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Tale Of A Village's Struggle For Survival

By Thervoy youth, women and people's struggle committee

14 July, 2011

Our struggle to retain control over our grazing land, forest, livelihood and bodily integrity

Our village Thervoy Kandigai, Gummidipoondi Taluk, Thiruvallur District, Tamil Nadu (50 km North of Chennai) has 2000 households (majority dalits, the rest belonging to Backward Castes and (a few) Scheduled Tribes). As per number of ration cards there are only 959 households, because some families are joint families. 90% of households have agriculture land which is irrigated through channels from tanks in the village, including seven in the 1127 acres of ‘Mekkal Poromboku' (grazing) land.  Of the 90% who have land,   70% have less than two acres, 20% have less than 1 acre and 10% have more than 2 acres of land.  We take two crops most years  and only twice in the last 10 years we have had to harvest one crop. We are employed for 9 months in the year in agriculture because of irrigation (which is now under threat). Only few go out in search of waged work. Roughly 80% of our households have livestock, for which fodder and water comes from the grazing land . Around 1995 a check dam was built by the Forest Department under the Watershed Development Program. The Mekkal Poromboku land hosts seven tanks, and acts as a watershed not only for our village, but neighbouring 24 villages in the same Taluk. Further, it is used by women of our village to collect twigs for fuel, for open defecation (with few households having toilets in the villages) and for menstrual hygiene. It provides us medicinal herbs and fruits during off season (see Box 1 for song of 70 year Naynamma on the use of the Poromobokku land, also referred to as forest land for reasons explained later). The Mekkal Porambokku land is likely a nurturing mother to us. 15 households live in Mekkal Porombokku land and some have planted cashew trees. There is a reserved forest next to the Mekkal Porombokku land.

Till 1824 the Zamindari system was in operation and they were collecting taxes and this 1127 acres of land was classified as patta land with the Zamindar. The Zamindari system was abolished after independence, and there was an attempt to bring this land also under the Land Ceiling Act around 1969. But we fought with the Kannakupillai (Accountant) and later Village Administrative Officer (1977) and ensured that this land was classified as Mekkal Poromoboku or grazing land was under our control and not redistributed as private land.

We have been guarding 1127 acres of grazing lands classified as Mekkal Porombokku land for 200 years. The system is that each house in the village gives two “Marraka” (around 6 kgs) of rice or paddy, and this is used to pay for two watch personsfor looking after the grazing land.

SIPCOT's coming and rationale for our resistance

In 2007, we saw an advertisement in Tamil newspaper Dinathanthi on the upcoming SIPCOT complex stating this this complex will be located on the Mekkal Porombokku land (grazing land of 1127 acres). On 30/1/2007 the Panchayat Raj Institution passed a resolution without Gram Sabha consent stating that that they do not have an objection to the giving away of 32/2 and 33/2 Survey number of Mekkal Porombokku Land to SIPCOT industrial park. We, the village people went and met the Thirvallur District Collector and District Revenue Officer . We knew if such a project emerges it would affect our livestock, agriculture, water, fuel and health security. We had also heard that SIPCOT industrial complexes in Cuddalore in Tamil Nadu was causing health hazards through effluence and had the potential to damage nervous system and kidneys, and, cause heart and eye ailments . We heard from elsewhere that such complexes hardly created employment for local people after the construction phase was over, often did not create much permanent employment for local people, and people from other states were brought in once the construction stage was over. The companies would soon start buying our agriculture land to build houses for employees at higher levels, hotels would come, women would be exploited, and our subaltern dalit culture would get eroded. Equally we were worried what would happen to us, if we moved to cities. For we had seen that immigrants from other states dominated the cites as they were cheaper labour. We would become indebted, pushed into near bonded work in cities while now we are self-employed and lived with dignity. In fact we were informed that between 1998/1999 and 2005/2006 rural landlessness in the state had increased from 59.9% to 64.3% . Rural landlessness was higher in Tamil Nadu than India as a whole. If all rural agriculture land was industrialised what would happen to food and nutrition security? As traditionally we are tillers we were worried about this. Though we are educated in our village, we are interested in agriculture.

Our protest

Three thousand of us fasted in front of the Collector's office in 2007. Member of Legislative Assembly (MLA)belonging to AIADMK KS Vijayakumar supported us at that time. 500 of us went and met the Collector, atleast half of whom were women.

