JANSATYAGRAHA JAN SAMWAAD YATRA-Day 23
The day was spent in Theni district. Two public hearings were organized to learn about people's struggles and problems. The first public hearing was organized in Periyakulam. About 70 adivasis and dalits participated in the public meeting. Most of the adivasis were from Chokkanalai, Chinnor, Karumparai, Kadapparaikuli, Chellankalam and the dalits were from the city of Periyakulam.
Sangli, the leader of Bodi Aghamalai Paliyar adivasi federation of Paliyar tribes helped us understand the history of their problem. There are about 250 families in these 18 villages. In the village of Karumparai, 16 families were released from their condition of bonded labour by the intervention of the Collector. Today they are compelled to work as daily casual labourers. They do not have the rights to collect forest produce. They are allowed to go into the forest but when they collect some forest produce they have to pay bribes to the forest guard. If they sell produce worth Rs 1000, he says they are able to take home only Rs 300 as the rest is paid to the forest guards as bribes. They are asking for land in the forest as they do not have the permission to clear forest land. He says that land was acquired from their ancestors by giving them sweets and tobacco, threatening them or through illegal means. Today their source of livelihood is their wages from daily casual labour. They have some goats that were acquired through the support from a micro-finance scheme but do not have the permission to take their goats into the forest for grazing. The goats have to be kept tied in one place. The micro-finance scheme started with an initial loan of Rs 3000 and after repaying this loan, they were given another loan for Rs. 20,000. He says that several members are not able to repay the loan and hence the scheme has been abandoned. The government had installed solar lamps in their villages but these lamps broke down after 3 years. The government hasn't fixed these lamps. Bore wells were dug by the government but today these wells need maintenance and this does not happen. Their frustration is that they do not get the respect that even a forest buffalo in the forest gets. He says that when a forest buffalo in the forest dies, post-mortem is conducted to understand the nature of its death but no one seems to care for them. They have applied for land as per the FRA act but a decision has not been taken. If they do not get land title soon, it seems like they are ready to take matters into their own hands and clear 5 acres of forest land that was traditionally theirs to carry out cultivation.
Souriammal a adivasi women from a village of 48 families called Chokkanalai said after carrying out a struggle, lease for land that was under the control of four brothers was cancelled and 250 acres for forest land was given on lease to a group of families to collect silk-cotton. But such an arrangement was inconvenient for the forest department officials. She said that they were instrumental in getting another private contractor to over-bid . A few families are still collecting lemon, honey and other minor forest produce from the forest. They are asking for cultivatable land
Laxmi of Chellankalam village said that 23 Paliyar adivasi families have been living in the village for 10 years. They were living in the hills before being forced to settle in the plains. They all have ration cards and caste certificates but neither have title to cultivatable land nor for their houses. Their burial grounds are 10 kilometers away. Their access to a river is through a narrow pathway in a coconut plantation and the leasse of that plantation does not allow them the permission to pass through his plantation. They have a bore well in their village but now days the water flow is fairly limited and is muddy. They work in plantations as casual labour. The men get Rs 40 per day and the women Rs 30 per day as daily wage. They do not have MNREGA card.
Vellayan of Chinoor colony of Dindigul district said that the 24 families of his village were at one time they were bonded labourers. They used to work deep inside the forest. Today they have been settled on a 2 acre land. They collect silk-cotton, lemon and other minor forest produce from the forest and sell this produce for sustenance. They were driven out of the forest on top of the hills in lower Palani hills which is part of Western Ghats. 500 families were living in these hills even before the British occupation. During the colonial rule, they went higher up in the hills when the British took over their lands. Today
out of 40 families in the village only 10 have housing patta. If the rivers are full, they are cut-off from the rest of the world. They are 15 km away from the nearest road. They also collect minor forest produce for sustenance and get paid Rs 40-50 as dalily wage in the estates when compared to Rs 150 that could be earned for working in the city. These estates use fertilizers extensively and this has affected the honey bees.
