National Campaign on Dalit Human Rights

J. Vincent Manoharan
General Secretary

12 January 2005

REPORT: The After Effects of the Tsunami on Affected Dalit Communities

In this report, we as the National Campaign on Dalit Human Rights (NCDHR) would like to reflect on the present position that the Tsunami affected Dalit communities are facing post the 26 December 2004 calamity.

As it stands the majority of the people affected by the Tsunami have been of the Fishermen community. However other communities such as Dalits and Muslims have also been affected and should not be neglected. Each community should be assisted proportionately in an unbiased manner to ensure that the equitable distribution of resources occurs, so as to provide relief and rehabilitation to these victims, regardless of their position on the caste hierarchy.

In order to provide a realistic synopsis of the present scenario we will firstly have to look at what the position of the Dalit communities were prior to the Tsunami. Secondly we will evaluate the extent of the devastation and damage that was encountered by the Dalit affected communities as a result of the Tsunami. Thirdly we will consider the discrimination they have faced by the Fishermen communities as well as the Government. Fourthly we will assess the relief that has been promised to the Dalit community. Finally we shall evaluate the necessary rehabilitation measures that shall be required in order to ensure that the Dalits have an equal opportunity to rebuild their lives and communities.

Position of Dalit Communities Prior to Tsunami

The Dalit communities that have been adversely affected as a result of the Tsunami are in this position primarily due to their location. Dalit hamlets were situated in close proximity to the affected Fishermen communities. The economic livelihood was also inextricably linked to that of the Fisher people - be it in doing ‘coolie’ work or domestic work for the Fisher people, or assisting in manufacturing and selling salt.

Dalits would work for the Fishermen loading and unloading the boats or they would purchase some of the fish to sell elsewhere. Dalit women often bought the smaller fish and hawked that. In parts of Tamil Nadu and Kerala, a considerable percentage of Dalits are equally involved in fishing. They engage in backwater fishing by using catamarans and nets. In south Tamilnadu, Dalits also collected of seashells and conches, which they sold. Dalits, mainly worked as agricultural labourers or on saltpans. A few Dalits did some farming of their own and owned some livestock. Dalits in Kerala are also coconut tree climbers and plucked coconuts.

As a result of this economic set-up, the Fisher People tend to have more affluent status than the Dalits, who are daily wagers and are neither boat owners, nor landlords. Socially, Fisher people always have a dominant position in the caste hierarchy, and Dalits are treated as untouchables. Therefore, discrimination is rampant and there exists a division and exclusion between the two communities. Since the Fisher people are in the majority in these villages, are affluent and often intimidate the Dalits - Dalits live with a fear psyche.

Extent of Devastation as a Result of Tsunami

Due to the impoverished economic status of the Dalit communities, their homes were built out of mud and reeds resulting in them simply being washed away with the force of the Tsunami. In an initial survey of the 6 affected Tamil Nadu districts of Tiruvallur Kanchipuram, Thiruvallur, Chennai, Cuddalore, Nagapattinam (including Karaikkal, which is a small town in the neighbouring State of Pondicherry), 34 villages have been severely destroyed. Damage has been caused to 10499 houses in these districts.

This devastation has resulted in 160 deaths in the above-mentioned districts alone, with 103 people being unaccounted for. This has had a devastating social impact, as many families have been torn apart, resulting in widows and orphaned children with no support or shelter. The surviving members of the communities face the incomprehensible challenge of rebuilding their lives with seemingly few opportunities.

The livelihood opportunities have literally been washed away. As the Dalit community was largely dependant on the Fishermen for their livelihood they have been directly affected by the Fishermen’s loss. In the 6 affected districts in Tamil Nadu, 1779 boats belonging to Dalits have been destroyed and a large number of nets have been lost. In Kerala, Kollam, Alappey and Ernakulam, the 3 affected districts of Kerala about 600 catamarans belonging to Dalits were washed away and their fibre boats fitted with motors were damaged. Nets were also lost.

The Dalits who mined salt or were involved in agriculture were also affected as the saltpans and fields are flooded with salt water, which has ruined the crops. In these 6 districts, 608 acres of land belonging to Dalits have been affected. The force of the wave has resulted in the death of 2398 livestock in the 6 affected districts in Tamil Nadu. The coconut pluckers lost their climbing machines in Kerala and will cost Rs.10 000 each, to replace and the sprayers are worth Rs. 2500 each. Other agriculture farmers have had farming equipment lost and damaged.

