Rapid urbanisation has led to eviction and marginalisation of Dalits who have been forced to survive in unhygienic environs of Chennai owing to official neglect, says a status survey on Scheduled Castes in the city.
Releasing the findings of the survey conducted in 31 locations in the city with a team of 81 field researchers covering a sample population of 775 persons in Dalit-dominated areas and streets, Tamil Nadu Untouchability Eradication Front (TNUEF) president P. Sampath said liberalisation had led to expansion of the city improving employability of Dalits. But, Census data reveal that the fruit of urbanisation has not reached the Dalits. Between 1991 and 2001, the Dalit population in the city has remained stagnant. In fact, it dropped a fraction from 13.78 per cent to 13.76 per cent during the 10 years. Likewise, the ST population registered a decrease from 0.2 per cent in 1991 to 0.15 in 2001. “One of the main reasons is continued eviction of Dalits from slums by the side of rivers and canals,” Mr. Sampath said.
Above 60 per cent of the Dalits lived in slums without basic amenities such as drinking water, sewage and toilets. Streets carrying caste names, unavailability of houses for rent in certain pockets of the city and a few other manifestations of caste discriminations in educational institutions, offices and factories were proof enough that the Dalits were the most neglected in a system of graded inequality, he said.
Caste discrimination was overtly evident in the lives of conservancy workers, said K. Samuelraj, secretary, TNUEF. The fact that the government and Corporation Schools have mostly students of Scheduled Castes was reflective of their economic status, he said. Lack of pattas in 10 locations for residents of over 50 years; inadequate sanitation facilities leading to open defecation; lack of drainage facilities and accumulating garbage were the most common problems faced by the Dalits, said Krishnamurthy, South Chennai district organiser, TNUEF.
Ill-maintained TNHB tenements, harassment at ration shops, neglect of TNEB officials, difficulty in obtaining caste certificates were other major woes, Mr. Sampath said, and sought State intervention for a better life for the city's Dalits.