“My sons connived with realtors who encroached upon panchami lands at Keelpakkam near Arakkonam. My husband discourages me from taking part in demonstrations seeking reclamation of these lands. I braved stiff resistance from my family to participate in this meeting. This is our right…we have to reclaim panchami lands at any cost,” said Mary (56), amid cheers from a large number of Dalits, mostly women.

Similar views were expressed by Dalits representing about a dozen villages in the northern districts at a public hearing on panchami lands, organised by the Dalit Land Rights Federation here on Thursday. A majority of them accused Revenue Department officials of a lackadaisical attitude when it came to processing petitions on panchami lands. Though political parties promised to reclaim and restore panchami lands to Dalits, none had fulfilled it.

The public hearing was chaired by Vasanthi Devi, former Vice-Chancellor of Manonmaniam Sundaranar University. Speakers, mostly women, said they were tired of submitting petitions to revenue authorities seeking reclamation of panchami lands.

With a series of representations and agitations not yielding the desired results, Dalits were contemplating occupation of panchami or depressed class lands in Tamil Nadu on the basis of various court rulings and Government Orders, federation organiser C. Nicholas said.

“Since there are several court judgments and Government Orders in favour of Dalits on this issue, we are planning to peacefully occupy the lands. Going by the available revenue records, 1.2 lakh acre of lands, mostly in the northern districts of the State, are panchami lands. Even if 10 cents are given to one family, at least four lakh families will benefit,” he said.

Most of the panchami lands were encroached upon by caste Hindus either for agriculture or real estate purposes. The State government has allotted panchami lands to Special Economic Zones or industrial parks. “This amounts to contempt of court…we will challenge the Government and reclaim the lands,” he said.

Since Dalit unity was possible only on the basis of issues, efforts were on to bring together different organisations on one platform to fight for the lands. “Before the next election, we will unite and emerge as a strong political force. Dalits will demand that political parties declare a time-bound action plan on this long-pending issue,” Mr. Nicholas added.

Ms. Vasanthi Devi urged Dalits to make an announcement that the reclaimed panchami lands would be registered only in the name of women. Since men had already migrated to towns or cities for employment, only women could take care of the lands in villages, she said.

Writer Manushya Puthiran said a ‘no objection certificate’ from the competent authorities should be made mandatory when properties suspected to be panchami lands came up for registration.

More In: Tamil Nadu | National