple were a taboo was behind the demolition.
The families, who patiently awaited the pattas, were shocked when the tehsildar and other government representatives arrived to “dismantle their huts” on Friday morning. “The tehsildar silently stood watching the demolition. It was evident that things were no longer in his hands and that the order had come from the revenue department” said Selvam Trivannamali, district secretary, TNUEF.
Police resisted people from entering the Tehsildar office. Image courtesy: Sun Network
“We found out that an influential person by the name of Govindarajan had his eye on the land. He had pulled some strings stating that the meat-eating Irular people, residing next to the Murugan temple, are a taboo and the land must be used for temple-related activities” Trivannamali alleged. The Irulars are known for catching rats and snakes and eating them raw. This practice is looked down upon. He further alleged that “it appears there has been some exchange of money to uproot the tribal families”.
Even before the huts were demolished, some close aides of Govindarajan had allegedly tried to dismantle them. With the help of CPI(M) leaders, a complaint was filed with the Pernamallur Police Station but no action was taken. “The police, on the other hand, believed in Govindarajan’s testimony, in which he said that the Irulars are illegally occupying the land, which can cause conflict,” Trivannamali alleged.
The Irulars usually stay in small groups of 10-15 families in thatched-roof huts. They have been fighting for concrete houses and pattas for long. Frustrated and angry, the women of the 11 families, along with their children, carried cooking utensils and rats in protest and occupied the tehsildar’s office.
Around hundred members of TNUEF, TNMMS and CPI(M) who arrived at the office in solidarity with the families were forcibly stopped by the police at the gate. Raising slogans against the tehsildar and the revenue department, the protesters surrounded the office for three hours demanding nothing less than pattas.
CPI(M) members protesting outside the Tehsildar office. Image courtesy: Sun Network
“Finally at 11 pm, a woman police officer accepted that dismantling the huts without providing alternate accommodation was a mistake that should not have happened,” Trivannamali said. “Even after government representatives said that the land would be allotted to the families at the earliest, we did not disperse. Some of us travelled in police jeeps to see the proposed house site and then called off the protest.”
So far, eight families have received pattas. The heavy rains have delayed the process by a few days.
The Irulars are one of the most impoverished tribes of Tamil Nadu. These traditional forest-dwelling people have drifted towards cities and towns over generations. In urban areas, they stay in secluded tarpaulin-roofed huts without access to electricity or toilets. Even today, their main source of livelihood is cutting wood and hunting small animals.