A compilation of reports from Bhim Yatra on its journey through Tamil Nadu between 13th to 17th January 2016. Bhim Yatra. Safai Karamchari Andolan is conducting a national bus yatra to commemorate 125th Birth Centenary of Babasaheb Ambedkar and to highlight the shameful subjugation of dalits in undignified labour.
Date: 13th January 2016
Place: Nellore, Tamilnadu
After the night halt in Kesava Rao Kunta in Ongole we started early on the 13th January in Relli veedhi in Prajati Colony. We rallied in four streets shouting slogans and distributing pamphlets. More than 150 people came for the community meeting. BSP local leader in Ongole, Chitti Babu welcomed the Bhim Yatra. Journalists from Eenadu and Andhra Jyoti print media were also present . Chitti Babu introduced the Bhim Yatra. Roshan Babu explained about the Bhim yatra and announced the date for the last day of the Yatra on April 13th in Delhi and appealed for everyone to come to Delhi and participate in the national meeting near the Parliament house.
The Bhim Yatra then left Ongole and reached Nellore at 10.30 am.Mr. Nuna Vengaiah of DUTIES welcomed the Bhim Yatra and provided breakfast for the Yatris. He led the Bhim Yatra to Kranti Nagar. The yatra went on a rally in Kranti nagar and ended with a community meeting in a school. 170 people participated in the meeting. Mr. Vengaiah introduced the Bhim Yatra and explained about the purpose, campaign and the demands of the manual scavengers. The Bhim Yatra then proceeded to Ram Nagar where there are 8 gullies where manual scavengers live. The Bhim Yatra rallied through all the 8 gullies. Here the Manual Scavengers led by Mr.Sudhakar also a manual scavenger handed over a list of 160 Manual scavengers in Ram Nagar and made their representation to the Bhim Yatra – “No politicians have done anything for us and we have not received any kind of rehabilitation. We have the list of manual scavengers but we dont know how to approach the government, so can you please help us?’ Mr. Pennobilesu of SKA assured them of all support and said that he will come back after the Yatra and meet them and support them in meeting and filing a petition to the collector. The Bhim Yatra then brought the meeting in Nellore to a close and boarded the bus once again to leave for Tamil Nadu.
On entering into Tamil Nadu, it came as a shock when the Road Transport Officer at the Checkpost demanded for Rs. 35,000 for permit and entry tax. The Yatris did not have that money. They contacted Samuel Velanganni the Tamil Nadu State Convener. He in turn reached out to many people for help. Mr. Israel of Janodayam spoke to some higher government officials and explained about the Yatra and then the RTO brought it down to Rs. 25,000. Mr. Roshan Babu and Mr. Pennobilesu of Andhra Pradesh SKA team passed around the collection bag among the yatris in the bus and managed to raise just enough money and paid the entry tax. They then reached Nergundram in Tiruvallur District of Tamil Nadu at 9 PM on 13th January on the 35th Day of the Yatra.
As the bus entered into Shakthi Nagar of Nergundram, about 50 safaikarmachari community members of Shakthi Nagar Soundarya Theru led by the wives of persons who died in sewer holes – Panchavaranam, Kanchana, Devaki, Malli, Chitra and Andal along with many other women manual scavengers from Madurai, Coimbatore and Nagapatiinam districts and men from sewerage work lifted the banner and shouting praises to Dr. B.R. Ambedkar met the bus and welcomed the Bhim Yatra. Students from Madras Institute of Development Studies – Aparajit and Prem from Hyderabad Central University, Ms. Revathi social activist who runs a school for children from begging community along with her colleagues, Mr. Ravanaiah TAAMS members, Ms. Deepthi of SKA were present in the Nergundram welcome event and meeting.
Shouting slogans – ‘Vazhga Vazhga Ambedkar’, ‘end manual scavenging’, ‘shame shame India for having manual scavenging and deaths in sewer holes’, 2 lakhs is our right to rehabilitation etc the safaikarmachari community led the Yatris to the Soundarya community hall for the meeting. About 100 persons from the community – manual scavengers, families of persons who died in the manholes and septic tanks, sewerage workers welcomed the yatris with shawls and greetings. Pawan Balmiki convenor of MP SKA team, Jyoti – Orissa Convenor of SKA, Arumugam Tiruvallur district organiser, Samuel Velanganni Tamil Nadu convenor, TAAMS leader Ravanaiah spoke and explained about the Bhim Yatra, our demands, 2013 prohibition Act and Supreme Court judgment. The widows of the persons who died and the sewerage workers shared that even after repeated appeals and petitions they are yet to be enumerated and receive the compensation and rehabilitation support under the act and the SC judgment. TAAMS members Ravanaiah and his team, Ms. Revathi and students from MIDS – Aparajit and Prem also participated and contributed towards the welcome and community meeting.
