Munuswamy, who belongs to the Irula tribe living in Pallavaram cantonment area, has been struggling without a job, on top of the fear of losing his home. He belongs to one of the 600 Scheduled Tribe and Scheduled Caste families residing in the cantonment areas originally allotted for the defense department who are vulnerable to displacement, when the military demands that they vacate the land. The lack of a permanent residence for the past 40 years and the COVID-19 induced lockdown has pushed the tribal communities living on temporary settlements in Tamil Nadu into great distress.
The Tamil Nadu Tribal People Association, citing these problems, staged a protest at Pallavaram with five charters, including demand for alternative land for the families living on the cantonment area as well as financial aid of Rs 10,000 per family, owing to the pandemic.
J Boopalan, state deputy general secretary of Tamil Nadu Tribal Association, said, "The tribal people who were living their lives based on their daily wages were put to suffer during the pandemic. The few families with Tribal Welfare Cards received a sum of only Rs 2,000 as assistance during the pandemic. Many are struggling without food and have lost their livelihood. Hence the government should consider this and provide Rs 10,000 as assistance to all the tribal families.â€ť
The Irulas, for instance, were involved in construction work, collecting and axing woods and fishing â€“ all of which have come to a grinding halt since the pandemic, leaving the families such as Munuswamy's, without livelihoods.
â€śMy wife was working at many homes as a domestic worker, but now we do not know when they will call her back. Two houses called her for work but others are yet to. We did not have food to eat and we were starving for many days. Some people helped us with food,â€ť recounts Munuswamy, who is also the state office bearer of Tamil Nadu Tribal Association.
â€śWe have lived in fear for the past 40 years of losing our homes. We will just have to leave if the military tells us to,â€ť he adds.
The association also stressed on the long pending demand of stopping sale of tribal peopleâ€™s lands. Boopalan says, â€śThe government should reserve lands for the tribal populations under Schedule 5 of the Constitution. The law prohibits or restricts the transfer of land by or among members of the Scheduled Tribes in such an area.â€ť The association additionally urged the government to spend the money allotted for the Union Ministry of Tribal Affairs for the tribal people.
Boopalan also raised the issue of delay in providing community certificates for the people. He said, â€śSome of the students have even had to discontinue formal education due to lack of community certificates. To prevent this, the Revenue District Officer should immediately verify and provide certificates. The government should also take necessary steps to make the process accessible by allowing tahsildars to issue certificates.â€ť