Discrimination faced by Fishermen Communities and Government

Discrimination by the Fisher community
As the fisher communities belong to a higher place in the caste hierarchy, the practice of untouchability between them and Dalits is not uncommon in daily life. This is also being carried over at this hour of tragedy.
The following forms of discrimination have been witnessed at the time of relief and rehabilitation work:

  • Fisher People were reluctant to allow Dalits to stay in the general relief camps,
  • Fisher People did not allow Government staff/ NGOs/CSOs to provide relief materials to Dalits, this has also been reported in the Daily Telegraph (Canada) and at,
  • Members of Fishermen community chased /abused the members of Dalit community when they managed to stay in the camps or when the Dalits demanded relief materials,
  • The Fisher People labeled Dalits as beggars /thieves etc,
  • The Fisher People cremated dead bodies of fishermen community inside the Dalit living area,
  • The Fisher People passed on relief material to the Dalits which was rejected by them,
  • The Fisher People gave food / material to the Dalits which was stored, or left over and spoiled.
Manifestations of this discrimination can be understood from the following cases:
In Tarangambadi in Tamil Nadu, 513 Dalits from four affected villages were housed in separate relief camps in a community hall and local church in Thudaripet. The members said they had come to the camp fearing the possibility of discrimination by the Fisher community when living together, sharing cooked food, sharing drinking water, sharing relief materials and possible assault of young Dalit girls.

Similarly in Vanagiri village in Nagapattinam district 60 Dalit families were affected in terms of destruction of houses, loss of property, loss of livestock and inundation of agricultural farms with seawater, yet the Fisher communities would not allow the relief food and clothes to be distributed among the Dalit families. As families are slowly returning to their villages, they are trying to put up temporary shelter in some common land or temple land a little away from the seashore. In many places the Fisher community is not allowing the Dalits to put up shelter in these common lands.

Father Gunalan, pastor of Asia’s Protestant Church, the 298-year old New Jerusalem Church in Tarangambadi, which is one of the worst hit coastal villages. Gunalan said it was appalling to see that the Fisher people stopping relief trucks on the road and diverting them to their own community. The camps of powerless denominations bore the brunt of this. (

While the loss and death in the Fisher community is of a much higher magnitude, affected families be it Dalit or Muslims have also similarly lost livelihoods that will take a long time to rebuild.

Discrimination/ Negligence /Apathy of the Government Officials (including police) against Dalits in relief and rehabilitation work

  • Did not care to provide proper and adequate access to camps.
  • Did not give adequate concern to provide food or other relief materials on par with the Fisher People.
  • Did not show interest to provide proper medical care.
  • Did not visit the camps where Dalits gathered on their own.
  • Forced the Dalits to move from the place of their initial gathering to the official camps where the Dalits were apprehensive that Fisher people would physically prevent them from entering.
  • Apathy to register the deaths among Dalits.
  • Apathy in enumerating the conditions of Dalit victims.
  • Reluctant to register missing Dalit persons.
  • Reluctant to register the names of Dalit victims for relief or rehabilitation.
  • Did not take appropriate action to distribute Ex-gratia payments to the Dalit victims.
  • Allowed the burial of non-Dalit dead bodies inside Dalit hamlet.
  • Abused or ignored Dalits when they demanded relief / rehabilitation works.
  • Forced Dalits to remove dead bodies / cattle.
  • Forced Dalits to clean the non-Dalit areas.
  • Forced Dalits to do all filthy and undignified work.
Manifestations of Government discrimination can be understood from the following cases:

In Gilakaladindi in Machilipatnam mandal, Krishna district in Andhra Pradesh, the MRO distributed 25 kilograms of rice and Rs.750/- family to the Fisher community, but said that he cannot extend the same support to the 24 Dalit families who also eke a living out of petty trade of fish and shells from the beach.

The Dalits of Nidammarru village had tiny ponds where they grow crabs later to be sold in the market, collect seashells and make lime. These livelihoods have been destroyed by the Tsunami. When they were not given relief of 25 kgs of rice, they protested and prevented the distribution till the Panchayat President distributed the relief materials to Dalits too.