In appreciation: In Nellore and Ongole districts, BSP member Chitti Babu, DUTIES leader Nuna Vengaiah supported the Bhim Yatra with accomodation and food for all the yatris.
In Tamil Nadu entry and Tiruvallur district, Mr. Israel of Janodayam and Mr. Ravanaiah supported with food for all the yatris and helping to contact RTO for reducing the entry taxes, Ms. Revathi contributed and supported with cash of Rs. 5000 to pay for expenses, the MIDS students took a collection drive and contributed with Rs. 7,000, Mr. Lakshmanan,professor of MIDS supported the printing of 5000 pamphlets and organised the welcome and introduction event of Bhim Yatra in MIDS along with release of the Tamil Pamphlet of theYatra, the safaikarmachari community provided the shawls and tea for all the yatris, Father Kumar, Director Social Watch Tamil Nadu arranged for the accommodation for night halt in AICUF Center for the yatris.
Tamil Nadu Malaikuravar sangam leaders – Arjunan, Verrapan, Venkatesan, Gunaseelan and Pandiyan
Date: 14th January 2016
Place: Chennai, Puducherry, Tindivanam.
On the morning of Day 36 Janodayam provided breakfast for the Yatris. Then the Bhim Yatra bus moved to a street next to the collector office, that had been cordoned off by the Chennai police for the Bhim Yatra meeting.
Very soon by 10 am a large crowd gathered at the meeting. There were more than 400 manual scavengers and sewerage workers from Chennai, Kancheepuram Tiruvallur, Vellore, Nagapattinam, Madurai, Coimbatore and Tiruchi districts. The police placed barricades on either end of the street and blocked the people to go on rally down the street in front of the collector office. The police had actually placed the whole crowd under arrest in that street by placing barricades at both ends of the road. Supporters and persons expressing solidarity came in large numbers to stand with the safaikarmacharis, shouting slogans against manual scavenging and long live to Ambedkar. Adi Tamilar Peravai cadres led by Mr. Adiyaman, TAAMS group led by Mr. Ravanaiah, Mr. Israel of Janodayam, Tamil Nadu Untouchability Eradication Front members led by Mr. Samuel and Mr. Neethirajan, Students and faculty of Madras Institute of Development Studies led by Dr. Lakshmanan, Viduthalai Chiruthai Katchi cadre led by Mr.Lenin, writers Geetha and Revathi, children and staff of Rainbow homes, CPM cadre and leader Mr. Sampath, Parvathi leader and her members of Arundadiyar self help groups and many others joined the safaikarmacharis and SKA team members – Samuel, Arumugam, Satya, Karpagam, Pawan Balmiki, Jyothi and the cultural group and safaikarmacharis from Madhya Pradesh, Haryana, Jharkhand and Orissa. In all the crowd numbered more than 600 persons with the majority being women and children.
The manual scavengers and the widows of persons who died in manholes Nagamma, Punitha, Saramma, Shanthi garlanded the portrait of Dr. B.R. Ambedkar shouting slogans – ‘veera vanakkam veera vanakkam Baba Saheb Ambedkar Veera Vanakkam”. After this the manual scavengers and sewerage workers from different districts spoke about their lives and their struggles to access the provisions of the Act and Supreme Court Order. The women spoke with much pain and anguish and tears streaming down their faces. The crowd was very moved and shouted slogans against this shame of manual scavenging and deaths of sewerage workers continuing with no change at all till date. The women Punitha adn Shanthi who clean shit in railway tracks in Chennai Central station spoke with great difficulty and angrily at how they were forced to clean the shit on the tracks which would dry and cake at the sides often injuring their hands and feet. They were ill and still forced to clean and work for long hours for a pittance which did not even match the minimum wage set by the government. Many sewerage workers also spoke at how they were forced to enter into septic tanks and manholes to clear sewerage blocks with great risk to their lives.
The people gathered at the meeting moved to anger took the mike and spoke out passionately and angrily against the system and government for allowing this inhuman conditions when there was so much technogical advancement in all other fields. Mr.Adiyaman of Adi Tamilar Peravai said that if this condition continues the community will be moved to great anger and revolution where the anger will spill on to the streets of Chennai, Mr. Samuel and Mr. Neethirajan, Revathi, Lakshmanan, Ravanaiah all spoke out angrily and with pain and anguish for the Safaikarmacharis. The police then came and informed us that the Collector would like to meet us and would only three members to meet her. The whole crowd moved and stood behind the barricades. The battalion of police came and stood on the other side in a menacing manner. They blocked and refused to let us out of the barricades. We demanded loudly and slowly they allowed only six of us one by one out, and took us to meet the collector. In the collector’s office they took us to the tapal section to receive the petition and not to the collector. We refused and protested and demanded to meet the collector. The collector made us to wait inspite of loud protests and demands. Only after an hour, she condescended to meet us and received the petition without a word and without any assurance or response from her we left the office.