The then Collector Ranvir Prasad agreed that giving away of the Mekkal Porumbokku land was a violation of our right to livelihood and grazing land. The honest Collector Ranvir Prasad was transferred in three days by the DMK regime. Given this set back, 5000 of us went on a fast in the first quarter of 2007, and Edapadi Palaniswamy of AIADMK joined us. This was broadcast on Jaya TV. But the previous regime (DMK) did not change its stand. In the middle of 2007, we approached the National SC/ST Commission The Commission instructed the Tamil Nadu Chief Minister, Collector and Village PRI President to look into the matter. But no order came to our hand stating that the project was shelved.

On 21/1/2008 an agreement was drafted between Forest Department and PRI (Agreement number 24883 signed by Forest Range Officer and PRI President on 4/2/2008) stating that 250 hectares of the Mekkal Porombokku land (revenue number 32/2. 33/1) would be handed over to the PRI for protection for the year 2008-9 and after 3 to five years a village forest protection committee would be formed which will maintain this 250 hectares of land . That is, as per this agreement the forest still belongs to PRI and the to be formed village forest protection committee . We the Thervoy people still have not received a copy of any order stating this agreement has been cancelled and neither has such a cancellation been discussed in the Gram Sabha.



Box 1 : Anbuvulla Kadu:

70 year old Naynamma' song, Thervoy village on the MekkalPorombokuLand

“This forests nurtures us

This forest loves us

This forest gave us water for irrigating our fields

This forest gave us water for drinking

The forest gives us material for making brooms

This forest gave us fruits during off season

This forest allowed us to graze our animals

The forest gave us breeze on hot summer days

When snakes bit us, we ran to the forest for medicinal herbs”


In 2008, members of Dalit Mannurumai Kootamayaippu (DMK under the leadership of Mr Nicholas ), National Alliance of People's Movements (State Coordinator Anbuvendan and Youth Coordinators Arul Doss and Sudarshanam ), Anti-SEZ group ( Madhumitta Dutta ), Unorganised Workers Federation ( Geeta Ramakrsihanan ), Pennurumai Iyyakkam (L eelavathi and Kamala ) and Association for the Rural Poor (Dr Felix ) came to support our struggle. A newspaper cited a staff of DMK which pointed to the fact that in the same taluk there were non functioning SIPCOT complexes

Box 2 : Why build a company here when SIPCOT in Gummudipoondi which houses around 250 firms have been closed

“In the SIPCOT at Gummudipoondi around 250 firms have been closed… why don't they open the new companies there which have better infrastructure facilities and a national highway rather than build a SEZ in Thervoy which does not even boast of proper buses? The main reason is to destroy Dalit villages

Samson cited in Caleb, Nithya Take our houses not the forest Indian Express, January, 24, 2009

We thought with so many groups and movements supporting us the industrial park will be closed. We were however wrong. In the first week of January, 2009, SIPCOT put up a board near the house of one our residents,Kalai. SIPCOT and Michellin Tyre Factory (budget of Rs 4000 crore for this project) brought JCP machines to demolish the forests and some of the tanks. We protested against this demolition immediately and the police arrested 61 persons, including six women Interestingly, Vani, the Panchayat President, Vedamani the Councillor and Sarasa, Karpagam and Mala who were Ward members all representing the DMK party were also arrested. They joined the protest though they were hand in gloves with the then government (DMK). All were kept in jail for four days, and then released them on conditional bail.

On January 22nd, 2009 , the demolition began on a larger scale. Police came with revolver and stood in every street. There were 300 police personnel deployed. 150 of us from the village went and met the District Revenue Officer and then the (then) Managing Director SIPCOT, Govindan, an IAS Officer on January 23rd, 2009 . Our meeting began at 10 PM and ended at 2.30 PM . Only 15 of us were allowed entry, of whom approximately 6 were women. The SIPCOT manager did not relent and did not heed to our request to stop the project. When the then Industrial Secretary MF Farooqui , promised to construct roads, schools and primary health centre in return of our land, we retorted that it was our fundamental right to be provided such basic facilities. Our grazing land need not be taken by the government in exchange for delivery of ‘welfare schemes'!

Hence we boycotted republic day celebrations in Panchayati Raj Institution in 2009 and hoisted a black flag in school. Each house hoisted a black flag. We boycotted Gram Sabha meeting. On January 29 th , 2009 all the households gave back our ration cards.

On February, 2, 2009, Armstrong, Bahujan Samaj Party president joined us. 500 of us walked to Ponneri 35 kilometer away where the taluk office was located. 247 of us were arrested, of whom 180 were women. After a day we were released.

