Samathuvapurams are housing projects set up to foster social equality. But decades after they were launched, are they on the govt’s priority list?

Are Tamil Nadus Samathuvapurams losing their sheen
news Caste Wednesday, October 30, 2019 - 13:49

The year was 1997 and southern Tamil Nadu was burning. Angered by the state government’s decision to rename a transport service after Dalit icon Sundaralingam, members of the Thevar community went on a rampage across the southern districts. They burnt buses and engaged in widespread rioting, which put the then-DMK government on the backfoot. But born out of the violence was a project aimed at promoting social equality in the state – the Periyar Ninaivu Samathuvapuram, launched by the then-Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu M Karunanidhi.

The concept of Samathuvapuram, which literally means ‘a place of equality’, was simple. It was a housing project in which 100 identical houses will be constructed by the state government and allocated to 40 families from the scheduled castes, 25 families each from backward and most backward castes, and 10 families from other communities. The families living inside these Samathuvapurams will have to live together, share the same resources like water taps and roads, and use a common cremation and burial ground. The government of Tamil Nadu established 145 such Samathuvapurams across the state with a vision of slowly weeding out caste-based differences from the society.

While the scheme has largely been successful in making people from different caste backgrounds coexist peacefully, people working closely with the community on the ground and experts have pointed out the slow deterioration in the quality of life inside Samathuvapurams.

Lack of political leaders who take a personal interest in the development of such projects, absence of local leaders who can be easily accessed by the people in Samathuvapurams are some of the reasons for Samathuvapurams not receiving an infrastructure upgrade and better civic amenities. 

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