People's Democracy

(Weekly Organ of the Communist Party of India (Marxist)


No. 02

January 09, 2011



Untouchability Unmasked in "Singara" Chennai




THE word "Singara (Beautiful) Chennai” was coined when the present deputy chief minister and the so-called choice for the future chief minister, M K Stalin, took over the reins in Chennai Corporation as mayor. That was really a dream for every Chennai-ite, and that remains a mere dream even now. The myth like "there is no untouchability in cities" was disproved by the existence of Untouchability Walls in urban areas.


Though concrete information remained for long elusive regarding the capital city, the Tamilnadu Untouchability Eradication Front (TNUEF) has brought out the realty by surveying Chennai, thus exposing the ugly side of the "Singara" City. For this purpose, the TNUEF had deputed 80 volunteers to carry out the survey. As many as 31 locations in the city were selected and the volunteers met 775 people. This was carried out in October 2010. The survey report was released to the press on December 29. P Sampath (president of the TNUEF), K Samuel Raj (general secretary, TNUEF), R Jayaraman (treasurer, TNUEF), K Swaminathan (state secretary, TNUEF) and R Krishnamoorthy (convenor, TNUEF in South Chennai) were present at the press meet.


The detailed questionnaire meant for the survey incorporated issues like land patta, toilet facilities in houses, maintenance of public conveniences, health hazards, maintenance of houses of the Tamilnadu Slum Clearance Board (TNSCB), availability of ration shops, social welfare schemes, school education, playgrounds, roads, drinking water and hospital facilities etc.


The general belief that no oppression in the name of caste takes place in the city was then belied. The city has its own story of caste discriminations. The censuses of 1991 and 2001 have earlier presented a bleak scenario. It was claimed that, post-1991, dalits have got jobs and their share in the middle class population has increased. It is, therefore, surprising to note that the ratio of dalits in the city population has come down between 1991 and 2001.


In 1991, dalit population in Chennai was 13.78 per cent but it got reduced to 13.76 per cent in 2001. "This is because of the eviction of dalits from their areas in the name of development," said P Sampath while releasing the survey report. Also, most of these dalits are living in the Chennai slums. This in itself proves that discrimination is alive and kicking in the Chennai metro.


About 60 per cent of these dalits are living in places where there is no water, nor ditches or litter bins. They are staying on the banks of Koovam and Adyar rivers and of Buckingham Canal. In the past 38 years, the Tamilnadu Slum Clearance Board has built only 72,000 houses. In fact, an ambitious plan has been announced to make Chennai hut free by 2013. The real intention seems to be to throw the dalits out of the city rather than rehabilitating them.


The discrimination in the casteist sense gets reflected in the jobs they perform. They are doing the "demeaning" jobs in which manual work is involved. Many streets are named after Dr Babasaheb Ambedkar, but these have remained as the dalits-only residential areas. Dalits are not welcomed in posh areas like West Mambalam, T Nagar, Kodambakkam, Triplicane and Mylapore. Even those who are in coveted government posts do not get a house on rent to stay here.


There are places where dalits are living for the last 80 years but they have not yet get the pattas for their plots. Likewise, there are various other places where dalits have been living for the last 50 to 60 years but have been denied pattas. Everyday, they live in the fear of eviction. Even when the TNUEF volunteers went to these areas with their job of survey, the residents though that government officials had come and were perplexed that their fears of eviction had come true. However, when the intentions of the surveyors became clear, they briefed them in detail.


Most of the dalit students are studying in government schools and municipal corporation schools. As far as their general health is concerned, they live in such places as can be described as health hazardous only. Safe drinking water remains a distant dream for dalits in almost all of the dalit areas. Most of these places have no hospital facilities. Even if there is any, doctors are not regular. Dalits hardly get any medicines in these places. Many dalits are not aware of the social welfare schemes that are supposedly being implemented for them.


In the name of development, dalits are being thrown out of the city. This act had devastated their economic conditions. Many of them have lost their jobs and some of them have left since they cannot go all the way from outskirts to the city. The conditions of their women are still worse. Their girls are being married off at very early ages. Their bad economic conditions have making them sex workers.


Dalits have no place in the temple administration. Conversion to Christianity has not been a balm to the disease. In CSI churches too, dalits remained outside of the administration. They are not allowed to contest the church elections.




In regard to entry in the Uthapuram temple, the government machinery had thought that the response would be subdued in due course. But if they are still serious about it, many surprises are there in store for them. Uthapuram is still holding the flag of social justice aloft. It fights for itself and also inspires others to follow suit. Wherever dalits are coming out to fight, the name of Uthapuram is invoked to enthuse them. Although a portion of the Untouchability Wall in Uthapuram has been demolished, many other issues were left unresolved. The state government and district administration are still callous about solving these problems.


One issue that shows their callous attitude is of a bus shelter. Rs 3 lakhs were allotted or constructing a bus shelter from the MPLADS fund of the CPI(M)’s T K Rangarajan, Rajya Sabha member from the state. But the district administration refused to accept the fund saying that the law and order problem would come up if they went ahead with the construction of a bus shelter. The Muthalamman temple in Uthapuram is still out of bound for dalits. Demanding settlement of these issues, the people of Uthapuram travelled for over 600 km to Chennai to participate in the demonstration that was held in Saidapet.


Standing shoulder to shoulder with them, people from the capital city and adjacent districts took part in the demonstration. Hundred of women were shouting slogans in support of Uthapuram dalits. The cadres and supporters of the CPI(M), members of various trades unions and mass organisations took part in large numbers. The mood was upbeat in the demonstration. The announcement of THUEF president P Sampath acted like a stimulus package for the crowd. He announced that the dalits of Uthapuram would enter the Muthalamman temple on January 31 if the district administration did not act to take them inside. The loud claps took a few minutes to stop.


In his speech, Sampath charged that the funds meant for the welfare of dalit masses have been diverted to freebie schemes. He said it was it was shameful that the government was not accepting the demands for social justice. T K Rengarajan, MP, delivered the concluding speech. He warned the government not to stop the people from entering the temple on January 31. If at all they do it, it would be like stopping Mahatma Gandhi and Periyar, he said.


K Samuel Raj, S KMahendran (CPI-M MLA), Ponniah (an elder from Uthapuram), S K Ponnuthai, M Thangaraj (convenor, Madurai district unit of TNUEF) and C Ramakrishnan, CPI(M) district secretary in Madurai Rural, also greeted the demonstration.