The Porailyar Taluk officials had not visited the Thudaripet relief camp where Dalits were housed four days after the disaster, saying they had asked Dalits to join the other camps but they were not willing to do so and the administration did not have the human power to manage another camp.

The Nagapattinam Sub Collector, Dr Umanath said that having segregated camps was a conscious and practical decision as there is real divisions and mistrust amongst the communities. He went on to say that ‘a crisis like this is no time to experiment with castesist and religious amity’. This was report at The information secretary, Navin Chawla said that the Centre ‘cannot preclude stray cases of discrimination’. ( The chairman of the National Commission of Scheduled Castes, Suraj Bhan, in response to the discrimination report said that the Tamil Nadu representative, Kannagi Packianathan would visit the areas where incidents have been alleged and take necessary action. (

Ms Jayalalithaa, Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu has demanded Rs. 4,800 Crores from the Central government for relief and rehabilitation for the Tsunami victims. The proposed budget’s primary focus is that of the Fishermen community. Only Rs.130.62 Crore has been allocated to the other communities (ie Muslims and Dalits). This allocation also indicates that the Government is aware that other communities besides the Fishermen communities have been affected by the Tsunami. The demand is however not proportionate to the loss suffered by the other communities and in this way the Government is displaying a bias or apathy against the Dalit and Muslim communities. The general practice in India is to have separate attention and allocation of funds for Dalits but this has not occurred in respect of the relief and rehabilitation measures or in the proposed budget.

The administration while understandably concerned about the large scale of loss of the Fisher community, but by not being sensitive to the issues of other marginalized communities, like Dalits, and by not recognizing their loss and destruction of livelihood, this bias will lead to increased polarization and social tension. The administration should ensure that all affected people are recognized, relief extended and rehabilitation planned. This neglect is resulting in death and loss in Dalit communities not being enumerated, death certificates not issued etc will result in serious problems in the rehabilitation phase.

Discrimination against Dalit Sanitary workers who were involved in relief works

In total 1264 sanitary workers, 444 other workers, 43 sanitary superintendents and 19 sanitary inspectors were mobilised from the adjacent 26 municipalities to Nagapattinam to undertake the task of removal of carcasses, debris and to dispose of the dead bodies. (The Hindu, 7 January 2005)
Dalit sanitary workers are:

  • not provided with adequate masks, gloves and shoes for removing carcasses,
  • forced to clean the non-Dalit areas,
  • forced to do all filthy and undignified work,
  • not given special honorarium for their extra time/work,
  • not assured of any travel allowance or daily allowance,
  • not provided housing, food and water when working away from their homes,
  • not provided with sanitation/ health facilities,
  • not given vaccines / preventive measures as precautions against disease,
  • not able to properly inform their family workers of their movements.
Manifestations of occupational discrimination can be understood from the following cases:
In Nagapattinam we were appalled to see the conditions and treatment meted out to the sanitary workers brought from Madurai, Pollachi, Palani and Tiruchi for clearing the debris and dead bodies. None other than Dalit sanitary workers were called upon to unearth the decaying bodies and give them a burial. No facilities were provided for their accommodation, food, sanitation, nor was an honorarium disbursed to them. No thought was given to protecting them from infection by giving them masks, gloves or boots. They were forced to share the relief materials of food and clothing that were distributed to the affected families, while medical and other staff that had come to do relief work accessed much better facilities. Expecting that the Dalit sanitary workers are the only ones who can do this work and then not recognizing their contribution nor providing sufficient facilities goes to further in fortifying the caste hierarchy and discrimination.

Relief Measures for Dalits

In 10 affected northern and southern districts of Tamil Nadu, the government announced the following relief measures:

  • Rs. One Lakh exgratia payment to the next kith and kin, for each deceased,
  • Rs. 4000/- to each affected family together with a dhoti, saree, blanket, rice, kerosene etc.,
  • Rs. 20,000/- per lost mechanised boat/fibre-reinforced boats
  • Rs.10,000/- per kattrumaram lost
  • Rs. 5000/- to repair the boat / kattumaram
  • To adopt the children orphaned
  • To provide school books and uniforms
  • Rs.25,000/- to those who severely injured
  • To deposit Rs. 5,00,000/ in the name of the orphaned young women
  • To restore, power, drinking water supply
  • To provide temporary shelter
  • To provide permanent huts/houses
  • To lay roads or repair the damages
  • To provide bank loans to make good of the loss of boats, nets
Only part of these relief measures has reached the Dalit victims. The government has not made any announcements regarding the reclamation of the spoiled agricultural land or the damaged crops. There is no mention of the provision of employment opportunities to the agricultural labourers and daily wagers.

