Tuesday, June 28, 2011

[ZESTCaste] “Land issue remains pertinent to emancipation of Dalits”


MADURAI, June 27, 2011
"Land issue remains pertinent to emancipation of Dalits"
D. Karthikeyan

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

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

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

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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