Women workers, many carrying their children, assembled in a human chain, in Marina Beach on 21st Jan 2016. They were protesting the recent spate of evictions of working class families from city slums to urban peripheral resettlement sites. Making it clear that relocation would leave them jobless and their children in dire need of proper schools, they alleged that the government was discriminating against the poor and the working class by only taking action against them, while ignoring to take action against the rich and powerful individuals and institutions that had caused far more damage to the city. They claimed that the floods was merely an excuse to carry forward the ghettoization of the poor, marginalized people, who come predominantly from the Dalit communities.
Ms Leelavathi, president of Penn Urimai Iyyakam, while speaking at the beginning of the protest, highlighted the discrimination against the working class and claimed that they had a right to the city. She also mentioned that the resettlement sites too suffered from the very same issues and people suffered even more in Chemmenchery. She said that this ‘neo-untouchability’ will not be tolerated and demanded that the PWD(Public Works Department) and Corporation stop evictions and provide good quality housing within the city or improve slum housing.
The protestors had sought to take a rally from Gandhi Statue to Labour statue, in the inner road of Marina Beach. This section has often been used by many organizations especially NGOs to raise public awareness on various issues. But the police denied them permission to take out the rally claiming that they did not belong to an NGO. This arbitrary measure that curbed their freedom of expression was severely resented. The organizers sought the opinion of the assembled workers as to court arrest by defying the police diktat, or to conduct a human chain as permitted by the Police. Workers after weighing the utility of the two, agreed to the police demands and peacefully organized into a human chain.
This agitation was organized by Penn Urimai Iyyakam, Unorganized Workers Federation, Coastal Communities Protection front, National Alliance of People’s Movement and All India Peoples Forum. A press release pi human chain 21.1.2016 on the issues were released by the protestors.
Summary Recommendations of public hearing on slum evictions conducted in Chennai is available here.