The VCK member Mr. Lenin then took us to the office of VCK. Mr. Thol Thirumavalavan welcomed the Bhim Yatra and honored the yatris with shawls and greetings. He provided us with lunch and sat with the yatris for lunch and listened to the safaikarmacharis and the SKA team of the struggles to access the law and the SC order. The SKA team also expressed appreciation of his support in the parliament as he had led the discussion in favour of the 2013 prohibition Act.
The Bhim Yatra then proceeded to Pallavaram and Tambaram in Kancheepuram districts. Many manual scavengers from Tirvallur, Chennai, Kancheepuram, Nagapattinam and Madurai joined the Bhim Yatra and boarded the bus from Chennai. There the yatris distributed pamphlets to the public. Due to Pongal the roads were jammed and there was large distribution of pamphlets. The entire road leading to Tindivanam district and Pondicherry was jammed and the Bus reached Tindivanam at midnight and Pondicherry at 3 am the next day. While exiting Tamil Nadu after leaving Tindivanam district, the RTO at the border demanded Rs. 500 from the Bhim Yatra and did not give a receipt. On entering Pondicherry the permit was Rs. 800 but the RTO office demanded Rs. 1300 from the Bhim Yatra and did not give a receipt for Rs. 500. After this long and tiring day the yatris halted for the remaining four hours of the night in livelihood resource center of the Untouchability Eradication Front in Pondicherry organised by Ms. Assumptha Premalatha, Dalit woman activist in Pondicherry.
In appreciation: Ms. V Geetha writer contributed with cash of Rs. 5000 to the Bhim yatra, Ms. Shanthi of Janodayam helped with police permission; Mr Thol Thirumavalavan spent more than one hour listening to the safaikarmacharis and committed to take up the issue of the death compensation and gave a lunch of chicken biriyani and fruits for the yatris.
Date: 15th January 2016
Place: Perambalur, Tiruchirapalli
Having reached very late in the night the yatris were very tired and slept a little longer. It was pongal festival and all people were busy with their household celebrations. On waking up and having breakfast we arranged the hall for the community meeting. Soon people began to gather – safaikarmacharis and sewerage workers from Pondicherry, Nagapattinam, cuddalore districts. Community leaders, Dalit activists, women leaders and persons who wanted to join in the movement and give solidarity to the Bhim yatra. Ms. Assumptha Dalit woman activist welcomed the Bhim yatra and introduced the community leaders and activists – Mr. Sekar from Nagapattinam district, Lenin Subbiah a Dalit leader who also writes and composes dalit movement songs, Lenin – leader of the organisation BEST working for education of dalit children, Mahakrishnan another Dalit NGO leader working on forest and environment protection, Rupa- Dalit woman activist of RYET organisation, Veeramma- Arundadiyar sangam leader, Selvam running an Arundadiyar organisation and Selvi a Dalit woman activist having her own organisation called thayamma. In all there were more than 100 persons. SKA team members Jyothi and Pawan Balmiki introduced the Bhim yatra and the journey from Assam. Samuel Velanganni translated for all the speakers who encouraged the yatris and promised to take the movement forward in Pondicherry. Ms. Assumptha that the priority of the nation and government must be to cleanse society’s mind and conscience of all this unclean and evil thoughts and actions of untouchability and discrimination based on caste and occupation. They said that the nation must be ashamed to have manual scavenging on this scale. Lenin Subbiah sang a song that he had composed on Ambedkar – ‘vella mudiathavar Ambdekar……..”
The safaikaramcharis and SKA team kept shouting their slogans throughout and there was tremendous energy in the hall which roused and inspired everyone. After the community meeting, the entire gathering moved to Ambedkar’s memorial hall on the beach. After shouting slogans there the group moved around on the beachfront distributing pamphlets to all the public there and tourists. Many tourists and members of the public stopped the yatris and inquired about the Bhim Yatra and appreciated the efforts being taken to liberate and rehabilitate the manual scavengers. One tourist came up and suggested that we must have photographs in the pamphlet depicting both humans in sewerage work and also the machinery that is used in other countries so that the public will know that it is very possible to mechanise the sewerge work.
The yatris then boarded the bus and moved to cuddalore district to reach Tiruchi in the night. As they traveled to Tiruchi the bus stopped in Cuddalore town, Pennadam market place in Cuddalore district, Thittakudi and Karivepalampatti in Chidambaram district. In all these places the yatra held street side stopping and distributed pamphlets. We reached Tiruchi town at 10 PM and halted for the night in Samayapuram Kovil mandapam. The accomodation was provided by Mr. Subramanian of Untouchability Eradication Front and dinner was provided by Mr. Jakkiyan of Adi Tamilar Peravai.
