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“Land issue pertinent to emancipation of Dalits”

D. Karthikeyan

Advance announcement on proposed Act gave enough time for landlords to circumvent law by fictitious transfer of land

— Photo: G. Moorthy

RIGHTING WRONGs:K. Samuel Raj, general secretary, Tamil Nadu Untouchability Eradication Front, addressing a meeting in the city.

MADURAI: Despite the existence two special laws to protect the Dalits — Scheduled Caste/Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 1989 and Protection of Civil Rights, 1955 — Dalits seem to be victims of various forms atrocities, said S.Viswanathan, Readers Editor, The Hindu.

Addressing a State-level consultation on land and resource policy for Dalits, organised by Evidence, a Madurai-based human rights organisation, here on Saturday, he said that the Land Reforms Act and Land Ceiling Act which were brought to remove the unequal land relations had not been achieved even after 60 years. The Tamil Nadu Land Reforms (Fixation of Ceiling on Land) Act, 1961, was aimed to reduce the concentration of land in the hands of a few, to end disparities among landholders and ensure a just and equitable redistribution of land.

The major reasons why the Land Ceiling Act failed to acquire more land for distribution was the advance public announcement about the proposed Act, which gave enough time for many big landlords to circumvent the law through fictitious transfers of land. There was no will on the part of the State to implement the Act. Trusts were formed by zamindars and lands were diverted by those means.

In the recent past, it was the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme that had given a great economic relief for the Dalits and other deprived sections of society in the rural areas.

Citing economist Sukhdeo Thorat's arguments that the government should bring in Equal Employment Act, he also talked about the need to create opportunities for Dalits in private sector and the media. Land question remained pertinent to the emancipation and empowerment of Dalits.

An economic survey done by William Goudie and the Wesleyan Christian Missionaries during the late 1800s in Madras Presidency found that Dalits were living in the most inhuman of conditions with high levels of oppression and submitted a memorandum to the British government to allot lands to the Dalits to improve their socio-economic condition.

The speakers at the consultation appreciated The Hindu and said that it played a prominent role by espousing the cause of social justice which continues till date. As early as the 1800s, The Hindu had played a prominent role in representing the Dalit cause. It was during 1891, civil servant J. H. A. Tremenheere, the then Collector of Chingelpet, argued that the government's emancipatory policies had not led to the social and economic elevation of the Depressed Classes (Dalits). In this regard, he seemed to have been influenced by a report that had been published in The Hindu on 7 August 1891. There was a discussion in the Letters to the Editor column on the condition of Dalits. The British government approved Tremenheere's demand and enacted a law in British Parliament to distribute land to them to improve their socio-economic conditions. The Government of Madras passed the Government Orders 1010 and 1010A dated 30 September, 1892 to specify that lands would be assigned to the depressed classes. Once the G.O. was published, the panchami lands were reserved and a few were assigned.

It was estimated that a total of 3.20 lakh acres had been gifted to the Dalits by the British Government in all the districts of Tamil Nadu. Land rights and education were the two important things that the late Tremenheere emphasised but both still seem to be at large, said, A. Kathir, executive director, Evidence.

K. Samuel Raj, general Secretary, Tamil Nadu Untouchability Eradication Front (TNUEF), said that one has to remember Dr.Ambedkar's words here: Is it because that he is a Dalit, he has no lands at his possession or since he has no lands at his possession, he is a Dalit? Ambedkar was an intellectual who believed that there was a thin line which separated caste and class.

Speaking on the current scenario in the Chennai metropolis where the Dalit population seemed to be declining, it was later found that they were pushed to the margins of the city because of the urbanisation process. TNUEF was engaged in uniting the entire splinter Dalit organisations to fight on this issue.

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