Seeds of despair

Published : Mar 14, 2003 00:00 IST

Thanusu and his wife near the well they built for farming. The land they cultivated has been classified as wasteland. - R. RAGHU

Thanusu and his wife near the well they built for farming. The land they cultivated has been classified as wasteland. - R. RAGHU

"No, we will not leave this land. How can they deprive us of the land we have cultivated for four decades?" asks Madurai, 50.

"How can they make me work for wages on my own land? How can anyone else decide what should be grown on my land? Our families have sweated it out here, in sun and rain, for three generations, to develop this almost arid land. Today, from this land we get enough food for the family for the whole year," says Indirani, 40.

"We have nothing but this piece of land. If thrown out from here, where can we go now?" asks Thanusu, 50.

MADURAI, Indira and Thanusu are from a village in Kancheepuram district of Tamil Nadu. They are marginal farmers, each owning less than half a hectare at Kilapaakkam, 27 km east of Chengalpattu. The village has been identified by the district administration as wasteland and has been offered for allotment under the State government's Comprehensive Wasteland Development Scheme.

Inhabited by about 1,500 Dalits, the village comes under the Kilapaakkam-Vellappandal village panchayat. These Dalits are the descendants of 200 families, each of which was given government land measuring 44 cents (0.2 hectare) from the poromboke land spread accross the villages of Kilappaakkam and Vellappandal in the early 1960s on the strength of a resolution passed by the local panchayat. Of this, they used 40 cents for cultivation, leaving the rest for building a house.

Their statements reveal that the wasteland programme has not evoked any enthusiasm about the possibility of "fruitful" joint ventures with trade giants in agri-business. It has only sown seeds of despair and dejection. They fear that sooner or later they would be pushed out of their lands.

The Dalit farmers are totally dependent on the rain-fed land for their livelihood. They grow paddy and get a yield of about 10 bags of 75 kg each, in six months. This, together with the ragi that they grow for the rest of the year along with blackgram, sesame and so on, takes care of their modest food needs. They said that they had been paying tax for the land until the government waived it some time ago.

Most of them live close to their land-holdings in Indira Gandhi Colony at Samanthipuram, in group houses built for them under a government scheme. The Tamil Nadu Electricity Board has provided streetlights and power connections to the houses. The small houses stand on either side of a neatly laid cement concrete road. The panchayat supplies drinking water through public taps from an overhead tank (capacity: 30,000 litres), which was constructed at a cost of Rs.2 lakhs. The Dalit occupants of these houses pay property tax to the panchayat.

Another section of the Kilapaakkam Dalits lives in 80 thatched hutments in the nearby Periyar Nagar Colony. They have been provided with electricity since 1993 and drinking water since 1996. The president of the local panchayat, K.V. Rasukkutti, a member of the ruling All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam, is a resident of this colony.

The village has a primary school. For further studies the children have to go to the nearest town, Thirukkazhukundram, 10 km away. Hospital facilities too are available in the town. A mini bus serves the purpose, on a road, which is in a bad shape owing to the large-scale sand-mining that goes on in the nearby Palar riverbed regardless of a court ban.

It is strange how an entire village, which has been enjoying infrastructural facilities, though inadequate, under the government and the panchayat schemes for many years, can be declared as wasteland. A possible explanation is that the revenue records have not been updated. The Dalit farmers say that the officials told them that the adangal did not show that they had been cultivating the land in question. (Adangal is a government document that shows the user-status of different pieces of land, which is prepared and maintained by the Village Administrative Officer. This officer is expected to visit each piece of land, find out who cultivates it, and record his findings on a regular basis.) "How can the poor cultivators be made victims of bureaucratic bungling?" asks N. Dayalan, Programme Coordinator, Legal Resources for Social Action (LRSA), a Chengalpattu-based non-governmental organisation.

Dalits, who constitute more than 60 per cent of the population (3,200) of the twin-villages, will be the worst sufferers when the government proposal materialises. They shudder to think of their eventual deprivation of the land, which they developed. They went in a protest march to the Collectorate, and staged a demonstration.

Madurai was so shocked that he could not continue farming operations. "The land I cultivate is the sole source of my livelihood. Where can I go with my family if uprooted from this soil?" Thanusu, who dug a fairly large well by borrowing money at a high interest rate, and had hopes of making it big by pooling the resources of his four sons, who own a fast food shop in Chennai, and that of his four brothers, who own land in the village, says that all his hopes have been shattered. "What can I do with this huge well now?" he asks. Madurai and Thanusu say that they will not take things lying down. "We will fight come what may, and we will hold on to our dear land," says Madurai. Most others seem to share his determination.

Sign in to Unlock member-only benefits!
  • Bookmark stories to read later.
  • Comment on stories to start conversations.
  • Subscribe to our newsletters.
  • Get notified about discounts and offers to our products.
Sign in


Comments have to be in English, and in full sentences. They cannot be abusive or personal. Please abide to our community guidelines for posting your comment