Dalits are psychologically made to think only about their everyday life and they are under a situation where they cannot think beyond their everyday concerns, so asset creation was never on the cards, according to P. Sivakami, former Civil Services Officer and founder-president of Samooga Samathuva Padai.

Addressing a seminar, ‘Land and Dalits: the present and future,’ here recently, she said, “A kind of slave mentality has been thrust upon them, so they always are made to remain as tillers of the land while the dominant sections became landlords.” Awareness of land should be created among Dalits as it was a major tool towards their emancipation. She also said that the struggle for ‘panchami’ lands and lands meant for Dalits was going to fortify and would ultimately determine the Dalit struggle for emancipation.

“Though we have differences with the Left on certain issues, still we understand that it is a historical necessity to work together for Dalit emancipation.”

Speaking earlier, A. Kathir, Executive Director, Evidence, said that about 12 lakh acres were allotted to Depressed Classes in 1892, owing to the efforts taken by J. H. A Tremenheere, the then Chengalpet Collector. However only 1,26,113 panchami lands in Tamil Nadu were identified in a study and among them only 3,000 acres were in the hands of Dalits. The remaining were encroached upon and grabbed from the Dalits over a period of time.

N. Muthumohan, Head, Guru Nanak Chair, Madurai Kamaraj University, said that land question formed an integral part of the political discourse and praxis during the 1960s and early 70s but somehow took a backstage in the next two decades, and after the Dalit upsurge in the 90s it had come up, but still needed to be addressed in a big way as the caste-class axis was still a pertinent one.

Ponnuthayi, All India Democratic Women’s Association, said that an important phenomenon to note was that during most of the violence perpetrated against Dalits, it was the landless Dalits who backtracked without retaliating as they did not possess land. She cited the Uthapuram case where almost 80 per cent of Dalits owned lands and that was why they were able to stand and fight caste oppression for a long period.

The meeting condemned the encroachment of ‘panchami’ lands meant for Dalits in the State by members of other castes and government. They demanded the lands should be retrieved. They made an appeal to the State government to make the Panchami Land Retrieval Commission functional. The State government, in the name of beautification, should stop displacing Dalits in urban centres and settling them in the the city’s margins.

Advocate Rajni, P. Chandrabose of Thiagi Immanuel Peravai, and Adhi Tamizhar Peravai’s Viduthalai Veeran spoke.