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A Place to Sit in a Bus Stop, Land Rights – Dalits in TN Rise to Grab Their Rights

Neelambaran A |
Led by TNUEF, the recent struggles Virudhunagar, Tiruvannamalai, Pudukottai, Erode and Dharmapur have yielded some success.

Chennai: At a time when atrocities on dalits continue across the country, sustained struggles against untouchability, temple entry and for land rights have yielded results in some areas of Tamil Nadu.

Spearheaded by the Tamil Nadu Untouchability Eradication Front (TNUEF), the culmination of these struggles was held on Monday in Virudhunagar, Tiruvannamalai, Pudukottai, Erode and Dharmapuri districts, forcing the administration to concede to their demands. The struggles were announced as part of the veteran communist leader B Srinivasa Rao’s death anniversary, which falls on September 30. TNUEF is affiliated to the Dalit Shoshan Mukti Manch (DSMM). 


The waiting shed for bus passengers in Themmavoor of Pudukottai district was restored on Sunday by the district administration after a protest call was given by TNUEF, which said the shed faced continuous damage by dominant caste Hindus and its roof and benches destroyed to prevent dalit residents from sitting there along with them. 

Dalit residents in the area have been facing discrimination since a long time and were prevented from even waiting for a bus in the common bus stop. The TNUEF announced that people would sit in protest till the shelter was restored and the administration assured them of protecting it from any future damages by the dominant castes of the village.

“Caste Hindus were repeatedly damaging the bus shelter since the past seven years. The administration finally yielded to our struggle call and has ensured that the shelter is not damaged anymore. We have demanded that a CCTV camera be installed,” Samuvel Raj, general secretary of TNUEF, told NewsClick.

Further describing the discrimination, he said a twin glass system was prevailing in the locality making a small differentiation in tea shops. “A glass with different designs was used for dalits, which is hard to differentiate at first sight. We have exposed the issue and such glasses have been removed from the shops. Frequent checking will be done to ensure that untouchability is not practiced again,” Raj said.

He said dalit residents of the locality along with the leaders of TNUEF and Communist Party of India (Marxist) [CPI(M)] took part in the restoration of the bus shelter. 


In Ungaranalli in Dharmapuri district, a struggle for distribution of land was held successfully, said TNUEF. A total of 78 beneficiaries were allotted 2.59 acres of land in 2011, but these were not handed over to them as there was encroachment by an individual. Incidentally, the village is close to the district collector’s office, but no steps were taken by the administration to distribute the land to landless dalits.


Raj said: “The beneficiaries were left with no option but to wait till someone came to their rescue, as the administration claimed it was helpless. After TNUEF took up the matter, the revenue and police department officials were forced to take action. The sub-division of land was done and handed over to all the 78 beneficiaries immediately.”


The Kannimariamman Kamatchi temple in Pavali village of Virudhunagar district had been closed since 2011 to prevent dalits from worshipping the deity. The temple is controlled by a family of the dominant reddiyar community, which obtained an order from the high court in this regard. The family filed an affidavit stating that dalits can enter the temple and worship the deity whenever the temple is open. The court in acceptance of the affidavit had ruled that dalits should not be prevented from entering and worshipping. But the temple has remained closed ever since the court passed the order.

Raj said, “The family has moved to another district but wants to control the temple, as 10 acres of temple land is being used by them. The district administration has called for a peace committee meeting, for which they were absent. Since there is a court verdict, we are exploring legal options, but we will ensure that the temple is opened at the earliest. We have insisted on further peace committee meetings to end the deadlock as early as possible.”


The irular community members, belonging to the Scheduled castes, were allotted with 10 acres in Kadambankuttai village of Tiruvannamalai district. The land is yet to be distributed. The Panchami land distribution was carried out during the British rule for providing land to landless dalit people. Even now the practice of allocation is taking place, a reminder of the poor socio-economic status of dalits in the state. 


Selvan, district secretary of TNUEF, told NewsClick, “The irular community people were duped of their land up to 7.26 acres by an upper caste person. He has taken over the land stating that these people have taken loans from him and since they were unable to repay, they have handed over the land to them. But Panchami lands cannot be sold or reclassified. The people were forcefully deprived of their land. Now, the revenue officials have given in writing that the land will be recovered and handed over to the rightful owners within 15 days.”

The struggle was withdrawn after the assurance from the revenue and police officials, but the leaders of TNUEF and CPI(M) have announced that they will restart the struggle if the promises were not fulfilled on time. 


TNUEF also said that after the struggle, 250 dalit families residing in Thopur village of Erode district have been ensured of house pattas within 15 days by the district administration. The residents were denied pattas to the plots they had been occupying since the past several years. The struggle was led by former MLA K Bala Bharathi of CPI(M). “The residents were living in fear of eviction by the administration. But now, the administration has ensured in writing to issue house pattas within 15 days. Hence, we withdrew the”, Raj said.

Overall, dalits, in spite of several struggles and enacted laws, are yet to be provided with many basic amenities. The community also faces administration and government apathy when it comes to implementation of these. However, with the recent struggles bearing some results, organisations like the TNUEF are gearing up for more struggles to win their rights.  

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