Dharmapuri Hopes for A Change

On its sixth day, as the Sangharsh Sandesh Jatha organised by CPI(M) entered one of the most impoverished regions of Tamilnadu – Dharmapuri, we caught up with locals.

Dharmapuri is amongst the archetypical impoverished regions of India, with all its ills. It is not a region that one would ideally want to settle down. Well, illiteracy is above 45 per cent, and far higher among women, girls below 18 are forcefully married off and opponents are dealt with severe punishments. Inter-caste marriages are a taboo and families are ostracised.

Organized bank credit is unheard of largely and people queue up at moneylenders to seek credit to farm, educate, get costly healthcare from private doctors and to marry their under-age girls. Health care is at its pits. Government backed health care is rare and far.

It will take a bit of an effort to locate Dharmapuri in the map of India. It is a region, where almost all of the local population get just about Rs 20 as income to make livelihood expenditure.

According to Raja Murugan, a daily wager, things have been rather rough. He had to leave farming due to lack of water and irrigation facilities, and has close to Rs 7,500 to pay off immediately to the money lender who charges him almost 40 per cent interest. This is much more than the interest paid on the credit cards for buying latest fashion accessories or smart phones by those who are working on computers plugged to some of the world’s most complicated financial markets.

“This (Jatha) is good for us. If all these things happen, it will bring a lot of changes in our life. Now we don’t have enough water. Neither to quench our thirst nor to irrigate. We have a lot of hope. I want to get back to farming and repay my loan,” comments Murugan on the purpose of the Jatha, sighing in hope.

“We have lots of problems here. We are trying to solve the issue. For that we need to organise people and get them to be a part of struggles to bring in broader changes. When we spoke to people about the Jatha, they were able to identify about the issues we are raising. That helped us garner support,” said Marimuthu, secretary, district committee, CPI(M) Dharmapuri.

Didactic preaching is not enough to sort out the issues as they are in plenty. As pointed out by Nagaraj, who is staring at the prospect of losing his house and farm land, thanks to a proposed gas pipeline between Cochin and Bangalore, which will run through the middle of this region. These things do not even figure as a blip on the radars of the policy makers in Raisina Hills or in Chennai.

The proposed gas line will eat up 28,000 acres of farm land and will displace over 3,00,000 people in the region, largely belonging to most backward classes. Estimates put it at 51 per cent. Government doesn’t have its case cut nicely. First the compensation offered was far low and there was no proper rehabilitation plan in place. Angry at the callous nature of the dealing by the authorities, people of Dharmapuri are on a war path now and have demanded an alternate route for the pipeline. “We will not shift from our homes or give away our land. We want the pipelines to be shifted away from here,” said one of the participants in the function to welcome the Jatha. The High Court of Chennai has stayed the work on the project.

The woes of Dharmapuri are many. But the people have resolved to fight the ills of the neo-liberal policies of the UPA government. If the optimism has to be felt, talk to none other than Delli Babu, the CPI(M) MLA from the region. “We have problems but we are united to fight it. We have won many such battles.”