Struggles On Dalit Issues Continue
THE CPI(M)?s continuous struggles and interventions on Arundhathiar issues, the most affected section of dalits have forced the Tamilnadu government to concede their main demands. The CPI(M) conducted a rally of Arundhathiar?s in which twenty thousand people participated in Chennai, dharnas in 100 places all over the state involving several thousands of people, six district level rallies and conferences were held and picketing before state government offices in forty centers led by state leaders of the Party involving 10,000 people was held on 4th November 2007. The massive response and support for these struggles has forced the Tamilnadu government to accept some of the main demands of Arundhathiar community. In the governor?s address to the Tamilnadu assembly session this year, the state government has accepted to take steps to provide reservation within 18 percent state reservation for SCs for Arundhathiars in education and employment in consultation with all the political parties. They are socially and economically very much backward among dalits. This is a major policy decision of the state government which was welcomed by the CPI (M), Arundhathiar organisations, some dalit organisations and various political parties. This announcement has raised the enthusiasm of Arundhathiar people and they have congratulated the CPI (M) for having initiated steps and struggles by organising meetings and campaign all over Tamilnadu.
Almost all Arundhathiar organisations in Tamilnadu have stood up with CPI (M) in the struggles. It is to be noted that the state government has already formed one welfare board for scavengers (mainly Arundhathiars). It has also announced that the name of burial ground workers would be changed as burial assistants from Vettiyans and all of them would be accepted as government employees and orders to this effect have been issued to 178 workers in the Chennai corporation. According to another announcement, the road side shoe and chappal stitchers would be included in the welfare board for leather workers and benefits would be given. The government has also accepted to construct memorials for Ondi Veeran, Kandan Pagadai, Muthan Pagadai, Potti Pagadai, freedom fighters belonging to the Arundhathiar community. These are all the demands included in the charter of demands submitted to the chief minister of Tamilnadu by the CPI (M) state committee along with the leaders of Arundhathiar organisations. He agreed to consider other demands also such as distribution of land and house pattas etc., in due course.
The CPI(M) and the Arundhathiar organisations have decided to firm up their unity and continue the struggles until all the demands are achieved.
UNTOUCHABILITY ERADICATION FRONT
The Untouchability Eradication Front which was formed in August 2007 in Tamilnadu has strengthened its activities. The Front has affiliations of more than sixty mass organisations such as CITU, AIKS, AIAWU, DYFI, AIDWA, SFI, central and state government employees and teachers assocations etc., and dalit organisations.
Recently the Front has expanded its organisational setup and initiated some agitations and programmes. The district level organising committees have been formed in seven districts - Trichy, Tirunelveli, Sivagangai, Chennai (North), Chennai (South), Madurai, and Dindugul. Some district level dalit organisations and SC/ST associations also have affiliated with district level Fronts.
CPI(M) and mass organisations conducted survey in 1868 villages of 18 districts on the socio economic conditions of dalits and the forms of untouchability. Recently, an effective survey was done by Madurai district unit of Untouchability Eradication Front. Apart from the forms of untouchability in tea stalls, temple festivals, public roads, drinking water taps, water tanks, community halls, kalyana mandapams, burial grounds, dobhi ghats, saloons, bus stops, village panchayat muts etc., some new forms have been identified. In Uthapuram village, there is a big wall of 0.5 kilometers length between residential areas of caste Hindus and dalits. In two villages, Andar Kottaram and Thaniamanagalam postman does not deliver post to dalits and will inform them through some body to come and collect post from the post office. In some villages, ration items are given to dalits on a particular day only and if they do not purchase on that day, they will not get ration items. In some villages, lesser quantity of ration items only will be given to them. In a school at Muthulingapuram village, the teacher will not touch dalit students for beating, but will use a stick or ask some other dalit student to beat the co- dalit student. In Kottampatti village dalit Hostel plus 1, plus 2 students are not admitted. The survey was held in 47 villages and no village is spared from untouchablity.
