Margaret Jeoji hails from a dalit Christian family in Trichy, Tamil Nadu, a state where the local media are all mouth-pieces of political parties, where the upper caste refuses to let go of its orthodoxy and where the women have been suppressed in the name of tradition. Margaret is a staunch human rights activist and feminist who has been working…
The Forgotten People of Trichy Fight for their Homes
For as long as anyone can remember, a growing community consisting of over 100 families at the last count have been settled around Asur lake around the industrial areas on the outskirts of Trichy, Tamil Nadu. Predominantly agrarian, it is also the home of the daily wage labourers who work in the nearby factories. Inspite of being along the outskirts of a city and in midst of an industrial complex, it has never been touched by electricity, sanitation or road. It a forgotten island, an invisible community and recently, the state government, by issuing a notice of eviction has sought to erase all signs that it ever existed. There is no mention of ‘rehabilitation’ or any kind of compensation. The people realized that they can no longer afford to be silent.
IndiaUnheard Community Correspondent Margaret Joeji is a passionate human rights activist who has worked extensively with the issues of the underprivileged in the most marginalized regions of Tamil Nadu. She first knew of the region when she was sent there as part of a human rights workshop, a couple of years ago. Later, camps, workshops, case studies kept taking her back to the community. It was on her last visit, earlier this year that she heard about the government’s orders. The community had to be organized, a campaign had to be launched but first the people must learn to articulate their demands. The people must speak out.
So why is the government so keen of wiping out the community?
“During the rains, there is frequent flooding along the shore of the lake,” says Margaret. “Life in the community becomes an ordeal. Water gets into the houses. With the lack of a decent sewage system, the water collects and stagnates. Everybody here falls terribly sick during every rainy season especially the younger children. The people had long appealed to the government to take care of the issue. Election time promises were given but never acted on, until now. Suddenly, they are worried about the flooding and the contagion and their solution is to leave 100 families with nowhere to go.”
“All this community has is their land and their sense of belonging. They have lived here for a hundred years and the government did not even bother to look in their direction, the place does not even have an address. Now, all of a sudden, they want them to leave their lives, work and land, and shift elsewhere. The people have been left with no choice but to claim their rights and fight for their land.”
Tamil Nadu is notorious for its policy towards land and rehabilitation. The draconian Land Acquisition Act which applies for the rest of the country does not apply for this state. It has its own version called the Tamil Nadu Acquisition of Land Act which takes oppression to dystopian levels. Uniquely for an Indian state, there is no mention of relief and rehabilitation. The very existence and validity of state law that attempts to over-ride the constitution can be questioned but the Act has been called into effect every time the state decided to demolish farms, houses, communities and entire slums in the name of progress. It’s easy to see why the state has one of the largest numbers of Special Economic Zones (SEZ) and very few land struggles. No questions can be asked and the government is under no compulsion to take responsibility of the welfare its people and one can still call it ‘democracy’.
It may seem that the odds are stacked against the community at Asur Lake. But the breaking the silence imposed by the oppression is the first step. “There is a long road ahead,” says Margaret. “But the people are learning to express their age-old anger and dismay against the government. They have opened up and are willing to reach out for help and support. They have decided they will not move from their homes, they are visiting government offices and authorities with their petitions; they’re trying to shed light on the struggle and their community. They will not be quiet anymore.”
After one hundred years, this forgotten community of Trichy seems to have shaken off the tag of being the oppressed. Just by speaking out they have become contenders.
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