Dr. Abdul Salam, Secretary of NCHRO, Kerala calls for an end to the violence against Dalits and Adivasis and to the blockade preventing access to food and medical attention at the Chengara estate in Pathananthitta District of Kerala, India
According to reports and fact finding mission reports by NCHRO officials of the state of kerala, there is escalating violence against the peaceful protest of Dalit and Adivasi people in connection with their occupation of land to which they claim historic rights. Since 3 August 2008, a blockade has been imposed on the several thousand landless people concerned. Access to food and other essential supplies was deliberately cut off for over 10 days, raising fears of starvation and serious illness, especially for children.The ongoing land struggle at Chengara is a non-violent agitation for agriculture land by the landless poor belonging to different sections of society.
The blockade has been imposed by the Joint Action Council of Trade Unions, a common platform of plantation workers’ trade unions affiliated to leading political parties and by private security guards. It has two aims: one is to force the agitators, most of whom are Dalits and Adivasis, to give up their struggle by denying them access to food and medicine. The other is to prevent Kerala civil society groups, which have expressed solidarity with the protesters, from going to Chegara to support of the most poor and marginalized section of society.
The blockade is reportedly enforced by violence, in particular against women, who are the targets of brutal attacks carried out in the presence of the police. Social activists have also been prevented by violent means from contacting the demonstrators.
On 4 August, 2007, thousands of families, totalling around 30,000 people (Dalits, Adivasis and other marginalised peoples) from different parts of the region, moved onto the Chengara estate, illegally held by Harrison Malayalam Private Ltd., to reclaim ownership of land. This was in keeping with a long-standing promise of the government. The land occupied was a part of leasehold to Harrison Malayalam Ltd. for the production of rubber. This leasehold expired in 1985 and no rents have been paid to the State exchequer since.
The people occupying the site are largely daily wage workers who must leave the site on an everyday basis. Women who go out in search of work are said to have been abused both physically and verbally by those who have set up the blockade. The women are often stopped and harassed by the company security guards and arrested by the police. In recent days children have also been forcibly stopped from going to school, and girls are reported to have been molested and physically and verbally abused as they attempt to leave or enter the site. Activists who visited the area have reported that since the blockade, a woman gave birth in extremely unsafe conditions. Lack of proper health care and medicines is making life difficult for many others.
Fears have been expressed that the current situation is leading to starvation and severe health crisis among the people. Many people, including children and the aged, have reportedly fallen ill.
Calls have been made for the Government of Kerala to facilitate a dialogue and two meetings have been held, but no peaceful solution to the problems will be possible until the blockade has been lifted.
NCHRO’s call for action
NCHRO appeals to the Government of Kerala, Harrison Malayalam Private Ltd. and the Joint Action Council of Trade Unions to lift immediately the blockade, recognise the land rights of the Dalits, Adivasis and other marginalised peoples involved, investigate the situation of the blockade and identify and prosecute those responsible for it and the associated violence.