The speed at which restoration of the basic amenities is occurring in the Fisher villages is not commensurate in the Dalit hamlets. The enumeration of the loss of houses, missing persons and livelihood of Dalits is not being done adequately and accurately.

Necessary Rehabilitation for Dalit Communities

  • Erection of temporary shelter
  • Restoration of drinking water supply
  • Restoration of power supply
  • Clearing the debris in the Dalit hamlets
  • Formation of roads
  • Construction of houses
  • Providing assistance to buy catamarans, boats and nets
  • Providing employment for until the cultivation season commences
  • Clearing the accumulation of mud and sand from the cultivable lands
  • Supply of Livestock – Cows and goats
  • Provision for self employment generation activities like brick kiln etc.
  • Providing schoolbooks and uniforms to Dalit students
  • Restoration of all records damaged or carried away in Tsunami
  • Disbursement of ex-gratia payment for the loss of life
  • Registration of the missing persons and sanction ex-gratia payment
The Role of NCDHR

NCDHR has been conducting routine visits to affected areas to gauge progress and tried to network with other actors to ensure what is needed reaches villages. NCDHR has decided to take on more of a “monitoring role” to evaluate the relief and rehabilitation dispensed and to ensure that Dalits are not discriminated in this process. NCDHR is setting up monitoring cells in each Dalit hamlet, which consists of 5 selected youth, who will monitor the situation and conduct surveys. NCDHR will conduct an orientation programme on 17 and 18 January 2005 with the assistance of HRFDL – a broader Dalit network in the area, for the selected monitoring youth.


We have decided to monitor the following:

  • The existing discrimination by the Fisher people
  • The efficiency of the Government machinery in providing relief rehabilitation
  • The funds earmarked, allocated and spent for the rehabilitation
  • The donations raised and received by various organisations, networks, co-ordinations, including media
  • The funds given by the funding agencies
  • The funds provided by banks and other financial institutions
  • Sensitising the media to cover the Dalit areas as well
  • Pressurising the government to come out with a disaggregated data for extending rehabilitative measures to reach dalits.
NCDHR has also issued an appeal to parties involved in the relief and rehabilitation activities, including the Government, to be unbiased in their outreach and ensure that adequate attention, care and importance is given to the Dalits who are also severely affected.

NCDHR is also playing a key role in the ‘Tsunami Relief and Rehabilitaion Co-ordination Committee for Tamilnadu and Pondicherry’ and pushing the dalit dimension in all its proposed activities to see that the affected Dalits are not ignored.

NCDHR tries to sensitise other co-ordinations and efforts, making sure they are aware of the Dalit situation and inculcate a Dalit focus in all their relief and rehabilitation activities.

NCDHR communicates and shares all its interventions to all those actors involved in this effort as well as to the national and international media, organisations and CSOs. NCDHR has created a list serve to whom daily updates are sent on post-Tsunami related activities.

NCDHR urges you to assist us in ensuring that the affected Dalit communities receive the required rehabilitation in order to develop a sustainable economy and society in order to rebuild this devastated community. Neglecting to do so will further deepen and ingrain the neglect and depravation that has been inculcated by the discriminatory caste system. Let us utilise this calamity in a positive way and ensure opportunities are provided for this community so rebuilding can occur free of bias.

NCDHR looks forward to your co-operation and assistance in whatever manner possible to intensify our involvement of monitoring during this vital time of need.

NCDHR will continue to share further information with you. You are welcome to contact us at the following address:

Yours in solidarity,

J. Vincent Manoharan
General Secretary

NCDHR- National Secretariat
8/1, 2nd Floor
South Patel Nagar
New Delhi – 110008, India
Telephone: +91(0) 93441 35856 (Mobile)
+91(0)11 309 66234 (Office)
+91 (0) 11 258 63166 (Office)

India Committee of the Netherlands / Landelijke India Werkgroep - 14 januari 2005