Generally, the government and police officials deny the practice of untouchability in their districts. But the truth is entirely different. The details of the survey have been exposed in a press meeting in Madurai, addressed by P Sampath, state convener, Untouchability Eradication front and P Mohan, MP. Swaminathan, district convener and Ilango, joint convener also were present. The survey details and forms of untouchability prevailing in Madurai district have been widely exposed in media. The district unit of Untouchabilility Eradication Front has decided to submit the survey report to the district collector in a mass procession to be organised shortly. If government does not take any steps to eradicate these forms of untouchability, the Front will launch direct action.
DEMONSTRATIONS AGAINST ATROCITIES
There were some assaults and atrocities against dalits in Erode and Coimbatore districts. In Nambiyur of Erode district one kalyana mandapam was booked by a person who belongs to dalit community for holding a family function. But the management of the trust, knowing he is a dalit cancelled the booking which caused tension. The dalit family lodged a police complaint but there was no action taken. So, the family function was held in front of the mandapam, on the public road. This incident led to clashes between dalits and caste Hindus. Demonstrations and rallies were held by dalit organisations. CPI(M) Erode district committee organised a strong demonstration in which the leaders of Untouchablity Eradication Front and dalit organisations also participated.
Likewise, in Salarapatti of Coimbatore district, dalits were denied permission to hold functions in the community hall which was constructed by MP?s funds. Two tumbler system also is prevalent in all tea shops. Police complaints were made on these issues. Protest actions were organised by dalit masses. The police and revenue officials negotiated some compromise for removing untouchability in tea shops and community hall. But the caste Hindus instead of honouring the settlements unleashed atrocities and assaults on dalits. Houses of dalits were damaged and some portions of their huts were burnt. Two dalit youth were beaten up seriously. Many people were injured in the clash. Condemning this incident, statements were issued by P Sampath, convener Untouchability Eradication Front and Kamraj, district secretary of CPI(M). C Govindasamy, MLA, leader of CPI(M) group in the state assembly visited the village along with district leaders immediately and wrote a letter to the chief minister for immediate intervention to render justice to dalits and also to take firm action against those who assaulted dalits and damaged their houses. He also demanded compensation for assaulted dalit families.
Condemning this attack against dalits, a powerful demonstration was held at Udumalaipettai which was led by Kamaraj and addressed by leaders of other mass organisations.
CONVENTION ON ISSUES
A special convention organised by Untouchability Eradication front and CITU affiliated local body employees union was held in Chennai on February 23, 2008 involving more than 1000 scavengers. The convention was led by P Sampath. A Soundrarajan, general secretary, CITU, K R Ganesan, general secretary, local body employees union, Athiyaman, Jakkian, leaders of Arundhathiar organisation and Chennai North and South district CITU leaders participated in the convention. Various resolutions were passed in the convention including eradication of manual scavenging of human soil, welcoming the decision of the Tamilnadu government on reservation for Arundhathiars within SCs and demanding its early implementation, effective functioning of welfare board for scavengers with power and funds, construction of houses for scavengers and issue of land to them etc. The convention was widely covered by the media
ART AND LITERATURE NIGHT
ON DALIT ISSUES
The Untouchability Eradication Front and Tamilnadu Progressive Writers Association jointly organised an art and literature night on dalit issues on January 4, 2008 at Trichy. More than 2000 people participated. Various programmes such as elocution, drama, dance, songs and music, villupattu and thappattam were performed. The function began at 6 pm and concluded at 4 am next day. P Sampath, Tamilselvan (secretary) Adavan Thikshanya, Nandalala (other office bearers) of Tamilnadu Progressive Writers Association, Ram (Cine Director), district level mass organisation functionaries, prominent stalwarts of art and literature participated in the function. The socio economic conditions of dalits and various forms of untouchability, awakening democratic and human rights sentiments were inbuilt in the programmes.
ON SPECIAL COMPONENT PLAN
The Untouchability Eradication Front had decided to organise a special convention at Chennai on proper planning and utilisation of special component plan funds for the welfare and development of SC and STs in the month of April 2008 in which various leaders of political parties and dalit organisations, intellectuals and economists would participate.