Last week, the Tiruvannamalai government told people living in 22,000 houses that they will have to vacate their homes and move away. These people do not own the land on which their houses are built. The land is controlled by Arunachaleswara Temple. Poor people living and building on unused land is a common problem in India, all over the country.
The clearing of the land will start in the area below Virupaksha Cave. The people who live there were told that they have 15 days to move out. Then the government will start tearing down their houses.
The overall area is from Pachaiamman Koil to Ramana Ashram. Below is an aerial view of the land on the east side of Arunachala. The area affected is potentially every structure to the left of the yellow line, which is the main road that goes just west of the Big Temple.
The population of Tiruvannamalai is about 200,000. It is estimated that the number of people involved might be 80,000, so this is a sizable fraction of the population of the city. And presently the government is offering no help in relocation. I have no idea where all these people will go. Nor do I know what impact it will have with such a big part of the local population moving out of and away from the city.
Here are a few photos of the area to give you an idea of what is involved. These were taken from the third floor of a building next to Arunachaleswara Temple.
Looking north, towards Pachaiamman Koil. I am told that a few of these structures are built on land that is ‘Patta,’ land whose title can be owned by an individual. There are two basic types of land ownership in India – Patta and Poromboke. Patta land is privately owned and can be sold and purchased freely. Poromboke land is government property, which includes all land reserved for communal purpose, like temples. The Tamil Nadu government has been threatening this kind of action since 2005. Now, under the leadership of the current Tamil Nadu Chief Minister, Selvi J Jayalalithaa, the government is taking action in this area, removing squatters from temple lands in the state.
Looking west towards Arunachala. Virupaksha Cave is behind these buildings. Skandashram is in the trees near the center of the photo.
This is the area where they will start; have the people leave their homes, then tear the buildings down. I am told that this includes the 200 small temples and ashrams built in this area.
We have Tamil friends who live in this area. Their parents live here, they were born and grew up here. Now they do not have any idea what they will do, and the deadline is just a few days away.
Looking south, towards Ramanashramam.
I have heard that the people will not leave easily, that there will be protests. Who knows what else will happen. I have concern about more than protests. I do not know how long this process will take. It is a big action, so I think it will not be quick.
As I find out more about this, I will post it.