Denial of land
drives Dalits to Islam
by R. Ilangovan
Dalits of Chockadevanpatti
hamlet in Madurai district have been waging a battle since 1981 against
powerful caste Hindus who refuse to vacate the land assigned by the
Government for constructing houses for Adi Dravidars.
To register their protest
against the district administration's "failure'' to secure the
land, 51 Dalit families, identified as beneficiaries of the scheme,
have announced their intention to embrace Islam. They have set a Deceember
The Dalits, who were allotted
two cents each to build houses, also accuse the district administration
of confining its role to erecting a warning board on the disputed land,
which says it belongs to the Adi Dravidars. Sixtyfive-year old Vellaiyan,
who has taken up the issue, says he has exhausted all his savings to
sustain the fight against the powerful `occupiers.' He has already mortgaged
his piece of land.
The Adi Dravidar Welfare
department, he says, identified 1.95 acres on East Street to allot house
site `pattas'. The Social Welfare department issued a notification under
Section 4 (1) of the Land Acquisition Act in 1981, and was published
in the Tamil Nadu Government Gazette, dated January 5, 1982. Later the
administration distributed the `pattas' to the beneficiaries and even
served an eviction notice on the land occupiers.
But the caste Hindus, predominantly
Piramalai Kallars, strongly protested.
"Even after the culmination
of a long drawn-out legal battle, the tenacious hold of the caste Hindus
over the land has not slackened a bit,'' says Vellaiyan. During the
last local polls, the issue snowballed into caste violence, which left
many injured. Since then many Dalits have left the village.
K. Baluchamy, former president
of the Chockadevanpatti Cooperative Milk Society, says nearly 69 families,
including himself and a few Dalits, have been living on this land for
the past three decades.
Houses have already been
constructed. They claim they have been paying all taxes to the authorities
including the Valanthur village panchayat, under whose jurisdiction
the hamlet falls. Despite agitations and protests, the issue remains
The Dalits still wait, after
21 long years, to get possession of the allotted land. The village is
situated near the Pappapatti, Keeripatti and Nattamangalam reserved
village panchayats, where local polls could not be held since 1996