Vivasayigal Thozhilalargal Munnetra Sangam

Background: The Political Situation in Gudalur

Gudalur has long been regarded as a politically active area with largely two factors contributing to this politicisation in the area. The first is the complex ethnic mix of the area. Gudalur taluka was disputed at the time of the creation of the State of Kerala, with some claiming that it should have been included in the new State. The strong presence of Malayali interests and communities has been a constant subject of political mobilisation on both sides, leading to a lasting communal tension between Tamils and Malayalis.

The second reason is the presence of the repatriates. The repatriate communities also have a history of organising in self-defence against Sinhalese racism and discrimination. This history of political organising, combined with the reputation of being ‘outsiders’ and faced with discrimination from the local population, has also contributed to a high degree of political militancy among the repatriates.


Tea Cultivators’ Rights

Given the dominance of tea cultivation in the local economy, VTMS has also held several agitations on the tea issue.  The organisation joined the large protests that shook the Nilgiris in 2000, after two years of sharply falling tea prices, and organised a PUCL fact finding on this issue as well  after the protests were repressed by the police.  Periodic agitations have demanded government support for tea prices and support for tea cultivators.

In this respect a major victory was won recently in the Madras High Court where after a series of mass agitations, VTMS approached the Court on behalf of 521 small cultivators.  The Court ruled in its favour and directed the government to provide subsidies to those cultivating tea, regardless of title and category of land. Subsidies were subsequently granted to about 60% of all the smallholders.

Estate Workers’ Rights

Estate workers in both TANTEA and the private estates have faced a number of problems over the years, in particular the denial of basic facilities, the lack of permanent housing and, most recently, the closure of estates.  VTMS, together with the worker’s union has included demands for basic facilities, payment of minimum wages and provision of housing in many of its agitations, and has also, as noted above, demanded the breakup of the estates and the distribution of their lands.  Some of the issues with basic facilities and minimum wages were partially resolved in the wake of these agitations.