ICDA’s team finds Caste Discrimination Rampant in Distribution of Relief
The coastal districts including Cuddalore have been severely affected by the recent floods following an unprecedented level of heavy rains. Though everyone has been affected, it was found that the Dalits were more affected, NGO accounts, newspaper reports and reports by social activists and political leaders corroborated the same. On the basis of these accounts, to assess the loss of lives, property and the damages faced by the Dalits during this disaster, the Intellectual Circle for Dalit Actions (ICDA) conducted a one-week long field inquiry.
During the fact-finding conducted in 18 villages it was found that hundreds of houses belonging to Dalits were damaged fully or partially. 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 we went the danger of an epidemic was on and people, especially children, women and elderly people were suffering from health disorders.
The summarised findings from our fieldwork done at villages from Marakkanam to Parangipettai and till Kurinjipadi stretching over a space of 110 kilometres are as follows.
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 practiced in distribution of relief materials by NGOs, political parties and the government.
Like how caste-based discrimination was practiced in the distribution of relief materials and assistance during the Tsunami (2004) and Thane (2011) cyclone against the Dalits and Irular tribes, the same forms of discrimination were practiced during this flood. Though the flood equally affected both Dalits and non-Dalits, we couldn’t find a single relief camp where both Dalits and non-Dalits were given shelter and this amounts to the tangibility of discrimination in practice.
In most of the villages, the relief material, were brought to Dalit villages after getting caught in local power relations, where both the dominant castes and locally powerful politicians both 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 distribution among the Dalits were 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, which was originally Rs. 5000, to be given to the affected families. However, in Roadupottaveli and Annavelli villages the amount distributed were Rs. 4100 and Rs. 4600 respectively. At Alamelumangapuram village, the dominant caste members opposed the Medical camp organised by the district administration and forced to cancel it.
a) Right now relief amount has been given to farmers who owned lands and for crop loss. But landless agricultural labourers have been off work for almost 40 days and they also do not foresee regular agricultural labour work at least for the next 6 months, so the government should fix a minimum relief amount and distribute it properly avoiding bribery.
b) 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.
c) 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, gram panchayat meetings as avenues to propagate abolition of untouchability. The central government sponsored district level untouchability removal programmes and schemes should be strictly implemented.
d) The government as done in previous instances should avoid misusing the SCSP funds to distribute relief amount for the affected (both Dalit and non-Dalit) victims or using them for other welfare programs. 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 SC/ST people.
e) The 300 Dalit workers at the saltpans in Marakkanam are highly affected by the floods. The workers for who the next salt-making season falls on March are left with no work. Keeping in mind the welfare of the salt workers, the government should give assistance similar to how the government, provides assistance for fishermen during the fishing-ban season to support the fishermen families.
f) The Disaster Management Department run under Revenue department should be changed and in its place a central government sponsored District Level Disaster Management Commission should be established. The Adi Dravidar Department’s participation should also be ensured in the Commission.
g) 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.
h) 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 leads to an instance of the state encouraging a form of 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.
i) 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.
J) 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.
K) 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 machinery, 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 included, Anbuselvam, Independent Researcher, Puducherry., Stalin Rajangam, Writer, Madurai., A. Jeganathan, Researcher, Madurai and J.Balasubramanian, academic, based in Madurai.