(Weekly Organ of the Communist Party of India (Marxist)
November 15, 2009
UNTOUCHABILITY ERADICATION STRUGGLES IN TAMILNADU
Massive Rally Gives the Campaign New Vigour
THE struggles waged by the Tamilnadu Untouchability Eradication Front (TNUEF) in the recent past have undoubtedly proved to be a turning point in the struggle for the rights of the dalit and tribal people. A majority of those who participated in this movement are dalits. Several of the class and mass organisations, along with many dalit organisations and individuals with democratic spirit, also participated in the movement. They were moved by the understanding that untouchability is not a problem affecting the dalit people alone; it is in fact a shame on the whole nation and a challenge to the democratic movements in the country. That the anti-untouchability movement has generated this understanding, is its unique feature.
In this regard, the rally organised by the Tamilnadu Untouchability Eradication Front deserves special mention. This rally took place in Chennai city on October 27 and more than 15,000 people took part in it.
A special feature of the rally was that a considerable part of its participants consisted of youth and women. The numerous banners, placards with demands and the paintings highlighting the dalit people’s right made the rally a grand attraction, while the slogans by the participants and the march inspired many of the onlookers. It is no exaggeration to state that the march looked like a parade of people out to root out class exploitation and social oppression from our society.
State CITU secretary A Soundarajan, state Kisan Sabha treasurer P Shanmugam, and leaders of dalit organisations like K Jakkaiyan and Gowthaman inaugurated the procession. CPI(M) state secretary N Varadharajan, AIKS general secretary K Varadharajan, Untouchability Eradication Front’s convenor P Sampath), CPI(M) legislature party leader K Balabharathi, CPI(M) MLA K Mahindran, K R Ganesan (Tamilnadu Urban Local Bodies Employees Union), C Nicholas (president, Dr Ambedkar Peravai), M Mariadoss (Tamilnadu Arundadhiyar Mahasabai), Kovai Ravikumar (organisar, Adi Tamilnadu Viduthalai Munnani), K R Nagarajan (Tamilnadu Andhra Arundadhiyar Mahasabai), Subbu (Ambedkar Human Rights Movement for Villagers), Sankar (Adi Tamilar Peravai), S Palanisamy (organisar, Puratachi Puligal Eyakkam), M Gowthaman (general secretary, Arundadhiyar Munnani), Dhandapani and Dayalan (president and secretary respectively of the Arundadhiyar Viduthalai Munnani), and S Rengasamy and S S Mayamalai (president and secretary respectively of the Tamilnadu Vettiyangal Sangam) formed the front of the rally.
Commencing from the Manro statue in Chennai, the procession went to the Chepauk near the state secretariat. Thousands greeted the rally en route by raising slogans in support of the demands. The procession then turned into a public meeting which R Jayaraman (North Chennai district organiser, Untouchability Eradication Front) presided over. Krishnamurthy (South Chennai district organiser, Untouchability Eradication Front) proposed the vote of thanks.
While the public meeting was in progress, a team consisting of N Varadharajan, K Varadharajan, P Sampath, P Shanmugam, K Balabharathi, K Mahindran, K R Ganesan, K Jakkaiyan, Masilamani and Mohan met the chief minister of Tamilnadu, M Karunanidhi, at Fort St George and handed him over a charter containing the demands. Discussions for nearly half an hour took place between the chief minister and the team.
Having read the charter of demands to the end, the chief minister stated that the demands were acceptable to the government of Tamilnadu. Among other things, he said that machines are being procured to remove the silt in underground sewage water drainages in the corporation areas so as to put an end to the possibility of death inside the drainages; similar arrangements would be made for the municipality areas also. He also announced that carrying of night soil by human beings would be fully eradicated.
He agreed to consider and settle soon the issue of formation of a state level commission with statuary powers, on the line of the all India SC–ST commissions. This commission would study and analyse the economic status and problems of the SC and ST groups, find solutions thereof and intervene in the problems facing these groups.
The demand for construction of a statue and memorial for Ondiveeran, a freedom fighter, was also accepted. The chief minister agreed to implement it soon.
Karunanidhi also pointed out that his government has implemented the three per cent internal reservation quota for the Arundadhiyar community, as was originally stressed by the CPI(M) and the Untouchability Eradication Front. Efforts are on to find solutions to the other demands concerning that community.
To the chief minister, TNUEF delegation also narrated the incidents that took place on September 30, during the temple entry struggle led by the front at Kangiyanur in Villupuram district. As has been reported in these columns earlier, a police lathi charge on the day badly injured G Latha, MLA. Moreover, the police arrested AIKS state secretary K Balakrishnan, CPI(M)’s Villupuram district secretary G Anandan and 103 others, and foisted cases against them. (These cases are still going on.) About the demand for institution of a judicial enquiry to investigate the lathi charge and other happenings on the day as well as take action against the erring police officials, and on the withdrawal of cases, the chief minister stated that he would intervene and take necessary actions.
