Swaraj Tamil Nadu

The society in today’s Tamil Nadu has a prestigious place in Indian History and the nation’s Freedom Struggle. Chakravarti Rajagopalachri, Kamraj Nadar, M. G. Ramachandra and “Periyar” are among many of the leaders down the history has played vital roles in Nation Building.

Tamil Nadu was part of the erstwhile Madras Presidency, which during the colonial period included large areas of today’s Andhra Pradesh and Kerala. However, after the re-organisation of States on linguistic lines by law in 1956, it shed some areas and merged some areas within it. The latter included Kanyakumari, which had earlier been part of the erstwhile State of Travancore-Cochin.

In the beginning, the work of contacting activists and associates was undertaken in eleven districts of southern Tamil Nadu. Similar activity was also undertaken in Pondicherry, as the latter desired to work with the set up in Tamil Nadu. However, work could not start as sensitive general election campaign had begun in the state. After the elections were over, NGOs working for establishment of SJ-Tamil Nadu found the situation in two districts – Ramanad and Tuticorin – to be sensitive. Communal and caste tensions prevailed there.

Ms. Jayanti took the responsibility took the responsibility of Co-ordination of SJ-Tamil Nadu. The chapter decided to concentrate in three districts – Ramanad, Tuticorin and Kanyakumari. Kanyakumari is the southernmost tip of the Indian Peninsula. Here water of three seas – the Bay of Bengal, the Arabian Sea and the Indian Ocean meet. Here also is the Vivekanand Rock and the Memorial. However, in this area of southern Tamil Nadu, there were also communal and caste tensions. The activity of SJ-Tamil Nadu was to bring communal tension.

An activity will prove the point. As the activity proceeded villagers gathered around to end the discord and bring in harmony. The efforts began to gather fruit when women rallied around. One woman from Landai Village (four persons had died in the village due to communal conflicts) led the change over as she stepped out boldly to assist families dislocated by the tension. Activists of the Sucheta Kripalani Rural Development Centre particularly moved to give succour to the affected.

Besides this, SJ-Tamil Nadu was also concerned with the visible change in the cropping and rural employment pattern. The area under cash crop like cashew and rubber has been increasing with a decrease in the area under foodgrains such as paddy. Similarly, traditional non-agricultural productive activities such as manufacture if palm sugar and handicrafts have been declining. These are being replaced by modern agro-processing industry.

One associate of SJ-Tamil Nadu has been making interventions in this regard. It had studies the impact of such decline on women and on the question of child labour in these processing industrial units.

Cashew was brought to the Malabar Coast by the Portuguese and from there it spread to other parts of Southern India. It is called “Parangi” in the region, meaning “foreign nut” (akin to Firangi = foreign in Hindustani?). The cashew nut is rich in protein, carbohydrate and fat. It is nutritive and tasty. The Indian production is cheaper than the South American production (from where it has originated and brought to India by the Portuguese) and therefore is easily exportable. It is in great demand in Europe, Gulf Countries and Central Asia. This export is undertaken at the behest of exploitation of labour in India, particularly in South India, particularly of women and the female child.

The nature of Cashew nut processing industry is hazardous. In the first processing activity, that is, ROASTING, a bad smell is emitted from the boiler. The hapless women tolerate it. Then comes SHELLING. Women are exclusively given this work.  Shelling brings out a poisonous liquid. The shells have to be broken. All these result in formation of black areas on the skin. Added to this is the fact that in most cashew processing factories, the women have to squat on the floor from 7.30 a.m. to 5.30 p.m. with a very short break for lunch.

As per a case study, 95 per cent of the work force engaged in cashew nut processing are poor women. The female child also works in these processing factories. Many of them are below the age of 14 years but they are made to wear saris to show that they are adults, if an official visits the workplace. Men normally prefer to marry a working woman, which meant more income to the home. However, of late, it has been noticed that men do not want to marry a woman working in cashew nut processing factory. Most of the women suffer from Asthma, T. B. and some diseases of the uterus and back problems. There is no health care and the women just continue to work without any rights and facilities.

PSP Process in Tamilnadu

Swaraj Tamil Nadu: State Convention at Tirunelveli

The veteran Gandhian from the State, Mr. K. Viswanathan, inaugurated “SWARAJ” activities, ON May one 1999.

On 8th May 1999, a two-day Workshop on PSP was organised at the Vivekananda Kendra, Kanyakumari for training 35 activists from three districts – Kanyakumari, Thirunelveli and Ramnad. These persons were capacitated to work as facilitators in their area of operation. An Action Plan was prepared to launch PSP in 100 villages. However due to paucity of time and some unexpected problems, the process could be undertaken in 57 villages. In these villages documentation was undertaken and the outcome was available. There is a demand for starting the PSP process in the remaining villages.

CRITICAL ISSUES: STRATEGIC ISSUES
1.       Unemployment

2.       Loss of Traditional Industry

3.       Exploitation of female labour in Cashew Nut Processing Industry

4.       Child Labour

5.       Landlessness

6.       Illiteracy

7.       Dowry

8.       Atrocities against Women

9.       Alcoholism

10.   Gender Inequality

11.   Health Problems

12.   Caste Discrimination

13.   Communal Tensions

1.       Caste Discrimination

2.       Communal Tension

3.       Exploitation of women and Child Labour

4.       Illiteracy

5.       Alcoholism

6.       Health Problems

7.       Atrocities against Women

 

 

STRATEGIC THRUST

1.       Struggle against alcoholism

2.       Working for literacy

3.       Empowerment of Women

4.       Struggle against Casteism and Communalism

5.       Working for Human Rights on Land, Work, Health and Basic Facilities

The programme in the state is in the districts of Tuticorin and Tirunelveli.  The PSP process could not be carried out in all the villages planned due to various problems. The programme has been revived since October last year. There are 7 fellows associated with Swaraj covering 35 villages. Two fellows have left and in their place 4 women fellows are recruited. While the village and district committees need to be strengthened in many places, they are yet to be formed in some places.  The state also does not have a coordinator- the Kerala state coordinator is also in charge Tamil Nadu.

AREA OF OPERATION

DISTRICTS FELLOWS VILLAGES CONTACT VILLAGES TOTAL
2 4 20 37 57

(Tirunelveli, Tuticorin, Kanyakumari, Virudhunagar)

 

INTERVENTIONS, ISSUES AND IMPACT

–        Educational awareness programme for dalit leaders

–        Schooling for librated child labourers

–        SHG formation specially within tribal people; Skill Trg. to the 45 SHG leaders.

–        Reducing anti-Gandhian views / attitudes in dalit youths (certain groups)

–        Awareness programme for eradication of untouchability

–        Struggle for right and equal wages to the cashew labours – (Organiser, motivator and negotiator).

–        Organising PSP workshop for more conceptual clarity; state level CBP, State convention,

–        40 women SHGs formed.

–        3 youth groups formed.

–        30 children who have been working as child labourers are enrolled in schools.

–        Local caste conflicts hindering the process.

–        Mainstream NGOs are another concern.