Chennai, January, 17 : Pachiammal's family has been fighting in court for what has been their land for two generations. They received the two-acre plot from the government, back in 1885, under the Panchami Scheme.The scheme was brought in by the British during their rule over the Madras Presidency to empower Schedule Caste landless farmers.
Some years ago, it was forcibly taken over by a rich landlord who claims their dead parents owed him money.
"We never borrowed any money from them. But they have taken our land saying we owe them a lot," said Pachiammal, farm labourer.
Velusamy's father had sold the family's Panchami land.
As per law, Panchami lands cannot be sold or transferred: They have to stay with the Dalit families they were assigned to, to guard them against poverty.
Velusamy has now retrieved it in a long and arduous court battle.
"My parents lacked awareness. They had borrowed some money. Later, the moneylender forced them to sell the land as repayment," said Velusamy, a property broker.
A result of thousands of such illegal encroachments and sales, of the 20 lakh acres that were given to Tamil Nadu's Dalits under the Panchami Scheme, only about 1 lakh acres remain with them.
For years, Dalit activists have been asking the government to intervene in the recovery. Now given it's an election year, the Tamil Nadu government has suddenly woken up to the issue and announced a committee that will recommend how to restore the plots to original owners.
"The government can restore all these lands by a single order. This is a needless exercise," said Jeeva, Director, Society for Integrated Rural Development.
The lack of political will has meant that land ownership among Dalits in Tamil Nadu on the ground has not improved in a whole century.