CHENNAI: Special Economic Zones (SEZs) have literally wreaked havoc in the lives of Dalit women. Unemployed Dalit men are migrating to the city in search of employment, but at the receiving end are the women who have to cope with the loss of livelihood, not to mention the social discrimination in their villages. According to an estimate, about 3.5 lakhs persons across 21 districts have been displaced and have lost their occupation since the SEZs came up. According to a study by the Indian Community Welfare Organization, 10 lakh persons were displaced due to SEZs in 2002, 25 per cent were from Dalit families. According to Fatima Burnad of the Tamil Nadu Dalit Women’s Movement, the impact of SEZs has directly affected the lives of Dalit women. SIPCOT, which is developing 971 acres of land near Thervoykandigai village and 506 acres near the Surapoondi village (Thiruvallur district) has resulted in the loss of livelihood of the landless agricultural labourers without any compensation.
According to an estimate by Vasantha of the Coastal Women Development Movement and a member of the GUIDE (Gandhian Unit for Integrated Development Education) about 2 lakh Dalit families have moved to Chennai over the last two years due to the displacement in their villages. This, she said, affected their health and left their employment opportunities hanging in the balance.
Vasantha says that the displacement affects especially the Dalit women because agricultural labour in villages involves equal number of women force and primarily from the Dalit community. Jobless Dalit men are forced to leave the villages in search of employment in the city. Left alone, Dalit women suffer in the villages and live the life of a “single woman” literally being at the receiving end of poverty and social discrimination.
Migration of Dalit men to the city has caused insecurity for Dalit women who face rigid social discrimination at the villages, says a member working for Dalit women in the districts. The government’s promise of allocating five cent land to Dalits has not reached them, she alleges.
These women, who earlier fought patriarchal discrimination, now face extended discrimination of denial of sufficient food, health care, education and dignity, says Fathima.
Since this is the election season, the Dalit women have their share of demands: providing them with land rights, a ban on SEZs, a swithover to ecological farming, stopping eviction and the implementation of Tribal Retrieval Act, says Fatima.
Nalini Ravichandran, www.expressbuzz.com. 07 Apr 2009