The grim story behind a small settlement

REMNANT OF A BYGONE AGE:One of the old houses of Piramalai Kallar settlement at Prisly Nagar in Perambur —Photo: R. Ragu

REMNANT OF A BYGONE AGE:One of the old houses of Piramalai Kallar settlement at Prisly Nagar in Perambur —Photo: R. Ragu  

Tucked away from the bustling thoroughfare of Perambur in Chennai stands Prisly Nagar, one of the few surviving vestiges of the colonial era.

Unlike many new habitations created to accommodate the ever increasing population of the city, this tiny settlement tells a grim story of a community dishonoured by history and uprooted from their soil and forced to live as refugees in their very own country.

Prisly Nagar was established to lodge 200 Piramalai Kallar families, originally from Usilampatti in Madurai district, after they were declared criminal tribes by the British government. The ancestors of the residents of Prisly Nagar were part of the 5462 people, including women and children who were first brought to Veppur in the then South Arcot district.

Traditionally, they were security guards of Madurai City. Creation of British police force deprived them of their profession and forced them into petty crime.

“When they were brought to Veppur by foot, the more obedient among them were given the job of security guard and assigned to 32 villages. Others were settled in three different camps. Every day, a revenue official would inspect the settlement five times to ensure the male members are inside,” said IAS officer M. Rajendran, who has studied and written extensively about their history.

“Originally, the British government planned to eliminate all of them as attempts to ‘reform’ them failed. There was also a proposal to conscript them. But the British officials were not sure whether these people would obey orders.

“South Arcot collector Azizdeen intervened and promised to reform them. When a settlement was created, the residents named it after him out of gratitude. As there were artisan wells in the area, the inhabitants of Aziz Nagar engaged in agriculture,” said Mr. Rajendran.

A total of 200 hardened families were brought to Pammal to be employed in granite quarries and another 200 reached Perambur and were employed in B&C mills and later the Railways.

In the beginning, the settlement was inside the B&C Mills but the residents were shifted to Prisly Nagar in the wake of the expansion of the mills in 1939.

“They were given employment by Nettles, the Managing Director of the mill. Once, when the settlement was submerged in rain water, Prisly, the Labour Commissioner, visited the area and constructed new houses and that is how it got its name,” said R. Annadurai, former president of Prisly Nagar settlement general welfare association, whose great grandfather Chidambaram, a security guard, was brought here in 1911.

The original allocation for every family was 18x22 feet. It was increased to 20x22 ft after new houses were constructed.

“A total of 172 families live here. But still we don’t have pattas as the government thinks that we may sell off the properties to outsiders,” said Mr. Annadurai, who retired from the TVS company.

A corporation school inaugurated inside the settlement in 1952 was dismantled to help mainstream the children in other schools.

The dilapidated school building and a few old houses continue to remind the residents of their bitter past while the Muthallaman temple in Aziz Nagar has been a common meeting point for the people of three settlements for over a century.

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