It is to be noted that housing pattas have not been granted for the Arundadhiyar community. On the other hand, even though the government of Tamilnadu has issued pattas for the people belonging to other communities living for 62 years at Senkodipuram under the Dharmapuri municipal area, the Dharmapuri municipality is resorting to wrong means to remove these people from that place. Multifaceted struggles have been conducted in support of dalit people at Senkodipuram. The chief minister agreed to the TNUEF delegation’s demand of intervention so that the Arundadhiyar people could get pattas and those facing eviction threat in Senkodipuram are saved.
The delegation brought to the notice of the chief minister the issue of denial of right for entry in numerous temples in Tamilnadu to the dalit people, the functioning of casteist elements, violation of the rule of law and court judgements in many places, and the unlawful functioning of state administration in some places. The chief minister replied that firm steps would be taken on these issues, as was done in the case of Kangiyanur and Chettipulam where the government ensured the dalits’ entry into the temples.
On the demand for firm implementation of Tribal Forest Act, he stated that the government was taking measures in all the districts and that the same would be expedited. The team stressed that a separate department for the tribals should be created even though a separate commissioner has been appointed in Tamilnadu.
When the team iterated the demand of clearance of the backlog of several thousands of SC vacancies, he informed that his government was taking steps to fill the three lakh posts which remained unfilled during the previous regime and also to clear the entire backlog of SC-ST vacancies. He also stated that the government was taking measures to repair the damages in the cluster houses allotted to the dalits. He informed that this work would continue till the repair work was completed.
Karunanidhi also accepted to take necessary steps to firmly implement the untouchability eradication act and PCR Act in order to put an end to the cruel practice of untouchability in Tamilnadu.
The TNUEF team also reiterated the demands of increasing the reservation for SC/ST groups from 18 to 19 per cent on the basis of their population, allotment for land for SC- ST groups, reclamation of panjami lands, grant of housing pattas, allocation of funds in proportion to their population in the sub-plan of the budget and full utilisation of that amount, etc. The chief minister said that he would do the needful for implementation in a phased manner after due consideration.
The Tamilnadu Untouchability Eradication Front welcomed the acceptance of most of its demands by the chief minister who has assured to take steps for their fulfilment. This was a welcome feature of the October 27 rally, and the participants greeted the announcement with loud applauses. Later, the chief minister himself wrote an article in the DMK’s official daily Murasoli, highlighting the October 27 rally and the main aspects of his talks with the TNUEF delegation, which culminated in the acceptance of several demands.
The TNUEF has expressed the hope that the government of Tamilnadu would translate its assurances into action and implement the various demands.
The efforts and struggles of the CPI(M) and Tamilnadu Untouchability Eradication Front during the recent years have resulted in the following achievements, among others: (1) Three per cent sub-quota in reservation for the Arundadhiyar community, and (2) Partial removal of the “Untouchability Wall” in Uthapuram, giving passage for the dalits.
The struggles for dalits’ entry into temples have become successful in the following places:
(1) Thamaraipakkam Agneeswarar Temple, Tiruvannamalai.
(2) Ayakkudi Kaliammankoil in Dindigul district.
(3) Pandhapuli Mariammalkoil in Nellai district.
(4) Veppamthattai in village Sivankoil of Perambalur district.
(5) Andimadam Union Azhagapuram Kasiviswanatharkoil in Perambalur district.
(6) Vedapandhadi, village Koothandarvarkoil in Tiruvannamalai district.
(7) Kangiyanur, village Dhrowpathiammalkoil in Villupuram district.
(8) Chettipulam, village Aghanda Eswararkoil in Nagai district.
Abolition of the two-glass system at many places in Tamilnadu, right to haircut, right to use common pathways, washing rights in places meant for the purpose, right to use general toilets, right to use general cremation grounds and right to have pathways to gain entry into the separate cremation ground --- these are some of the victories the struggles led by the Untouchability Eradication Front had earlier achieved.
The impact of these achievements was reflected in the huge participation of dalit mass in the October 27 rally with enthusiasm. As noted above, this rally itself was credited with several achievements.
One has to note that the movement for winning the dalit people’s rights was not smooth and faced numerous hurdles. The TNUEF activists faced threats, intimidation and physical assaults. But nothing could stop their onward march, and they are now even more determined to carry forward their struggle while benefiting from the experiences they have gained. Their struggle promises to continue till the exploitation and repression are eradicated.