The Tamil Nadu government has failed to carry out its own standard operating procedure, which states that houses cannot be razed until all residents have been relocated, leaving the people of this Chennai colony to fend for themselves.

Govindasamy Nagar protests by residents
news Evictions Tuesday, May 10, 2022 - 16:40

The anger among the residents of Govindasamy Nagar in Chennai’s RA Puram is as palpable as the summer heat engulfing the city. Through this oppressive heat and only intermittently available power and water supply, they have been trying to defend their homes against the eviction and demolition drive that began 10 days ago. Besides, it has been hardly a day since Kannaiyan, who self-immolated to protest the ongoing eviction drive in the neighbourhood, succumbed to his injuries at the Kilpauk Medical College Hospital.

“Why have all these people, these politicians, come now? Where were they during the last 10 days when our homes were being demolished? We have been protesting for 10 days, did they care? A man has to die for them to finally show up,” raged an ageing resident of Govindasamy Nagar. When this reporter asked her for her name and if she would like to speak on camera, she scoffed. “Why? What is the point? We have been giving interviews to the press for days. Nobody cares. I am tired.” The elderly woman went on to add in a quieter voice, “He was a good man. The last one week took a heavy toll on him. He died so that the authorities would finally start listening. What are his wife and children supposed to do now?”

Questions like these abound at the site of the 10-day demolition drive, many of which are directed at the DMK-led state government. As residents gathered in large numbers on the main road, at a spot opposite the Greenways Road Metro Rail station, one question that echoed from the many placards held up was this: “Who is Singara Chennai for?” The placards refer to the city corporation’s beautification project, which has unfortunately long been synonymous with forced slum evictions. “These are our dream homes. Is it the Dravidian model to evict the indigenous populations from the city,” the protesters ask.


Only rubble remains of one of the fifteen houses razed at Govidasamy Nagar, RA Puram 


A poster of Tamil Nadu chief minister MK Stalin and of erstewhile DMK chief and late chief minister M Karunanidhi, hangs in a home demolished 


Residents of the Govindasamy Nagar protest on the main road, opposite to the Greenways Road metro station. The placard on the left asks 'Who is Singara Chennai' for? On the right, is a poster in memory of Kannaiyan who died by self-immolation

As an earlier report in TNIE pointed out, the state government has failed to carry out its own standard operating procedure (SOP) that it introduced only last month. The new SOP states that houses cannot be razed until all residents have been relocated. Additionally, the government is supposed to engage packers and movers to help shift their belongings. Yet, as the news report highlights, 15 homes were razed and eviction had begun on 259 houses, before Govindasamy Nagar’s residents barely had time to process their situation. One of the area residents showed TNM the condition of her home that adjoins one of the razed buildings. Clothes and other belongings are strewn across the floor. Little else of her home’s contents remain. “The police and the PWD workers forced their way in and threw our things out,” she alleged. 

A neighbourhood haunted by the death of one of their own

Residents shared their disdain for the political figures descending on the neighbourhood after Kanniyan’s death. “Now they are all coming, but to what end,” they asked. One of them, Mahalakshmi, emphasised an issue that residents have been pointing out ever since the demolitions began. “I work as a domestic help in areas nearby. If we are moved to places like Perambakkam, why would our employers keep us on? We have to get to work according to a time convenient to them. We can’t do that if we are living 45-50 km outside the city limits.” She added that the neighbourhood in Perumbakkam, where they are being forced to relocate to, would be unsafe for their children, besides making it difficult for them to attend schools in and around RA Puram where they are currently enrolled.

The impact of Kanniyan’s death resonates with every other resident of Govindasamy Nagar. “I saw him burning. He set himself on fire in the bathroom and came out onto the street,” a child said before running off into the crowd, barely 50 m from Kanniyan’s house, where the family and residents had gathered together in mourning. She could not be more than eight. Her older friends, aboard a small truck piled up with belongings, talked about the toll the demolition drive has taken on their studies. “Every time I close my eyes to try and remember my lessons, all that appears in my mind is the JCB. I can hear its noise in my head,” said Krithikya, who is preparing for her Class 9 final exams. “My mathematics exam is coming up, but I can’t focus,” she said, adding that she loved maths and wanted to take up accountancy in the future.

Another resident told TNM that he had taken a loan of Rs 15 lakh to build his home. “Now everything is gone. Because of the pandemic, people have been struggling to make rent, or to pay off the loans we had taken. My wife works as a domestic help at an IAS officer’s house nearby. We are able to educate our daughter with that income. What work will we get 50 km outside the city?”

The anger among Govindasamy Nagar’s residents is also directed at a businessman, whom they identify as Rajiv Roy, whose plea in the Supreme Court is the reason for the ongoing eviction drive. The businessman has properties in the adjacent areas. By evicting around a 1,000 people from their homes, he hopes to improve the access road to his properties, residents alleged, adding that the authorities were siding with him. As rains lash down on Chennai city on Tuesday, May 10, and with the meteorological department predicting a heat spike in the coming days, their situation only grows more dire. 

On Tuesday, the Supreme Court heard a plea against the eviction drive, when senior advocate Colin Gonsalves told the SC about the lack of electricity and water at the premises, and of Kanniyan’s death by suicide in protest of the evictions. The counsel also submitted that some residents are not happy with the alternative accommodation they have been given. The court in turn asked the residents to approach the District Collector with their complaints, and ordered that the grievances of residents should be looked into appropriately. The apex court will hear the case again on July 12.

If you are aware of anyone facing mental health issues or feeling suicidal, please provide help. Here are some helpline numbers of suicide prevention organisations that can offer emotional support to individuals and families.

Tamil Nadu

State health department's suicide helpline: 104

Sneha Suicide Prevention Centre - 044-24640050 (listed as the sole suicide prevention helpline in Tamil Nadu)

Andhra Pradesh

Life Suicide Prevention: 78930 78930

Roshni: 9166202000, 9127848584

Karnataka

Sahai (24-hour): 080 65000111, 080 65000222

Kerala

Maithri: 0484 2540530

Chaithram: 0484 2361161

Both are 24-hour helpline numbers.

Telangana

State government's suicide prevention (tollfree): 104

Roshni: 040 66202000, 6620200

SEVA: 09441778290, 040 27504682 (between 9 am and 7 pm)

Aasara offers support to individuals and families during an emotional crisis, for those dealing with mental health issues and suicidal ideation, and to those undergoing trauma after the suicide of a loved one.

24x7 Helpline: 9820466726

Click here for working helplines across India.

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