Hundreds of peasants belonging to the Ottapidaram Taluk in Tuticorin district of Tamil Nadu rallied at Pasuvandanai demanding that the government immediately take steps to fulfill their demands. The rally was jointly organized by Lok Raj Sangathan and Thamizhaga Vivasayigal Sangam (Tuticorin district).
Mounting a massive campaign to mobilize the peasants for the rally and to rebuild the peasant’s union which suffered a setback in recent years, activists of the two organizations conducted an awareness-cum-membership campaign in the villages. The campaign was extremely successful with hundreds of peasants becoming members. The organizers also got an accurate picture of the actual situation of the peasants, the apathy of the government and bureaucracy and the immediate demands of the peasants.
Intent on capturing power, the DMK alliance in Tamil Nadu promised several things for the peasants, such as write-off of loans and interest, free electric power for agriculture, and so on. In Tuticorin district, the district Collector issued an order writing off co-operative loans amounting to Rs 97.47 crores involving 54, 173 peasants. But, there has been no move on the part of the cooperative banks to return the mortgage documents and cancel the loans. Moreover, only loans taken from co-operative banks have been written off. The peasants in the district are demanding that loans and interest taken from public and private sector banks and regional rural banks should be also waived.
The DMK regime has recently passed an ordinance dispensing with direct elections to the posts of Mayors and municipal chairpersons and town panchayat chairpersons. The ordinance has also introduced party-based elections for the town panchayats as opposed to the earlier practice of candidates contesting as individuals. The DMK regime has been justifying the ordinance with the perverted logic that direct elections to the post of Mayor and Presidents of City councils may lead to a situation where a majority of councilors may belong to one party while the Mayor may belong to the opposition party. This ordinance is being vigorously opposed by peasants of the state who have been demanding that the hegemony of political parties over the elections to the local bodies and town panchayats should be completely removed and people should have the right to select and elect the candidates of their choice including the right to recall their representative if found unsatisfactory.
In this area which is rain-fed the peasants are hardly able to raise one crop in one year. To sell their produce, whether it is vegetables, coarse grains or chilly, they get no support from the government. They are completely left to the vicissitudes of the market to earn their living. While the cost of inputs have been rising enormously the peasants do not get reasonable prices for their produce. For example, the peasants are forced to sell brinjals at 80 paisa per kilo, which does not compensate them for the material, labour and transportation costs to the local mandi.
Speakers at the rally elaborated on these issues and demanded that the government take immediate action. They also condemned the Tamil Nadu ordinance which has introduced party-based local body elections at the town panchayat level. Sri Gurusamy, a teacher from Alibachery village gave the welcome speech. Sri Muthiah Reddiar from Jambulingapuram distributed the membership cards to the Sangam members. Saravana Muthuvel, Karuppasamy, Senthamrai and many others spoke on behalf of the Thamizhaga Vivasayigal Sangam. Raghavan, Baskar and Kumar spoke on behalf of Lok Raj Sangathan.
The peasants rallied from several villages such as Chillangulam, Jambulingapuram, Nagampatti, Subbammalpuram, Kappikulam, Alibachei, Kasinamakkanur, etc.
The speakers were of the unanimous opinion that the peasant union should be strengthened, demonstrations and rasta rook campaigns should be organized against issues such as loan waiver and price rise, and that the peasants should select and elect their own candidates in the local body elections due in October 2006, wherever possible. It was decided to step up the membership and awareness campaign and organize a vehicle propaganda campaign in end September to generate widespread discussion among the peasants on the way forward and select candidates for the local body elections by involving all the village people.