CHENNAI: “For about five years, we’ve been appealing to the district authorities to give us housing. But people of the dominant caste in our village, with the help of local politicians, stop the officials from giving us houses here,” says Nandini, a woman from the Narikuravar tribal community, which traditionally makes ornaments of beads for a living.
About 50 Narikuravar families live in Karasangal village in Kancheepuram district, hardly 10 km from the suburbs of Chennai. These tribals, who stay just outside the Karasangal TNEB office, settled in the region about 20 years ago.
Making matters worse, they face oppression from people of the dominant caste, who constitute 80 per cent of the village’s population, according to the tribals. When TNIE was interacting with the tribals on Sunday, several men, appearing to be from dominant castes, passed by on bikes, hurling casteist slurs and taunting the tribals to get housing in the village.
They even demanded that the tribals vacate the region. About 10 minutes later, a few local politicians, who also appeared to be from the dominant communities, arrived and tried to stop the tribals from speaking to TNIE about their oppression.
Will evict you overnight if you speak to media, warn politicos
The politicians, whose affiliation couldn’t be confirmed, also warned the tribals that they would be evicted overnight and “dumped” in some unknown land by the officials if they speak to the media. However, the tribals said they face such oppression on a daily basis and there was nothing new about it.
Having migrated from various parts of Kancheepuram about 20 years ago, these tribals settled alongside the busy Karasangal-Manimangalam-Sriperambudur High Road, which reaches interior parts of Kancheepuram. While their hamlet grew into a bigger settlement over time as they built makeshift houses with bricks and straw, they lack basic amenities such as drinking water, toilets and electricity. Some of them don’t even have basic documentation such as Aadhaar cards, voter ID and ration cards.
“Through activists, we have made representations to district officials at various levels, seeking better housing within the locality. The Revenue authorities even surveyed land for us near the village and promised to give us housing. But people of the dominant caste want us out of here,” complains Amula, who is in his 30s.
“Several years ago, Revenue officials promised us individual pieces of land in the village, but now, they say they would shift us to a Slum Board colony about 10 km from the village. However, our culture and way of life would not go well with an apartment-like setup as we still use firewood for cooking, and our children and elders are not used to climbing storeyed buildings,” explains Kumari, a tribal resident.
These tribals don’t even have water supply, and depend on a common tap about 200 m from their hamlet. “Even there, people of the dominant caste don’t let us take water for more than 10 minutes. We are 50 families, and if we form a queue for water, they immediately force us to leave,” says Lagma, another resident.
She adds that even if they are forced to go to the nearby Manimangalam lake to fetch water, they are scared their children might fall into the lake. “The authorities set up a tap in our hamlet before the elections, but it never worked,” Lagma adds.
Activists allege their efforts to get housing for the tribals have gone in vain due to the nexus between people of the dominant caste and politicians and local officials. “There are already many Central and State government schemes for housing and basic amenities for Scheduled Tribes. The tribals can be given land within the locality under the schemes. Such measures have been implemented in districts such as Tiruvallur and Kancheepuram,” explains M Azhagesan, of Tamil Nadu Tribals’ Association.
Azhagesan, who helped some of the tribals get Aadhar cards, says the tribals have been neglected and oppressed, due to which they don’t even have basic facilities such as housing, sanitation, gas, and electricity.
A Revenue divisional official in Kancheepuram district, meanwhile, says efforts are on to provide housing to all the tribals in Kancheepuram. “We have regularly been providing housing to tribals in Kancheepuram, and will allocate land to these tribals too, and take steps to relocate them.”
Nexus between dominant caste & powers that be
Activists allege their efforts to get housing for the tribals have gone in vain due to the nexus between people of the dominant caste, politicians and local officials. “There are many government schemes for housing and basic amenities for Scheduled Tribes.
The tribals can be given land within the locality under schemes. Such measures were implemented in Tiruvallur and Kancheepuram,” says M Azhagesan, of Tamil Nadu Tribals’ Association.