Dam row turning Tamils, Keralites into foes

via V R JAYARAJ - Daily Pioneer published on December 18, 2011

Tamils have staked claim for Kerala’s Idukki district. They attack Keralites in Tamil Nadu and even inside Kerala. Tamils settled in Kerala are fleeing, apprehensive of attacks. The border is off limits to people on both sides. Inter-state trade is frozen. This is the situation the Mullaperiyar dam row between Kerala and Tamil Nadu has created for both of them.

“If this isn’t civil war, what is?” asks KS Sebastian, a retired school teacher at Vandipperiyar near Mullaperiyar in Idukki district. “After the nightly attacks on our homes on December 10, we are living in perpetual fear of violent raids by Tamil protestors. It is not as fearsome as the civil wars of Africa but it is a limited civil war, indeed” he said.

The central Kerala districts used to buy everyday a minimum of 500 truckloads of vegetables from Tamil Nadu, produced with the water of Mullaperiyar but not even a kilogram of farm produce has crossed the Kumily border into the State since December 6. Keralites say they would not buy Tamils’ vegetables and Tamil farmers say they would not sell it to Keralites.

A journey through Theni, one of the five Tamil Nadu districts dependent on Mullaperiyar for their entire drinking and irrigation needs, would present scenes of tons and tons of vegetables decaying in the markets and courtyards of farmers’ homes. But they have vowed not to sell anything to Kerala even if they suffer huge losses.

Tamil farmer Kathiravan in Gudallur says: “I know we will lose a lot by not sending our produce to Kerala. But we are prepared for that. We will not sell anything to you people till the ‘Mullai Periyar’ dispute is settled.” Kathiravan is convinced that Kerala’s demand for a new dam is not driven by fear of danger but by a wish to revise the 999-year lease agreement on the dam.

The Kumily-Theni road, along which lakhs of vehicles used to rush to either side everyday till recently, is now taken over by Tamils protesting against Kerala’s demand for a new dam at Mullaperiyar and lowering of reservoir water level. They keep on marching to the border in Kumily everyday looking for a gap in the police wall to sneak into Kerala.

The border check-points at Kumily, Bodimettu and Kamabamettu look like war zones with police and rapid action force personnel, clad in khakhi and camouflage green and in full riot gear, guarding the road on either side. Prohibitory orders clamped on these areas on December 5 are still in force and police officials say the situation is yet not anywhere near normal.

Malayalees returning from Tamil Nadu under police escort are recounting stories of the horror they had gone through there. Countless houses, shops, factories and farm houses owned by Keralites in Theni district have already been set ablaze, they say. Even shops owned by Tamils have been attacked simply because they had signs in Malayalam.

This does not mean that Malayalees alone are in panic due to the tension the dam row has created. A minimum of 2,000 Tamils have left Kerala’s Idukki district on the border after some of them were reportedly attacked over the Mullaperiyar issue. As many as 168 people belonging to 47 families settled in Udumbanchola, Idukki left for Tamil Nadu the other day.

Teacher Sebastian may not be justified in his description of the Kerala-Tamil Nadu standoff over the dam issue as a limited civil war but Velayudhan, a Tamil plantation employee in Chenkara near Mullaperiyar, is certain that the relations between his people and Malayalees would never be the same again.

“My grandfather, who has lived in Idukki for seven decades, often tells me about the warmth of the relations between the Tamils and Malayalees. But the dam dispute has created such a divide between us that I don’t think we will trust each other again,” Velayudhan says, sitting at a temporary camp in Cumbum, Tamil Nadu, where he reached after “escape” from Kerala.

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