Thervoy: The battle to protect livelihoods
The wasteland of Thervoy, rich in herbs, fruits and wildlife also serves as a catchment area. It has been handed over to SIPCOT by the Tamil Nadu government to develop it into a Special Economic Zone (SEZ).
Home under Threat
"No one has the right to destroy our forest"
“A forest that was once ours is now private, a land that was once green now stands barren, a forest where we played, where we wandered freely is now fenced, men in uniform now guard the forest which we protected for generations.”
Madhumita Dutta in her article ‘Anbulla Kaadu‘,paints a vivid picture of Thervoy Kandigai, "surrounded by dense forests, natural lakes, rice fields and undulating terrain with misty mountain range of Sathyavedu in Andhra as behind, fifty kms north of Chennai, lays a small nondescript village, which is a home to thousand Dalit families".
Seventy-year-old Nainammal, a resident of Thervoy Kandigai complains that the forest that fed her under condition of drought by providing means of livelihood and water for her farms is under threat. In times of drought, when rice had become expensive, the villagers resorted to wild fruits and spinach that grew in the forest. They would often make brooms out of Thodappa sticks collected from the forest ands ell it in nearby towns.
A former Panchayat President of Thervoy, Anbhazhgan, echoes the sentiment of the entire village– "Take our houses, not the forest. No one has got the right to destroy the forest."
Government issued orders in 2009, alienating 1127 acres of Poramboke land in favour of The State Industries Promotion Corporation of Tamil Nadu (SIPCOT) to construct a new Industrial Complex in Thervoy Kandigai village in Gummidipoondi taluk of Thiruvallur district. The land development work is in progress now. (The website of Industries Department, Government of Tamil Nadu)
An artist has left these words on the walls of Chengara
Ever since the project went public in 2007, the villagers have been holding regular protests, meeting district officials and human rights organisations in a bid to end the brutal destruction of their lives.
In 2009, 61 villagers were arrested and jailed for protesting.
When the then industries secretary MF Farooqui, promised to construct roads, schools and primary health centre in return of their land, the villagers retorted that it was their fundamental right to be provided such basic facilities. Their grazing land need not be taken by the government in exchange for delivery of ‘welfare schemes’!
On 14th February 2010, an agreement of ‘no work’ till 23rd February was negotiated 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 them, who have been spearheading the opposition against the land acquisition, were illegally detained and charged with various sections of the IPC and jailed by the Gummidipoondi police. They are still in Pooneri sub jail.
Infuriated by the police action, 1200 women and men immediately began an indefinite hunger strike demanding unconditional release of the 8 men, withdrawal of the SIPCOT project and all false charges against the 61 villagers who were jailed in 2009. The next day, 10 amongst the hunger strikers fainted due to heat and hunger.
“I’ll cut the Chief Minister into pieces if SEZ comes here,” threatens an angry villager.
Protests against SEZ Act
The Special Economic Zones (SEZs) are the most advanced as well as the deadliest weapons in the face of development. They bring growth after ousting millions of peasants from their homes, livelihoods and their social and cultural milieus.
From the ongoing struggles of Kalinganagar, anti-POSCO movement, movements against the Polavaram dam, Vedanta, Singur, Navi Mumbai, Netrahat Field firing Range in Jharkhand, to Chargaon Raoghat anti- mining struggle in Lohandiguda in Chhattisgarh, everywhere, people of India are rising into memorable struggles wherever SEZs are being proposed.
The anger of the villagers is palpable.
“If the government still goes ahead with the SEZ, we will boycott the government itself by giving up ration cards, voter IDs; take our children out of government schools and accounts from the bank here.”
Why did the media fail to report such an event? Is it because it represents an ‘ordinary struggle’ of the Dalits?
‘Media coverage of Thervoy srtuggle’ when typed in Google, shows “no results found”.
The Hindu reports that the project will cost nearly Rs.25 crore to lay the approach road and the State government has come forward to give Rs.10 crore. The big numbers try to hide the real costs; the cost of evicting six thousand villagers from their homes.
“Almost 90 per cent of the site clearance work has been completed,” reports another newspaper.
Site clearance? How did it manage to clear thousands of homes?
SIPCOT has obtained an environmental clearance from the Ministry of Environment & Forests at the Centre, based on flawed process and fraudulent data. While the villagers have been waiting to challenge the flawed environmental clearance process in the National Green Tribunal, which the MOEF has yet to set up despite Supreme Court’s specific direction to that effect in 20th January, 2006, construction is in full swing.
Is the media listening? The Chengara land struggle of Kerala in 2007 was boycotted and misreported by the media. The Thervoy struggle too is heading in the same direction. In both instances, the villagers engaged in struggle are dalits, the unprivileged class.
While media choose to ignore the struggle of the Dalits, the villagers hopelessly watch their forest being bulldozed and fenced.
45year old Kanthama, a villager, resents, “Where will we go? We only have to die."
On the lines of Chengara
Availability of food was their main concern
The situation in Thervoy is a replication of the Chengara land struggle by landless Dalits and Adivasis from all parts of Kerala. The movement that had begun on 4th of August 2007 was a fight to reclaim ownership of agricultural land from the Harrison Company to the Dalits and Adivasis that had been part of a long standing promise of the Government.
Nearly 5000 families and more than 20,000 people had gathered to protest against the land regulation.
The Harrison Malayalam company along with active support of police and hired goons had created a blockade which had cut-off food and other essential supplies to the protesters for more than 10 days. On August 14th the trade unions lifted the blockade and issued an ultimatum to the 5000 families to leave the plantation immediately.
The management, Trade Unions and the media were most unfriendly to the land struggle at Chengara.
The Political Parties including the CPI-M and CPI who had led the land struggle in Khammam in Andhra Pradesh also did not spare any effort for the poor dalits and adivasis struggling for land in Kerala.
At this point it was extremely important for the media to pressurize the government in order to avoid large scale violence in Chengara, but the media adopted an anti- struggle position. The mainstream media in Kerala had completely blocked out all reports on the struggle
In Thervoy too, mainstream media betrays the ordinary.
In the backdrop of violence, blood shed and the loss of numerous precious lives the media either chose to ignore the problem or pretend that ‘nothing serious happened, except for a bit of law and order problem’.