ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846
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Caste Discrimination in Relief

Tamil Nadu Floods 2015

J Balasubramaniam is a member of the Intellectual Circle for Dalit Actions (ICDA) based in Madurai, Tamil Nadu. 

A fact finding committee on the impact of floods and relief work in Viluppuram and Cuddalore district in Tamil Nadu finds that Dalits are discriminated against when it comes to distribution of relief material and allocation of funds. 

The coastal districts of Tamil Nadu have been severely affected by the 2015 floods in Tamil Nadu following unprecedented heavy rainfall. Though everyone has been affected, it was found that Dalits bore the brunt of the disaster. Non-governmental organisation (NGO) accounts, newspaper reports and reports by social activists and political leaders corroborated the same. On the basis of these accounts, the Intellectual Circle for Dalit Actions (ICDA) conducted a one-week long field inquiry to assess the loss of lives, property and the damages faced by the Dalits during this disaster.

The survey covered villages from Marakkanam in Viluppuram district to Parangipettai and Kurinjipadi in Cuddalore district.

During the fact-finding conducted in 18 villages it was found that hundreds of houses belonging to Dalits were damaged partially or completely. Eleven Dalit families have lost all the important documents they had in possession. Thousands of daily wage labourers have lost their means of livelihood and in almost all the villages the danger of an epidemic was imminent and people, especially children, women and elderly people were suffering from health disorders.

Evidences of Discrimination

In the flood hit areas like, Ambedkar Colony, Kanthadu and Church Street, in Marakkanam, Purushothaman Nagar, Annavalli, Stalin Nagar, Ambedkar Nagar, Watrayan, Karikuppam and Kongaranpalayamin Cuddalore, Pudhuchattiram, Mission Theru in Parangipettai, Thondamanatham, Onankuppam, Aalampadi, Boothampadi, RoattuPottaveli and Keezhapudhuppettai in Kurinjipadi,   Kalkunam, in Vadalur area, Kaduvetti and Karunguli villages in Vadalur, there was discrimination in distribution of relief materials by NGOs, political parties and the government. Though the flood equally affected both Dalits and non-Dalits, we could not find a single relief camp where both Dalits and non-Dalits were given shelter and this amounts to the tangibility of discrimination in practice. This resonates with the discrimination Dalits and Irular community faced during the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami and the 2011 Cyclone Thane respectively.

In most of the villages the relief material was brought to Dalit villages after getting caught in local power relations, where both the dominant castes and locally powerful politicians prevented and delayed the distribution of relief material. Villages where there is large-scale discrimination in practice like, Kaaduvetti, Varagurpettai and Onankuppam, the relief materials brought by the NGOs for distributing among the Dalits was prevented by the dominant castes. Moreover, the unaffected dominant caste villagers pillaged all the materials. 

There was fraudulence reported in the distribution of government announced relief amount (originally Rs 5000) to be given to the affected families. However, in Roadupottaveli and Annavelli villages the amount distributed was Rs 4100 and Rs 4600 respectively. At Alamelumangapuram village, the dominant caste members opposed the medical camp organised by the district administration and forced the authorities to cancel it.

Recommendations

1)  Right now a certain amount of relief has been given to landed farmers for crop loss. But landless agricultural labourers have been off work for almost 40 days and they do not foresee regular agricultural labour work at least for the next 6 months. The government should fix a minimum relief amount and distribute it properly avoiding bribery.

2) The government is found taking into account only households affected by flooding up of inundated water.  There were houses, which were partially damaged like—roofs and walls, which are not taken into account. Moreover, domestic animals like poultry and cattle should also be included in its estimation of loss.

3) The media has already exposed the existence of caste-based discrimination during such big natural disasters. This situation still exists in our society because of the failure to fight continually against the caste system both ideologically and in terms of practice. The lack of will on the part of the state to fight against all forms of practices of untouchability and discrimination stands exposed in these situations. The government should show interest in conducting common feasts, village panchayat meetings as avenues to propagate abolition of untouchability. The central government sponsored district level untouchability removal programmes and schemes should be strictly implemented.

4) The government should avoid misusing the Scheduled Castes Sub Plan (SCSP) funds to distribute relief amount for the affected (both Dalit and non-Dalit) victims or using them for other welfare programmes. Instead it should distribute the flood relief amount only from the Centre’s National Disaster Relief Fund and not misuse the SCSP funds which are meant for empowerment of scheduled castes and scheduled tribes.

5) The 300 Dalit workers at the saltpans in Marakkanam are highly affected by the floods. They have no work from March, when the salt-making season begins. Keeping in mind the welfare of the saltpan workers, the government should provide assistance similar to the one provided for fishermen during the fishing-ban season.

6) The Disaster Management Department run under the Revenue department should be changed and in its place a central government sponsored District Level Disaster Management Commission should be established. The AdiDravidar Department’s participation should also be ensured in the Commission.

7) Ten Dalits (Arunthathiyars-8 and Adi Dravidars-2) of Periyakaatupalayam died during the floods. The 115 families of the village were given shelter in a relief camp. The government should immediately rehabilitate and relocate them without showing any apathy.

8) In the rain-affected districts of Chennai, Kanchipuram, Thiruvallur, Villupuram and Cuddalore, to remove garbage and clear the mess, conservancy workers were brought by the state government from all over Tamil Nadu. This is almost tantamount to state-endorsed  casteism. The government should avoid doing this during disasters and instead encourage and campaign that the affected citizens irrespective of caste should come out and help each other and involve in cleaning the mess and clearing the garbage.

9) ICDA condoles the death of conservancy worker Palanichamy (42) of Sholangapalayam in Erode district who was brought to Chennai and was involved in clearing garbage and had died due to work pressure. We also condemn the government for putting up such pressure on the hapless work force. The conservancy workers who had cleared tonnes of garbage in a short time should be provided an enhanced salary based on their contributions.

10) The water that was released from the second mine in Neyveli Lignite Corporation (NLC) was the reason for the inundation of water in Vadalur and Kurinjipadi areas resulting in loss of lives and heavy loss of property. The state government should monitor in future that this is not repeated and should demand compensation from NLC for the loss.

11) To avoid any omissions and disparity in the assessment of loss of properties in flood and distribution of relief material, the government should appoint a committee consisting members from the government, political parties, NGOs, media representatives and social activists. ICDA demands that the whole process of assessment and distribution of relief material shall be done through this committee.

[The fact-finding committee included Anbuselvam, an independent researcher based in Puducherry, Stalin Rajangam, a writer based in Madurai, A Jeganathan, a researcher based in Madurai and J Balasubramaniam, an academic based in Madurai.]

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