On February, 17, 2009 , one thousand five hundred of us (including 1200 women) protested in front of the MLA Guest House, Chennai along with representatives of Dalit Mannurumai Kootamaippu, NAPM and anti SEZ committee. But no action was taken. We hence went to the High Court, but the court was closed from February 2009 to March 18, 2009 . On May 12, 2009 a stay order was issued by the high court (WP 9319/2009). Judges Jyothimani and Sivagnanam ordered for a stay of demolitions for three months, but not a permanent stop to the SIPCOT industrial park and industries proposed. We boycotted elections. An interim order was issues by Jusitce Dananbalan and Sundaresan stating that bushes and shrubs can only be cleaned, but not trees

On 15-9-2009 The Gram Sabha of Thervoy Panchayat, Gummudi Pundi Taluk passed a resolution under the leadership of the President Vani and ward members Sarasa, Janakiraman, Shivakumr, Thirupati, Mala, Karpagam, Sinivasan, A Manoharan and PRI Assistant (Udaviyalar) Ravi and Nalapaniylar (welfare officer) K Gajendran(resolution ix) opposing the establishment of SIPCOT industrial parkresolution stating that they wanted they withdrawal of the establishment of SIPCOT Industrial park in the Mekkal Poroumbokku land Serial number 32/2 and 33/2. It also recorded that 63 people were arrested in struggles against the Industrial park.

On 16/9/2009 the high court under Ibhrahim Kalifullah and Bhanumathi ruled (final judgement) that that In compensation of the 1127 acres of Mekkal Porombokku land, the government will give 450 acres of Pural land (porombokku) in the village for conversion to grazing land. This land had eucalyptus trees and cashew shrubs, and was used as firewood collection and open defecation. Another 300 acres of land should be given somewhere else in the same district. That is we were expected to take cows and livestock grazing several kilometers away. The High court judgment also ruled that SIPCOT would allocate 100 acres within its premise for fodder development (Survey number 32/2). The High court judgment also stated that 16 HH who had “encroached” the mekkal porombokku land will be given housing elsewhere. There was no mention that the 7 tanks constructed in the premises of the land grabbed by the SIPCOT industrial park under the watershed development program would not be demolished.

On 14th February 2010, an agreement of ‘no work' till 23rd February was negotiated by us with SIPCOT when over 500 women went to the SIPCOT site and asked them to stop work. But on the following day, 8 villagers, including three key activists among us who were spearheading the opposition against the land acquisition, were illegally detained and charged with various sections of the IPC and jailed by the Gummidipoondi police.

On 9/3/2010 we moved the Supreme Court with the support of Dalit Mannurumai Kootamaippu. But the judgment of Justice K G Balakrishnan upheld the High Court judgment. We started fasting immediately. The village school was closed after hearing the judgement.

On 30/4/2010 a public hearing was held in Kaveraipatti located 18 km away from the village, though the public hearing is supposed to be held in the same village as per the government rule. 1500 villagers (1000 women) went with great difficulty. In the publiic hearing, the people expressed their opinion to the Collector and District Pollution Control Board Chairperson that they were opposed to the SIPCOT industrial park.

In September, 2010 Professor Lakshmanan , Associate Professor, Madras Institute of Development Studies completed a useful study “Environment and Social Impact Study of the Implementation of an industrial Zone: Thervoy village of Tamil Nadu ” . The study made it clear to us that four companies were proposed to be built under the Industrial Complex: Michellin Tyre company, Aluminium and Ferrous Alloy Metal Maker Hunter Dougles India Private Limited, Harsha Float Glass and Harsh Exito Engineering Company. According to his report a site evaluation and suitability matrix for SIPCOT Industrial Park at Thervoy was available which clearly showed actual violations of CPCB guidelines. The report also highlighted that the right to livelihood, right to protest and democratic resistance were dealt with undemocratic violence by the state and ruling class against us. The ground water is classified as category A, has extensive vegetation and medicinal herbs. If the forest was destroyed our agriculture and agriculture of 24 other villages would be affected, and the region would receive poor rainfall, affect storage of water in lakes and ground water supply. The quality of atmosphere would become warm and unsuitable for many speciies. Industrial pollution is another hazard. The socio cultural mileu of the people would be affected. Hotels, real estate, restaurants and business centers would usurp more land and ultimately we may have to live without dignity. This report indeed confirmed our initial apprehension, and added many more insights.


On 10/10/2010 we went on an awareness padayatra to 18 villages on the consequences to life and livelihood if the SIPCOT industrial park with the proposed industries is established. 400 people (150 women) took part in this padayatra. The padyatra spanned 32 kilometers. All stakeholders supporting us took part in this padayatra

On 14/2/2011 400 women tried to occupy the SIPCOT industrial park. The Deputy Superintendent of Police and Tehsildar pacified the women stating that they will put a stop to the project, but never took action.

