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Threat of displacement looms over Dalit families

D. Karthikeyan
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Parambupatti, Chinna Udaippu are among villages identified for Madurai airport expansion

Chinna Udaippu village near Madurai has 300 families with close to 1,000 members.— Photo: G. Moorthy
Chinna Udaippu village near Madurai has 300 families with close to 1,000 members.— Photo: G. Moorthy

As trade bodies and users pitch for early expansion of the Madurai airport and demand for international standards in the facility, the unpleasant fact that remains untold is the likely displacement of hundreds of Dalit families by the development plan.

Among the villages identified for the airport expansion, Parambupatti and Chinna Udaippu are inhabited mostly by scheduled caste farmers and labourers involved in jasmine cultivation, paddy, coconut and plantain farms.

Chinna Udaippu has 300 families with close to 1,000 members, including 200 school and college students. Unlike other scheduled caste habitations, the village has more than 100 concrete houses. Three small temples and some water bodies also fall in the village, according to C. Kundumalai (62), a retired BSNL employee.

The villagers say the airport expansion will not directly help them, but will destroy their livelihood opportunities. They are also upset that they will not be provided alternative sites for relocation.

They have been promised only compensation, and that too, not at the prevailing market rate of Rs. 2 lakh for a cent of land.

K. Krishnasamy, Puthiya Tamilagam president and MLA, told The Hindu on Tuesday that as per the Constitution and the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 1989, the government had no right to acquire lands of the scheduled castes. Questioning the acquisition of their land in the name of development, the legislator said: “The villagers of Chinna Udaippu have already been victims of such livelihood destruction measures and both the State and the Central governments should stop this project and identify (alternative) vacant land.”

As is typical of post-Ambedkar era assertion of Dalits, Chinna Udaippu has prominent statues of B.R. Ambedkar and Immanuel Sekaran on a pedestal standing side by side on the national highway. These statues have often become the targets of vandals.

A. Periyasamy (35), an advocate and a local resident, says the villagers have a doubt whether there was a conspiracy to displace them, as it is associated with organised struggles and has high level of consciousness about oppression in the past.

They also allege that the government does not want a Dalit village to be in the airport’s vicinity when it is upgraded to an international one. Some also see it as an attempt to displace them because of an upcoming private housing project put up by a business conglomerate, which has acquired 200 acres.

“We oppose the project completely as it is disintegrating the lives of villagers. But if the government is ready to relocate, they should relocate the villagers to an area within the corporation limits,” says Mr. Periyasamy. He also wonders why vacant land on the western side of airport till Kappalur has not been acquired.

The British regime had taken land from Dalits at Chinna Udaippu to construct an air strip for military purposes in 1932, 1935 and 1942. Again, their land was acquired for the airport in 1950 and 1999.


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