It has been 40 years since Kamaraj S bought the piece of land that he lives on. And yet, the threat of being uprooted still looms over him.
Kamaraj is a Tamil repatriate. He was born in Sri Lanka, to an Indian family that had travelled to work on the island country's tea estates. After India and Sri Lanka gained independence, the two countries argued over the fate of these Tamil workers. Finally, they agreed that some would return, while some would remain in Sri Lanka. Kamaraj was among those who returned, in 1984.
He settled his family in the hilly Nilgiris district. It was only years later that he learnt that the plot that he had bought was categorised as "Section 17 land", part of around 80,000 acres of land with a complex history, and an indeterminate ownership status.
Under the 1969 law that maps out these categories, Kamaraj and thousands of other repatriates in the Nilgiris were deemed illegal occupants of their lands. Decades later, they still live in fear of being evicted.