Tuesday 25 September 2007

Land after thirty years of 'entitlement'

Story of Land Reclamation of Dalits in village Rupchandrapur

Mutuna's face was expressionless even after the greatest event of her life when she entered her field of one acre for the first time after 1976 when her husband Furtidin was given land entitlement by the then prime minister Indira Gandhi. She never knew about the place as since then they tried to occupy their land but the powerful neighbors wont allow them to map. In fact, Mutuna's issue reflect the dilemma of India's farmers movement which not only remained caged in tainted caste structure of the powerful upper castes but highly violent also. On August 11 th August, 2007 when I witnessed the whole thing, many memories of the past reminded me how the land issue would always remain violent and volatile as it affect the local power equations, unite the oppressed and give them dignity and self respect. It also shows how the powerful communities try to circumvent and subvert the due process of law by delaying and disturbing the entire process.

Ramchandra, eldest son of Furtidin informed me how the local powerful people are still creating hurdle. On the first ay when the land was being measured, I personally asked the women to take control over the land immediately as they would be trapped in saying 'come tomorrow'. Do not wait for another day, I said to them. But the question was that the local Yadava (a powerful farming community of northern India) family which has illegally grabbed that land had maze crop over the land. Now, there was tension in the area as the Dalit families wanted to occupy the land immediately while the Yadava was taking shelter under the maze crop. Immediately, all decided that Yadava must get away with this. The Dalit women asked Yadava family to collect his maze crop or face its destruction. It was an amazing site to see when a powerful exploitative family cutting their crop and behind them were Dalit women leveling the land and making the boundary wall of their portion. It was a great show of how things change if the administration is with you. When the Lekhpals and others in the village were mapping the land, there was deliberate taunting by the upper caste Hindus and the powerful people. Virtually abusing to provoke the Dalits, they would claim that the Dalits are lazy, as they never aspired to get land. ' We have tilled this land, made this concrete to a workable land, said a local Thakur. But when the land at the Yadava family's backyard was being measured, the issues, which often comes was that right now there was a maze crop and it would not be good to destroy the crop. This time, the Dalits knew it very well that such pretensions of the powerful people in the village in front of the officials results in further complicating the issue.

Ramchandra, migrated to bigger town as a labour has now decided to remain the village and cultivate his land. " I am very happy to look after my land as my two other brothers would remain in cities to earn for themselves but I will help my family and my mother.'

This story is being written over a period of one month. The gap was deliberate. Having worked in deeply crisis driven condition, I know how the official switch their loyalty and the poor has to run from pillar to post for every small thing. Once the initial work was done and the official gone, we all know, power elite will start creating the same hurdle. After all, how many times, we will come and monitor the situation. But this time around, the villagers were determined come what may and their strength were doubled by some of the outstanding workers of Bharatiya Jan Seva Ashram, Badlapur. Ms Renu, the fire brand women leader of the Ashram actually faced some of the toughest questions of her life right from the officials to rural power folks but she remained un-relented. In those trying time, her determination yielded result and now people's control over their land is complete, of course, there are certain problematic areas for which the community, the individuals have decided to go to the court.

Rupchandrapur village, which falls under Badlapur block of district Jaunpur in Eastern Uttar-Pradesh witnessed this historic land acquisition. This village is dominated by the Thakurs, the upper caste Hindus claiming to hail from Kshatriya i.e. warrior clan. It also reflect how 'efficient' our administrative system is which despite legal validity and by its own standard, it does not follow rules of the law. In 1976, the then prime minister Mrs. Indira Gandhi went for a massive sterilization programme and one of her issues was to give land entitlement to not only Dalits and Muslims but also to those who opt for the sterilization process thus adopting government's family planning programme.

74 people were given land entitlement in 1976 and the land was to be distributed through the village communal land, which is called Gram Panchayat land. These days normally land is illegally occupied by the powerful communities in the villages. Soon, the government fell in 1979 owing to massive protest against Indira Gandhi and the issue of entitlements of the poor Dalits remained unresolved. The new power equations were used by the powerful communities in their favour by forcing the officials not to visit again and provoked them to cancel the measurement under some pretext or other. Every time, an effort was made and equally resisted by the power elite of the village. Every time the Dalits asked for their land, there was complete lack of sensitivity on part of the officials who would give plenty of arguments regarding the status of their land. Government came and go and the situation at the ground remained unaltered.

