Dalit households were hit the hardest by torrential rainfall and floods in Tamil Nadu’s Cuddalore district over the past month due to poverty and discrimination by upper caste villagers, a report has said.
The document surveyed 8,400 Dalit and non-Dalit families in 20 villages in the Cuddalore region – more than half of these belonged to dominant caste villagers-- to find that around 90% of the houses, livestock and crops destroyed by the deluge belonged to Dalit families.
The report also alleged dominant caste people blocked access to clean water and official relief measures remained concentrated in upper caste neighbourhoods that were more accessible by transport.
Conducted by the National Campaign for Dalit Human Rights (NCDHR) and the Social Awareness Society for Youths (SASY), the survey said that Dalits made up the lion’s share of those displaced by the floods as they lived in poorly-constructed mud houses.
Of the 1,026 mud houses that collapsed, 971 belonged to Dalits and of the 311 concrete houses that were damaged, 305 belonged to Dalits, the report said.
The report also found a majority of Dalit settlements were located on the fringes of the villages and much closer to dangerously-bloated water bodies. The average distance of Dalit houses from these rivers, canals and the sea was 1.5 km, the report found.
As a result of this proximity, 128 of the 146 goats killed in the survey area belonged to Dalits. All 20 cows that died belonged to Dalits and 274 of the 292 heads of poultry that drowned belonged to Dalits.
In Vadakkuthurai village, dominant caste people stopped Dalits from entering their neighbourhoods to access clean water. In Alamelumangalapuram, Dalits who have never been allowed to enter upper caste areas were too scared to attend the government medical camp set up for flood victims.
The report said that most primary health centres were located in dominant caste neighbourhoods and were, on an average, three km from Dalit settlements. As a result, reaching these PHCs involved wading through flooded areas -- a major risk.
The neglect was institutional, the report alleged, pointing out that visits by senior government officials were mostly to dominant caste areas and Dalits who lived in the most-inaccessible parts of villages weren’t visited by any inspection team.
The report also said private and government aid teams were distributing relief materials such as food and tarpaulins only to dominant caste areas that were easily accessible and located on main roads and highways.