Landless Dalits Forced to Live as Cave Dwellers

They are not primitive but Arunthathiyars have been living in rock shelters for generations in Tamil Nadu.

Published: 08th November 2015 07:07 AM  |   Last Updated: 08th November 2015 10:37 AM   |  A+A-

DHARMAPURI:Cavemen, we know, are pre-historic people or primitive tribes living in remote, inaccessible places. Except for anthropologists, they are only a curiosity for most people when TV channels telecast programmes about them. The more adventurous among us may wish to see them, but may think it too much trouble to visit those distant places.

But in Dharmapuri district of Tamil Nadu, there are many families taking shelter in virtual caves, more specifically spaces between rocks. They differ from cave dwellers in that they are not primitive people, but landless Arunthathiyars.

Dalits.jpgThere are more than 100 families in the Arunthathiyar Colony in Nagamarai in Pennagaram taluk, 50 km from Dharmapuri town. They have been living there for generations. Most of them do not have houses and hence live on the roadside or take shelter under rocks.

“We have submitted numerous petitions to the district administration and conducted hundreds of protests demanding houses and basic amenities. But the officials have not considered our demands. No action has been taken to improve our lot,” Chinnnapappa, a landless Arunthathiyar, told The Sunday Standard.

“Since 1974, we have been appealing to the government for a piece of land. Every time we submit a petition, the officials say the problem would be solved in 15 days. But the ‘15 days’ that have thus passed are too many to count. We still do not have houses or even basic amenities. Many of us continue to take shelter under rocks,” said Palani, a resident of the Arunthathiyar colony.

A former panchayat president, N P Ilangovan of the CPM, who is trying to get them land and houses, said the government had built 30 houses a few years ago, but  those were not enough.

As there are over 100 families there, one house is shared by more than one family. Many of them have to live on the roadside or take shelter under rocks.

“They are daily-wage labourers. None of them owns land. There is no government employee among them. Having no land, they cannot build houses. So the government should build houses for them or at least give them house sites with patta,” said Ilangovan.

“It is not only houses that we lack. We do not have toilet facilities, let alone street lights,” said Manjula, who is a member of the panchayat. “In the absence of toilets, we have to defecate in the open. This leads to the spread of diseases,” she added.

Adding to their woes, the Arunthathiyars face discrimination from caste Hindus.

“The colony is surrounded by houses occupied by caste Hindus. Even if we sit on a chair in front of them, they scold us. We can’t do anything about it as we depend on them for our livelihood,” said a villager.

When asked about the problem, Harur MLA P Dilli Babu said, “We staged a protest about six months ago. The district officials had held talks with us and promised pattas for house sites. But they did not keep the promise. If the pattas are not issued this week, we will begin an indefinite protest.”

It was only recently that Tamil Nadu was chosen as the top state in eight development parameters by the industry body Assocham.

It is a paradox that many people, who actually work, have to take shelter under rocks. There is no excuse to deny them housing, he added.


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