The National Human Rights Commission has sent a notice to the government of Tamil Nadu, to give a detailed report within 6 weeks, about the plight of the Puthirai Vannars with regard to the compulsory caste labour which is bonded labour. The notice was issued on 11.07.14
On 10.07.14, Fr.Arul Valan together with Mrs.Geetha, Kiran Kamal Prasad and other activists, met the Chairperson of National Human Rights Commission, Justice KG.Balakrishnan and Member Justice Murugesan. We presented a memorandum to the commission stating the plight of the Puthirai Vannars of Tamil Nadu, who are forced to do compulsory caste labour to the dominant dalit communities, in the villages. We made a plea to declare them bonded labourers under the Bonded labour system (abolition) Act 1976, and take steps to redeem and rehabilitate them. The state of Odisha has done it having been directed by the NHRC.
Mr.Mani, a hindu Puthirai Vannar of Manalapadi village, Ginjee taluk, Villupuram district was found dead having been electricuted near the field he had taken on lease from a Reddiar family, on 07.02.2014. On enquiry and a spot visit by the TLM and independant human rights defenders and lawyer, found that he had been murdered as suspected by the family and relatives of the deceased, by the relatives of the Reddiar, who were against Mani cultivating the field on lease. They had threatened him on many occassions in the past.
On 08.02.2014, a road blockade was carried out by the dalits of the village together with TLM leaders and lawyers. The Thasildhar, DSP and other police officials gave an assurance that the accused would be arrested and the case registered under SC/ST PA Act. Nothing has happened as on 23.02.14. A counter case has been registered on the leaders of TLM, lawyer and other dalits of the village.
The very fact that Puthirai Vannars are born into that caste, they have to do all the compulsory dehumanizing caste duties. As a remuneration for their service, they have to collect the left-over food from other dalit homes and feed themselves. They are far away from ownership of house site, government housing and other schemes. A pilot survey in Chengalpattu taluk of Kancheepuram district, done in January 2014, reveals their plight.
Thurumbar Liberation Movement joined hands with SAPI in placing the demands of Puthirai Vannars to various political parties to be included in their manifestos. This was released on January 24th, 2014 at Madurai.
The Unorganized Workers’ Federation also prepared a people’s manifesto and released it on 10.02.2014. The demands of the Puthirai Vannars are part of it.
The Demands are: i) Declare Puthirai Vannars as bonded labourers under Bonded Labour Abolition Act 1976, and rehabilitate them as per law. ii) Issue community certificates as ‘Puthirai Vannar’ through out Tamil Nadu. iii) Release the 2011 census on Puthirai Vannar population. Conduct a district level survey of the Puthirai Vannar community. iv) Revive the Puthirai Vannar Welfare Board and disburse all the funds lying idle for the past 4 years.
The Puthirai Vannars joined hands with Irulars working as bonded labourers in brick kilns and Rice Mills and the stone quarry workers, in demanding rescue and rehabilitation of bonded labourers. The demand of the TLM was to include Puthirai Vannars under the purview of bonded labour abolition act 1976 and rehabilitate them. The Padhayatra was coordinated by the Unorganized Workers’ Federation.
The yatra commenced at Trichy on 07.11.13 and went through various districts such as Trichy, Perambalur, Cuddalore, Villupuram, Kancheepuram and concluded at Chennai, on 22.11.13. The 16 day padhayatra covered a distance of 320 kilometers, spreading awareness among the public and placing the demands to the various district administrations. The TLM apart from participating in the padhayatra, made arrangements for the night stays and food for the participants. At the culmination of the yatra, memorandum was submitted to the State Human Rights Commission and the Secretary, Adi Dravida Welfare Department.
The Department of Adi Dravida Welfare which also looks into the bonded labour matters, organized a redressal meet at the Secretariate on 12.02.2014. RDOs and other officials from various 10 districts together with International Justice Mission, Representatives of the UWF and TLM participated. The Secretary, Ms.Kannegi Packianathan IAS, instructed the officials to identify, rescue and rehabilitate the bonded labourers in the most oppressed communities of Oddars, Irulars and Puthirai Vannars. She also disburse the funds lying idle in the Puthirai Vannar Welfare Board for the last 4 years. It was a historic meet which brought hope to these oppressed communities.