One of the important factors of Dalit empowerment in India is democracy. Democracy is essentially a number game and the Dalits and other marginalized communities have understood that their number make majority and hence all of them have become politically very mobile and articulate at least in Uttar-Pradesh. In May 2007 the state saw a shift in power and a Dalit woman Maywati became the chief Minister of the state for the record fourth time.

A change in the government in Lucknow has a lot of meaning for Dalits, particularly those women and wage workers who have been denied dignity and human rights. With a Dalit woman at the thrown of Uttar-Pradesh, a new wave of energy entered into the communities. Bhartiya Jan Seva Ashram, Badlapur realized this important change and went for an all out offensive on the issue of possession being given to those who were allotted land. It approached the district authorities and asked them to take action to provide land allotment soon. In fact, this is one of the strategies used by the International land Coalition's partners here and essentially part of SDF/UPLA's land literacy programme to do village mapping, find vacant land and count the rural landless of that area and do issue based advocacy. We have found from our own experiences that issue based advocacy is far better than a generalized form of advocacy which has all ingredients of 'political manipulations and heavy dose of ideologies' and very less for the individuals who suffer from incapacities and victim hood.

We have suggested on many occasions that the organizations must have primary data of the targeted village such as the total number of people, land status, status of landless and homeless people with particularly reference of the communities such as Dalits and tribals. The Community Empowerment Facility ( CEF) programme of BJSA came handy for the same and a team of organization visited the village several time to assess the ground situation and the status of land both in term of illegal gratification as well as community wise landlessness. Once they finished their paper work, it was difficult for the authorities to deny them right as the land was already allotted to 74 Dalit families nearly 31 years back. Government machinery often makes use of the ignorance of the village people. By ignorance they mean that villagers are not 'techno savvy and do not have relevant documents. Officials are very particular about data and documents which the poor villagers do not have.

I was fortunate enough to witness this historical event when people really got land in their hand. A team of 10 land revenue officials ( Lekhpals), Revenue officer, Sub Disctrict Magistrate ( SDM) went to the village and promised the people that the land would be handed over to them. The local power community was also equally vehement in opposing but differences started coming to the fore. The head of the village Mr Shiv Naraian Singh came out openly with the Dalits and said that he would do everything to get these people land. Shiv Narian was elected Sarpanch with a large number of Dalit votes. The opposition was powerful. They questioned the motives of people getting land. A local politician who could not win a single election actually tried every attempt to thwart the land redistribution effort. Upper castes always wanted to get the Patta cancelled. There were several efforts made to redistribute the land but every time the powerful people in the village created some short of issues which ultimately restricted the authorities to go further on this issue.


Ram Bali is father of 9 children. I acre was allotted to him in 1976. Every time they went to the officers, nothing happened. There were efforts made in the past thrice to measure the land but was met with stiff resistance. The upper castes and particularly one powerful family which had controlled the entire area actually planted trees in the hope that after such a thing happen they would have unquestioned control over the land. When the pressure from the Dalits became tremendous the upper castes resorted to blackmailing. This land is now gone to the forest department. We have planted trees and we will not allow you to uproot these trees. So one can understand the kind of pulls and pressures happens in the village when the land is actually handed over the rural poor. Rambali is a happy man that finally he has got justice and that his family would be able to eat his two-time meal. We are ready to work harder to make the land workable.

Mutuna, wife of late Furtidin whose one acre land was actually being tilled by a Yadava family was satisfied that finally she has got her land. She has three sons and now she hope that the land would be sufficient enough to keep the family going.

Temmal got allotment for one acre. Every time efforts were made to give control of land to them these people try to create obstacles. They would abuse us and would not allow us to have safe passage. They have control over the work. We do not even get work under the NREGA programme.

Village Sarpanch Shiv Narian Singh, though is a upper caste Thakur yet seems to reconcile with working for the rights of the Dalits. He says', The allotment were made in 1976 but the government officials are very careless. A total 51 bighas of land was allotted that time but the powerful people of the village are still trying to occupy that land. We want to give the small ponds and other such land to landless people but problems are being created.

