THOOTUHUKUDI: At the stroke of the midnight nearly 75 years ago, India awoke into life and freedom. The government then as a gesture of tribute, gifted plots of land to the freedom fighters. But, courtesy red-tapism and official apathy, several fighters never enjoyed the fruits of that endowment. Three quarters of a century down the lane, many of the freedom fighters' grandchildren continue a fight to secure rights of their lands, many of which have been haphazardly encroached upon.
Thoothukudi, the erstwhile part of Tirunelveli district, had been a hot ground for freedom struggles. Meignanapuram post office torching, Kurumbur railway station torching, British Assistant Inspector of Salt Wilfred Loane's murder at Kulasekarapattinam, Keeranur Salt Satyagraham, disconnection of telegram wires in Tiruchendur, torching of arrack shops, coral mill stir, Collector Robert Ashe's murder and Kadalaiyur police firing are just some of the Independence struggle episodes that flared up tension in this region.
As per an RTI reply, over 115 freedom fighters from Tiruchendur taluk in Thoothukudi district had been gifted with lands in 1947. The revenue department of the Government of Madras in an order dated December 23, 1947, said they had decided to assign isolated plots of lands at the disposal of the government to 'political sufferers' (persons who had gone to jail for the cause of Independence as a result of taking part in the movements inaugurated by the Indian National Congress or under its sanctions). Families of those who died in these movements were also eligible for these grants. Each 'political sufferer' was assigned five acres of wetland or its equivalent in any single case, given that two acres of dry land will be treated as equivalent to one acre of wetland. The land thus assigned could not be sold, mortgaged or alienated for a period of 10 years.
According to All India Freedom Struggle Fighters and Successors Welfare Association President Dr Thavasi Muthu (63), many people are not aware that their fathers or grandfathers were endowed these land parcels. Through the RTI provision, it took us three years to obtain the government orders concerned, and the namelist of the beneficiaries from Tiruchendur taluk.
"For the three RTI pleas filed in 2015, the public information officer gave reply in 2018, that too after several appeals. It is understood that the change of titles was not properly initiated by the officials back then, and this led to this unforgivable mess," said Thavasi Muthu, whose father Tha Thangavel, a gold merchant, was imprisoned for three years in 1942 for taking part in the Keeranur Salt Satyagraham.
As many as 33 successors of the 115 fighters, who were provided lands, together continue to fight for their rightful inheritance. Thavasi Muthu, a retired teacher now, said his father was tortured by the British police repeatedly for supporting the local agitations. "We managed to survive on a pension of Rs 50 per month granted by former Chief Minister K Kamaraj," he recalled.
V Kannan (55), grandson of freedom fighter AV Ramakrishna Iyengar told TNIE as per the documents available, over 1.80 acres of dry land had been given to his grandfather in Tiruchendur. "But there is a private hotel on that land now. We do not know how the land was taken over by encroachers. We have been submitting petitions for the last many years. But the officials are scared to evict the encroachers who are now millionaires. We had also met former Chief Minister Edappadi K Palaniswami in this regard, but not action ensued," he rued.
After much struggle, freedom fighter Nainar Asari's son Balakrishnan from Arumuganeri identified the land that was granted to his father at Keela Tiruchendur. "However, the revenue officials are not surveying it though I had remitted the fees. I don't have proper job and have been struggling all my life. I am also unable to get my two daughters married off,'' he said. Freedom fighter and Kulasekarapattinam case convict Kasirajan's son Subbash Chandrabose also said the five acres of land given to his father at Paramakurichi was encroached upon.
Upon requests for government intervention to secure back the lands, Tiruchendur Tahsildar Swaminathan told TNIE he would surely consider their pleas if they produce necessary documents and evidences.