Rain brings no cheer to Melavalavu Dalits
The Hindu, 3th August 2000
MADURAI, AUG. 2. The first fall of monsoon rain in July has brought no cheer to the 2,000 Dalits of Melavalavu village. In normal circumstances it would have, signalling the start of the farming season and ensuring employment. Sowing, has begun in and around Melavalavu, but the landless Dalits have been in fact denied employment in the farms by the landlords of Melavalavu, mostly caste Hindus, who have been denying them farm work for the last three years.
The caste Hindus have been waging a sort of `shadow war' against them, ever since the murder of seven Dalits, including village panchayat president Murugesan, that took place three years back. The landlords, to deprive the Dalits of their livelihood, have issued an oral decree that none of them should be enlisted for farm work.
The edict, which is still in force, is observed even in the surrounding villages, thus sealing the chances of getting employment for Dalits in nearby areas.
Farm labourers are being brought to Melavalavu from outside. The landlords are prepared to pay hefty sums for `outside' labourers. They pay Rs. 500 per acre for the outside labourers for sowing along with a single plough, costing Rs. 75, while for the Dalit hands of Melavalavu they had paid just Rs. 200 for acre and Rs. 30 for a plough.
The Dalit women, who used to do the majority of farming activities, are now cooling their heels in their huts. The men have to go elsewhere to earn their livelihood. ``Many have left for Kollam district in Kerala to work in plantations,'' claims a man of seventy.
The wives and the immediate women dependents of the slain Dalits have, however, been compensated as per law and provided with the jobs of road workers by the State Government. ``But it is a tough job and forces frequent displacement. The women need better jobs,'' feels Ms. Rajini of the Centre for Dalit Solidarity.
Repeated requests to provide decent jobs to the widows of slain Dalits are yet to be heeded. The Government should continue to provide education to the children of slain Dalits at the Balamandram school in Madurai, says one activist. ``After providing jobs for the women the Government has stopped giving free education to their children,'' he complains.