CHENNAI: The Irular tribe members’ struggle for owning a piece of land would not end any time soon, going by the official apathy entrenched in the system. From abject poverty and social exclusion, the tribals, however, continue to fight for that ever-elusive land patta.
60-year-old Raja belongs to Irular community and resides among 28 families in Venkatapuram, a tribal hamlet under Peruncheri Panchayat limits, and 15 kilometers away from Tiruvallur District headquarters. Like other Irular hamlets, one can’t find proper houses, sanitation facility, electricity or gas connections in Venkatapuram. The hamlet also lacks access to any sort of education centres.
“We have been living here for 40 years. But there are no proper houses and none of us have pattas for the land. All of us have community certificates and Aadhaar cards, but no land pattas,” Raja says in a mix of Tamil and Telugu. The men from the community work at lands owned by dominant caste members in nearby villages, mostly as guards, and earn not more than a few hundred rupees daily, while the women mostly do domestic chores at houses in nearby villages. Their meagre pay hardly suffices to pay off their debt in nearby banks, which charge high rates of interest.
Chenchemma, who is in her 30s, says she had borrowed a loan for building a toilet under Swachh Bharat Mission and for building soak pits under the MGNREGA scheme. “As per the scheme, the government has to provide us `12,500 for building toilets and `8,500 for the soak pits. But it has now been several years and we haven’t received any financial benefits under the Central schemes,” says Chenchemma.
“A few years ago, some officials came to our hamlet and forced us to begin construction of the toilets. They said that only if we build toilets, can we continue to live here. We had to take hefty loans from the banks and the officials told us that the Central assistance will come later. Even after many years, nothing has come. Now, we have keep paying dues to the landlords and the banks,” she added.
Tiruvallur District Secretary of State Tribal Association R Tamilarasu says that there are 50 women residing in the hamlet. “If there were self-help groups (SHGs) in the hamlet, the women would have got ‘revolving’ funds and also loans from the NABARD. The government should immediately form SHGs here and include the tribal women in group activities. The benefits from SHGs will go a long way in supporting their lives,” he said.
Open defecation, power woes
With all the toilets only partially or improperly built, the tribals continue to defecate in the open. They now use the ‘toilets’ as storerooms. Another issue is the lack of electricity connections. Their surroundings resemble a forest, and with no lights they have grapple with snakes and scorpions at nights. “We have all the identity documents but we won’t be given electricity connections as we don’t have land pattas,” says Gangamma.
Lamenting over the water supply, another woman says, “Sometimes, a tanker comes and provides us water. Other times, we have to go to a village two kilometres away to fetch water.” Sudhakar, an advocate from Tiruvallur, has been helping the tribals to file petitions seeking pattas. “The situation for them is excruciating. The nearest school from the hamlet is six kilometres away.
So, nobody goes to school,” he said. Many teenage girls in the hamlet were found tending to their babies.
Narasimhan, a social activist and an advocate said, “After we met the Revenue Division Officer and placed requests for pattas, they surveyed this land and termed it ‘eligible for pattas’. That was two years ago. Nothing has happened since.”