On 15/2/2011 , on 90 people false cases were foisted, of whom 60 were women. Eight people were arrested for protesting for their right to forest- the cases were filed by Micheelin Tyre Company.

From 16/2/2011 to 22/2/2011 hunger fast was held by 3000 women and men demanding the immediate closure of SIPCOT industrial park and the concerned industries. AIDMK, DMDK , CPI, CPIM VCK, BSP, and MDMK took part in the hunge r fast. Collector and Superintendent of Police visited the site and agreed to immediately stop the work, as well as released the eight persons. However the work was stopped only for one week.

Madhumita Dutta, a member of the anti SEZ committee and closely associated with Dalit Manurumai Kootamaippu asked information under the Right to Information Act, 2005 on 28-2-2011 asking whether the SIPCOT industrial park had obtained clearance from the Pollution Control Board. Mr JaykumarTcEthiraj, Public Information Officer, Tamil Nadu Pollution Control Board directed the Joint Chief Environmental Engineer to reply on 2-3/2011 stating that “TNPC Board had not yet issued Consent for Establishment to the SIPCOT industrial Park at Thervoy Kandigai. The file is under scrutiny and process”.As pointed by her SIPCOT has obtained an environmental clearance from the Ministry of Environment & Forests at the Centre, based on flawed process and fraudulent data .

On March, 15, 2011, National Alliance People's Movements at the request of the village and other stakeholders invited Medha Patkar and Gabriele Dietrich and other representativesof the National Alliance of People's Movements to Thervoy Kandigai, in which representatives of political parties including AIADMK, MDMK, CPI, CPIM, DMDK, Bahujan Samaj party, VithuthaliaChiruthaKatchi, PattalyMakkalKatchi, PuthiyaBharatam, Dr Ambekdar Peravmai, and representatives of dalit, women's rights and human rights organisations like Dalit Mannurummai Kootamippu Unorganised Workers representatives, PennurumaiIyakkam, anti SEZ committee members and Tamil Nadu Dalit Grama Viviasaya UzzappaalarSangam took part . The Collector issued a statement stating that the matter will be looked into within a week, but nothing happened.

On 19/3/2011 , 500 women and children tried to prevent a truck carrying iron rods. They were beaten by the police. 138 women were arrested and released, and ten males were arrested and put in Puzal jail. Though we had called the press, they were not allowed entry, and this was reported in Dinamalar on 20/3/2011 .

Box 2 : False propaganda by Michellin Tyre company

In 2010 16 of us from Therovy Kandigai were recruited by Foundation for Rural Recovery and Development, an NGO from New Delhi and informed that they were going to do a base line of their situation now so that they could document negative impact in case the SIPCOT project was implemented. The draft questionnaire contained one question do you want Sipcot project. We told the Foundation “why do you want this information, obviously we do not want”. They removed the question and asked about our livelihood and recruited others to cover 30 other villages.  We smelt the rat only when an official of this NGO came to the village with HR  manager of Michelin Tyre company, and we chased the NGO out. The report sent by the NGO under corporate control to MS Medha Patkar , NAPM stated that the draft report was not completed, but actually it was not completed because we chased the organisation out. THE DRAFT REPORT STATES THAT PEOPLE HAVE LITTLE LAND, LIVESTOCK AND EMPLOYMENT AND that SIPCOT and companies proposed WILL HELP CREATE EMPLOYMENT! This is totally false as far as our village goes

They even brought a magazine called Tulir, which was not sent to us, claiming that they are running eye camps, health camps, giving English Education, deepening tanks etc . Firstly, none of these are happening in our village. More importantly, is this not the role of government and Panchayats? Such NGOs functioning under corporate control should be brought to book.


On 19 th of April 2011 a Caveat notice was issued to us the “ThervoyGramaMakkalMunneraNalaSangam” by Michellin India Tyres Private Limited (Caveator) through their Counsel Kochar and co, J Sivandaraaj, No 6 Indian chambers (SICCI) Esplanade, Chennai 600 018, stating that the Thervoy Grama MakkalMunnera NalaSangam should not do anything in above matter without notice to the Caveator. However the Caveat does not extend to the women's self- help groups or people of Thervoy in general.

In 2011, The National Human Rights Commission, under pressure from NAPM, has issued a directive to the senior superintendent of police (SSP) of Tiruvallur district to take action over a complaint of alleged foisting of false cases against dalit activists in Thervoy , But no action was taken.

Subsequently on May 9, 2011 Thervoy women and men, NAPM, Unorganised workers Federation, Penn Urumai Iyakkam met with Jairam Ramesh in Chennai when he had come to Asian College of Journalism. He said in the meeting that he will look into the matter. Nothing has happened so far. We had also visited Jairam Ramesh in New Delhi in 2011, through Mr Venugopal, AIADMK in 5/3/2011 .