In appreciation: SASY organisation in TIndivanam held a public meeting on day 36, but due to the traffic jam the bus was not able to reach on time. However SASY members Ramesh and Murugappan waited till midnight and gave dinner to all the yatris in Tindivanam. In Pondicherry, Assumptha provided the accommodation and Ms. Veeramma provided the breakfast on day 37.
Date: 16th January 2016
Place: kajapetta, Ramanathapuram
After the night halt in Samayapuram, we started out on a rally at 9.45 AM in Kajapettai. There are 20 streets in Kajapettai where safaikarmacharis live. We went through all the 20 streets of kajapettai, malli nagar and Palakarai shouting slogans, “victory to Ambedkar”; “victory to Bhim yatra”; “shame shame India still has manual scavenging” shame, shame India still has manhole cleaning’, ” rehabilitation is our right” etc. During the rally many safaikarmacharis and the Adi Tamilar Peravai cadre joined. Soon the police came and asked questions about the rally and the sloganeering but allowed the rally to continue and came along behind the rally. Many safaikarmacharis and their leaders came from Nagapattinam, Thanjavur and pudukottai districts. The yatris explained to them about the Bhim yatra, Ambedkar’s ideology, the act and the supreme court judgment. The Safaikarmacharis asked many questions about the yatra and the rehabilitation entitlements. We distributed pamphlets to all the safaikarmacharis and gave them many copies to distribute in their districts and communities.
After this we boarded the bus and took the road to Ramanathapuram. SKA team member, Rajamanickam met the Yatra along with a group of safaikarmacharis and welcomed the yatra. The Yatra went to the main bus stand and held a public meeting. THe press came and met the Yatra and took statements from the yatris about the yatra and its purpose. The Yatra then continued towards Kanyakumari and stopped in Thuthukodi, Devakottai and Sivagangai along the way meeting safai karmacharis and public with small wayside meetings and distributed the pamphlets and spoke about the yatra.
The bus reached Kanyakumari at 9.45 pm and halted for the night. The yatris rested for the night in the auditorium of St. Ignatius school in Kovalam.
In appreciation: Tamil Nadu Untouchability Eradication Front showed their solidarity by providing us with accommodation, dinner and breakfast.
Date: 17th January 2016
Place: Kanyakumari, Trivandrum
By 10AM a large crowd assembled in front of the Gandhi Mani Mandapam at the tip of India where the three seas – Bay of Bengal, Indian Ocean and the Arabian Sea meet in Kanyakumari. There were more than 400 safai karmacharis and 200 persons who were expressing solidarity with the Yatra. In all there were about 600 persons gathered at this very significant location at the southern end of India. SKA coordinator for Kanyakumari Ms. Kalaiarasi led the mass meeting. SKA team members and civil society organisations and members from Theendamai Ozhippu Munani (Untouchability Eradication Front) and Aadi Tamilar Peravai were present at the meeting. Professor Ganesan of the Untouchability Eradication Front greeted the gathering and spoke that the Bhim Yatra was a very important one for the Dalit society. He also said that a similar bus yatra was taken out by SKA in 2010 which resulted in the new 2013 Act. He further said that now again SKA and the safai karmacharis are on anther yatra because nothing has changed in their situation. “How many more yatras like this should happen before this country will remove this shame from its face!” Mr. Venus also from the Untouchability eradication front sang a song that he had composed and inspired the crowd with Ambedkar ideology. Mr. Bezwada Wilson said, “We are on this yatra not for the money that the Government has to give us but for our dignity. This country is again and again making the big wrong of making us to clean shit and go down manholes, and should apologise to us. They are giving us money and killing us”. Ms. Basha Singh said “the Bhim Yatra is for our dignity and to tell the state to stop killing us”. After this a press meet was held, Mr. Bezwada Wilson addressed the press meet along with SKA team members – Samuel, Satya and Mohanapriya. The Madhya Pradesh and Haryana coordinator informed the press of the journey of Bhim Yatra so far.After the Yatris boarded the bus and left for the south west state of Kerala’s capital – Trivandrum.
In Trivandrum, a public meeting was held in front of the Kerala Secretariat at the statue of Madhava Rao where four important roads meet from different directions. More than 80 people gathered here. Safaikarmacharis from Trivandrum and Kollam district came for this public meeting. Mr. Raman Kutty memebr of the SC/ST confederation of India addressed the meeting said that, “this is the first time I am seeing such kind of Yatra for dalit issues. It is a most historical and important Yatra”. The SKA team members explained about the yatra, 2013 Act, supreme court judgment and our demands. Mr. Bezwada Wilson and Ms.Basha SIngh addressed the Press meet about the Yatra, purpose and demands. At7.30pm the meeting ended with slogans and songs and we went to a lodge near the bus stand for the night.