The village Lekhpal who actually is the villain in most of the cases says that so far 48 people have been given possession. The lekhpal also speaks like the upper castes that the Dalits normally do not take of possession saying that the land is a barren and useless land. But he threatens that if the Dalits do not take the possession of land this time, he would be forced to dismiss their entitlement.

Dulari Devi has 5 children. She ahs been waiting for this day to come as the upper caste Hindus do not allow her to reach her land. Land is bad in shape. Lot of weed has surrounded it and it would need tremendous will power to make the land working. But the positive side is that the Dalits are now doing work in their land, weeding out the trees and the grass, leveling the land. It will take time but definitely with the enthusiasm, it will not take much effort.

Ram Charan is very happy to get the land after 30 years. He plan to sow Arahar, Tori, and other vegetables.

Sangeeta says that she is a 'Dalit' and landless. She has six other male members as partner in her father in laws land. It is just one 10 th of a bighead very miniscule piece of land. She is not very happy with that. The food situation at her house is understandably very bad.

Munni Lal has two sons and one daughter. Nearly 30 years later he is now taking control of a very bad land which has thorny bushes and lengthy weed. He knows it well that to refuse taking control of an otherwise waste land would mean giving the upper castes a chance to condemn them as if they do not want it. He says, " My allotment letter gives me one acre of land which is to be distributed among the two brothers but we only got 50 decimal. It will take nearly take a month to level the land and make it workable'.

Chandrabhan, a Dalit youth working with Bhartiya Jan Seva Ashram is another happy person today. Born in a landless family, he and his brothers were not even allowed to pass through the area. While he got one acre of land yet again the power people have made mess of the land laws. He has got one fourth of his allotted land as the person who had illegally grabbed the land has manipulated things with revenue officials and done lot of changes in the land map. ' We will fight against this and go to the court to rectify it. They do not have anything to save their face after full support from BJSA and the administration and still they wanted to delay the process after many ifs and buts'. Chandrabhan has a sense of relief, as he is leveling his land and cutting the unwanted bush and weeding them out.

A Dalit woman Sukraji bi is very happy. I feel powerful today she says. ' We will work harder now and definitely grow on our land rather than working at some body else's land. When I ask her about the caste equations and untouchability in the village she says ' the upper castes now know that they can not get in untouchability directly as they would penalized but they do. When they want our votes in elections, they would come here, sit on our charpoys ( cots) and eat with us but once that is over, they refuse to sit with us and do not allow us the same at their place. She is happy that the women will change as a woman and that too from her own community is now heading the State'. How does she feel seeing a Dalit woman with her head high rules the state, I ask. " yes, we are proud that Bahinji ( elder sister, referred to chief minister Mayawati) is a very strong woman. Her elevation to power will definitely help Dalits and women to get their honour and pride.'

While there is absolute truth in Sukraji's statement as here too in Rupchandrapur, it is women like Renu who made it possible that the land is transferred to the Dalits. She along with other women activists ensures that the officials do not play foul under some pretext or others which she had been facing. Some time, the illegal land grabber who was a local leader said that the land is now under forest department as he has planted Babul trees while on other occasion he made other pretensions. Some time it was provocations and abuses while other time threatening them with dire consequences. All this failed under the determined women's group of Bharatiya Jan Seva Ashram. They now plan to speak to district authorities to grant some funds under the National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme to the Dalits of Rupchandrapur to level their land and make it cultivable.
The change in power equations have shown their first result though in a small way in Rupchandrapur where the 74 Dalits are now enjoying their land, though with much difficulty of crude exploitative social system which remain shameless even in these times of democracy yet it shows that officials if work persistently and honestly can really do the needful for the power. It is hard to believe that they would change over night but strong signals from the power structure can change their attitude towards rural poor. Another important point for the rural poor is to grab the opportunity of whatever comes in their hand and continue their fight for the rest as snatching land from the hands of then power elite is very difficult as they have not only administration and political leadership with them but also make use of laws. It is advisable to continue our fight and make use of whatever comes in our hand to make our way to the land we have waited for so long. Land is not only matter of laws but a matter of attitude of the law makers and law implementing agencies and sooner they learn it the better it would be for the people. Rupchandrapur is a great lesson for us in this regard.


By Vidya Bhushan Rawat

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