AIADMK put in their election manifesto that they will give back Thervoy Kandigai back if she comes to power. Therefore, o n May 27, 2011 we celebrated the Amman festival after three years and fall of DMK government was hand in gloves with the earlier government. On the way to the temple, the company trled to videograph us. We were only traveling on public road. Further, the police is alleged to have told the priest not to allow us, but the priest refused. It is our cultural right to celebrate. Ranjani K Murthy , associated with Dalit MuktiMorcha, Chattisgarh and other groups, Initiatives: Women In Development , NAPM, Ecomwell and media activists ( Narmada and Ponnuswamy ) joined in the celebrations . ,

On 31/5/2011 , various Christian denominations came together to celebrate the downfall of DMK regime, and we were sure justice would prevail. Ranjani K Murthy visited us to hand over Tulir magazine brought out by an NGO operating under Michelin Tyre company (see Box 2 ). She encouraged us to form a youth and women's struggle committee, but we told her it should youth, women and people's struggle committee as we wanted the support of village elders as her . We now have such a committee, and have our own email account, and are learning to operate it. We heard over the phone from representatives of Dalit MuktiMorcha (also associated with National Coordination of Democratic Forces) as to how other struggles elsewhere had dealt with such evictions .

When representatives of Penn Shakti and Pengal Munnani (both represented by Josephine ) and Ranjani K Murthy visited us on 30/6/2011 most of the tanks in the complex we understand are demolished, labourers are being brought in from neighbouring villages to work paid much higher wages than normal, we understand that one engineer had died without an enquiry, we are not able to graze our livestock, we are worried about water supply (which is going down in our channels, ground water and lakes outside the complex), women are finding it difficult to access fuel and open space for defecation and one day in fact a woman had to confront a naked man in SIPCOT industrial park. Now women go in groups. We are not able sleep in peace. Some livestock have died. The weather is becoming hot with cutting down of our trees. While we feel let down by the previous regime and VCK, we hope that DMDK representing our area will do justice. Especially communist parties endorse principles of justice, we hope you will stand by us when our right to life, livelihood, bodily integrity is being violated- not only of all adults, but also of women and children. Police is protecting Michellin company (a contingent) on a day to day basis rather than us whose rights to life, liivelihood and bodily integrity are being violated.

Our Demands:

•  Immediate Closure of SIPCOT industrial park and the companies coming therein

•  using the illegality of abiding by PRI resolution, when Gram Sabha has ruled otherwise,

•  against the wishes of public hearing

•  without proper pollution control clearance for SIPCOT industrial park and

•  no evidence of agreement on handing of Mekkal porombokku land to PRI and JFM committee being cancelled


•  Reestablishments of tanks, check dams and trees destroyed

•  Dropping of all cases pending against men and women of the village, including false cases foisted by Michellin Tyre company

•  Action against perpetrators of violence against our right to protest for our right to grazing land, forest, livelihood and bodily integrity:

•  Compensation for loss of livelihoods, livestock, wounds and torture

As told by Mahesh, Gautham, Kalai, Mariamman, Bala, Vendammal, Kuppamma, Anita, Katamma, Pongodi, Usha, Anita, Rose, Krishnaveni, Pothiamma, Govindammal, Kanniammal, Thangamman, Kasturi, Santhamaria, Ilamalli, Krishna, Janakiraman, Iyumalai, Sujatha, Deepa, Naynamma on 30/6/2010 to Ranjani Kamala Murthy, Researcher and Activist associated with Dalit MuktiMorcha and Josephine Sagayam, Penn Shakti and PengalMunnani. Also integrates comments from the visit of Ranjani Kamala Murthy on 27/4/2011 with youth Coordinator of NAPM.

Report on SIPCOT industrial pollution Study unduly delayed, The Hindu, Saturday, May 31, 2007 , http://www.hindu.com/2007/03/31/stories/2007033102210500.htm

International Institute of Population Sciences, and Macro International, 2001, Tamil Nadu National Family Health Survey, 2 ( 1998/1999) and International Institute of Population Sciences and Macro International, 2008 National Family Health Survey 3 (2005/2006).

Non Judicial Agreement on stamped paper 01AA 60424 no 24883 dated 21/12/2005 signed on 4/2/2008

Lakshmanan, 2010, Environment and Social Impact Study of the Implementation of an Industrial Zone : Therovy village of Tamil Nadu


Notice issued by village leaders, women'sself help groups, Thervoy village people's Development Committee.

Memorandum of Caveat Petition (under Section 148A and order 52 CPC.






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