Ms Rajangammal, a dalit woman has 5 children. She lives in st. xavier's street of periyakulam. Her husband collects old metal objects for recycling. They do not have a housing patta and is requesting for one. Mariammal of Nehru Nagar village is a dalit women. Their village is 3 km from Theni and 380 families live in their village. She said that their houses were constructed by the then Chief Minister M.G Ramachandran and needs maintenance. They have a deep bore well. 2 womens microfinance groups were started but are now defunct as they could not repay their loans. They work as house maids and this job has not security. Through an NGO they had applied for homestead land 3 years ago but there has been no progress on their applications. A woman from St. Xavier street is in a similar situation as Mariammal. She said that they live under constant threat that their homes will be destroyed. The slum lords constantly demand money for allowing them to stay in the area. Velliammal of Periyakulam said that there are 120 dalit families that are landless and homeless. They have been living in the area for 11 years. Despite submitting a number of applications for support for housing and land there has been no response from the government. Ratna Souri of Satyanagar village said that there are 40 families in her village who received 3 cents homestead land but have not received support for constructing a house. She said that they work as agricultural labour and are not financially capable of constructing their houses on their own. They fear that their lands will be forcefully occupied by powerful sections of the society. Velliammal has two children. One child has development disorder and the other child has completed her MA. She is looking for a job for her daughter. Their house is in a low-lying area and hence there is constant water accumulation all around. She is frustrated that her life is in a miserable condition.
Mariammal of St. Xavier's street said that she has 3 children who work as labourers. Her husband passed away 3 years ago. She lives in a rented accommodation and is looking for a housing patta. Kassiammal is from Karumparai. She is a adivasi from Paliyar tribe. She is homeless and landless and suffer from hunger. They do not get any health care. An NGO used to support them but this has stopped as the NGO has stopped its operation. They have taken a loan from the government.
4 villages/communities from Bodhi: Sirrakkad, Patharakali Amman Koil Street, Solaiyur, Bodimenakashipuram The following are case studies from a public hearing in Bodhi.
A woman from Pathrakali Amman Koil street : "We have got some land but no homes. Many families live in the same house. There are 60 families in the village and are treated as the lowest in the dalit caste hierarchy."
Maheshwari of Kumbucheri village panchayat says "Government officials are not addressing our problems. My husband died 3 years back. I have 3 children. 3 cents of land is given as part of colony. We do not have toilets. We work as daily labourers at Rs 70 per day. Aged people do not get work"
Peramma of Bodimenakshipuram weeped with folded hands as she expressed her misery. "I have 5 siblings and remained unmarried to look after my mother. She is old and hence I have her responsibility. My father is no more. One of my brothers who is 37 years old is at home and is unable to support the family. I am unable to get work. We pay Rs. 500 towards rent." An officer from the intelligence department was moved by her situation and offered support to her. He also invited all the members present to share their problems with him and assured them of his support in resolving their issues.
A leader from Sirrakkad village, an adivasi from Paliyar tribe said "We were bonded labourers. After 5 years of struggle, we have got some land now. 39 families are currently constructing our houses. We do not have any other source of livelihood. The government should give each of us 2 acres of land. The municipality is dumping the waste from the city close to their village" Rajagopal visited this area during his visit to Then in January and took up their case with the collector. Ekta Parishad activists Raja and Thanraj are actively working to support them.
Chinnan is a village leader of Solaiyur said "I work as a security guard. We drink water from the river. We are not allowed into the forest to collect minor forest produce. Often we are punished for collect forest produce. We need an identity card. There are 75 families in the village. We do not have land. Most the women are unemployed"
When the group was asked why they nee land they said "we can do agriculture on the land. We can rear cattle to producemilk. This will help us advance. We do not have to be under bondage and suffer from hunger. Land will help our future generation"
The group was then asked whether they will sell their land, which is a perception commonly shared among the middle class and government officials, they said "we will not settle our land. We do not have to work for others. The very reason we are in this meeting is that we want land. When we are struggling for land, why should we sell land? Many years ago, this question might have been relevant as we would have been more likely to sell land but now we have learnt the importance of land. We will protect our lands. We are now getting united because we want to get land"