Chennai floodwater mixes with casteism: Dalits refused relief in Cuddalore

by Salma Rehman (original article can be found HERE)


A survey reveals that around 90 % of the houses, livestock and crops destroyed in Cuddalore districts of Tamil Nadu belong to the Dalits.

  • One of the reason for the acute damage is that the schedule castes are mostly living either on the edge or close to the river on the low-lying areas.
  • The survey also reveals that in Kongarayanpalayam, people from the dominant caste blocked clean water access for the Dalits.

The world watched in awe last week as people in and outside Tamil Nadu pulled out all the stops to help those affected by the worst rains to hit the state in a 100 years.

People opened the doors of their houses to strangers, shared food and supplies and went out of their way to rescue those stranded in the floods. However, while most of Tamil Nadu experienced these heartwarming scenes, the situation in Cuddalore – one of the state’s worst affected districts – proved why true humanity may still be a distant dream.

A recent report published by the National Campaign for Dalit Human Rights (NCDHR) and the Social awareness Society of Youth (SASY), exposed the dejection that people from lower castes are facing in the state’s most underprivileged areas. As if the devastation of the floods were not hard enough on the Dalit community in Cuddalore district, they were also denied the compassion that the rest of the state seemed to receive in the aftermath of the floods.

‘The floods washed away everything’

The floods left the low-lying areas in Cuddalore district completely crippled – with houses and roads submerged in water. Keenanur, Manavalanallur, Kottumulai, Ottimedu and about 10 other villages were inundated.

Photo: NCDHR

  • The survey by NCDHR and SASY, which covered 8,400 Dalit and non-Dalit families in 20 villages in the region, revealed that around 90 per cent of the houses, livestock and crops destroyed by the deluge belonged to Dalit families.
  • One of the reason for the acute damage is that the schedule castes are mostly living either on the edge or close to the river on the low-lying areas – making them more vulnerable to damage. A majority of their houses are made of mud and thatch – that were washed away in the deluge.
  • “This is reaffirmation of caste divide as the choice of these people to stay secluded from the other residential areas in their respective villages is borne out of the social norms which are strictly observed there,” said Rajesh, NCDHR’s Coordinator of National Dalit Watch.

No shelter

  • The Dalit population in the district lack government infrastructure – like schools and community halls – leaving villagers from Dalit communities in Vadakkuthurai, Kongarayanpalayam, Agaram and Ambedkar Nagar villages with no place to take refuge.

Photo: NCDHR

  • According to reports, there were also instances where the government rescue teams failed to visit some remote Dalit villages for lack of connectivity. As a result, the Dalit families from Vadukathirumedu, Chillankuppam, Kaduvetti, Varagurpettai and Annavalli could not shifted to safer place after the huge flood hit in their villages.

‘Can’t quench thirst’

  • In around 90 per cent of the surveyed villages, there was no adequate provision of drinking water. “A number of Dalit families did not receive any drinking water. Most of the public sources are destroyed and villagers in hamlets like Vadakkuthurai, Ennanagaram and Kongarayanpalayam had to travel miles for getting the access,” said Pandeyan from the SASY.
  • He narrated of a chilling reminder of Munshi Premchand‘s story – the Thakur’s well. “In Kongarayanpalayam, people from the dominant caste blocked clean water access for the Dalits. This is reflective of the eople’s attitude which refuse to compromise with their rusted caste-system even at the time of such hardships,” he alleged.

Struggle for survival

  • According to the survey, relief efforts are restricted to specific villages which belong to the upper caste people – mostly in the more accessible district blocks.
  • Reportedly, in the Alamelumangapuram village, a medical camp has been organised in an area which is dominated by high caste people. According to reports, people from the Dalit communities were avoiding the camp for fear of violence and discrimination.
  • “Majority of the Dalit villages have been filled with flood water, mixed with sewage. Villages like Nalanthethu, Alamelumangapuram and Vadakkuthurai are under threat of malaria and dengue outbreak,” said Rajesh.
  • Catch tried to reach the District Collector of Cuddlore on the issue but he did not comment on the issue.

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