Jansatyagraha 2012: A Silent Revolution

Bholaram, a 42 year old man belongs to Gond tribe of Khandwa, the same Khandwa where the Jal Satyagrahi had to surrender to the Madhya Pradesh government on the issue related to the increase in the water level of the Omkareshwar dam. It is important to mention that the Madhya Pradesh government paid heed to the tribes’ demands only after 15 days of their protest. The protestors stood with their legs immersed in water full of crabs, snakes and fishes. They protested to the extent that their toes were about to decay.

Bholaram has now joined a new fight with Jal Satyagrahis atGwalior. And to support Bholaram, more than 50,000 people have gathered from different states acrossIndia. These people are poor, landless and belong to the scheduled caste and scheduled tribe community.

They are moving towardsDelhi, with an aim to reach by 29th October under the flag of an NGO Ekta Parishad under the guidance of Mr. P.V.Rajagopal, a Gandhian activist. He claims that on reachingDelhithe number of protestors will rise up to 100,000. One should not think that the government is sleeping while all of this is happening.

Mr. Jairam Ramesh and other cabinet ministers met the protestors atGwaliorfor a discussion. However, the discussion failed because these protestors were given the same assurance way back in 2007, when they protested in Delhi in a group of 25,000.  The coincidence is that, both the times the same party was at the center. I will not name any particular party as later in the article you will come to know that every political party has exploited the Scheduled caste and Scheduled tribe.

Here are some of the demands put forward by these protestors in brief:

  •   A comprehensive National Land Reforms Act and effective implementation, and monitoring institutions to provide access to the land and  resources of livelihood to the poor landless, homeless and marginalized communities.
  • In order to begin the process of land re-distribution to the poor landless and homeless (rural and urban), all the available legislations, policies (Central laws as well as State laws) need to be compiled in a comprehensive framework and implemented in a time-bound manner.
  • Progressive recommendations made by various committees, constituted by the Central and the State governments on the issues pertaining to land that are pending for attention, should be seriously implemented.
  • A legal provision should be made whereby women will have equal right over current land holdings of the family as well as new land entitlements that are distributed, and this should be done within the next plan period. Government should proactively ensure that women get all benefits that farmers are entitled to. Single-women should ensure an independent title on priority basis.
  • Natural resources like land, water, forests and minerals that provide livelihood to any group cannot be appropriated for other purposes without full prior informed consent. Even in an extra-ordinary condition when these resources are used for any other purpose after obtaining full informed consent, it should be through a lease arrangement with the individuals and/or the community.
  • Non-implementation of pro-poor laws or violation of fundamental and legal rights pertaining to land, water, forests and minerals by administrative and other officials should be made a punitive offense.

If these demands are read in English it isn’t effective but in vernacular language they give a powerful insight into the lives of these poor landless people. They want ownership on their jal, jungle & jamin (Water, Forest & Land).

A good example is the recent Khandwa (Madhya.Pradesh) incident. As per the Madhya .Pradesh government, monetary compensation was paid to tribes and farmers whose lands immersed after the rise in the water level of the dam. But farmers demanded land for land, on the backing of Supreme Court. As per the rehabilitation protocol, only after farmer/land owner has got due compensation, government activities can be carried out on that land.

Even if the government pays all the  compensation, the other efforts by the them  are so ill-managed  that ultimately, the landowner is left to die in the field with despair.

Classic example is Operation Sea Bird Naval Project in Karwar, Karnataka implemented in 1986. This ambitious project put Karwar on Defence map. Large chunks of land were taken from fishermen living in coastal area. They were given government quarters as a rehabilitation policy. But now these fishermen are on the verge of dying due to poverty. The government quarters are almost vacant. Even a 6 year old can understand the plight of a fisherman.

Now the obvious concern is to help these landless poor.  We have already talked about the need of genuine land rehabilitation policy and guidelines. But these marchers heading forDelhiare landless due to systematic social and economical exploitation by a particular section of society.

In the case of schedule caste it is the socially affluent section who exploited them, while the schedule tribes are exploied by the economical affluent in the name of development, progress, GDP etc.

While citing poor in the rural area, there is a highly imbalanced land distribution pattern. A redistribution can narrow the gap. You may be wondering how this is possible. This can be observed in the Land reforms ofWest Bengal, Kerala and Jammu & Kashmir post independence.

Now, let us focus on tribals. On November 15th, 2000, tribals, mostly from central India, had something to rejoice about; a demand articulated for over a century saw the birth of the state of Jharkhand.

Demands for separate state of Jharkhand were first raised in 1914 by the tribals, as mentioned in the State Reorganization Committee Report 1955-56. Tribal politicians vigorously took up the cause, supported by other indigenous communities. For long, the mineral-rich areas of Chota Nagpur and Santhal Pargana had been exploited and the tribal people displaced in the name of development.

Racial discrimination of the tribals by outsiders, referred to as dikus in the tribal tongue, was rampant. The demand for separate state was not merely to establish a distinct identity but also to do away with the years of injustice. However, the creation of Jharkhand has only increased the vulnerability of the tribals. The token concessions of a tribal chief minister and a few reserved constituencies were deemed as a green signal to displace tribals for so-called ‘development’. According to the reports of the Indian People’s Tribunal on Environment and Human Rights, a total of 6.54 million people have so far been displaced in Jharkhand in the name of development.

The recent land acquisition at Nagri village (near Ranchi, Jharkhand) for the Indian Institute of Management (IIM) and National University of Study and Research in Law (NUSRL) may seem like a development project on the face of it, but these elite educational institutes have displaced over 500 tribal villagers. Moreover, the displacement in the name of dams, factories, mining, etc goes largely unreported.

The Chota Nagpur Tenancy (CNT) Act is one of the several laws set up by the Constitution to safeguard tribal interests. It was instituted in 1908 to safeguard tribal lands from being sold to non-tribals. The law was meant to prevent foreseeable dispossession, and preserve tribal identity. Loss of land would naturally lead to loss of tribal identity as the issuance of a community certificate requires proof of land possession. The private sector seems to have taken a special interest in drastically reforming or abolishing the CNT Act. Corporate-owned newspapers like Prabhat Khabar and Dainik Bhaskar have campaigned vigorously for reforming the Act to make transfer of land from the tribals to the non-tribals more flexible. Needless to say, any reform in this direction would directly benefit corporations that own mines in the tribal lands of Jharkhand, and pave the way for future land acquisition.

Now there is a good reason to pay attention to this Jal Satyagraha which is approachingDelhi. Just imagine if after 15 days the government lets the Jal Satyagrahi water, what option will be left for the landless family members.

Do not hesitate to pronounce “Weapon”. And now the government can easily declare them Naxalite. In the coal scam we heard that the coal mines were given almost free in keeping welfare of common public in mind. Sadly the tribe whose land is grabbed for the mining purpose does not come in the picture of common public.

Can anybody name any mining area inIndia, where the original land-owners are living above the poverty line? I am not going to explain the making of a Naxalite here. Though there are cases where Naxalites are going tangential to the natural flow of life and using violent methods. Then there are the poor tribes caught in between the corrupt bureaucrats, the typical Naxalites, Soni Sori and Lingaram Kopdi being surviving example of this.

So again moving to table, why should we support this Jal Satyagraha as we supported Anna Hazare? Why should we not give these poor people a third chance to agitate (remember they had agitated in 2007 already)? This is because there is a limit for tolerance. According to the National Crime Bureau every minute a member of Scheduled Caste/Scheduled Tribe faces the atrocity from the affluent section and that too after they form a big chunk of population.

As per the 2001 census, Scheduled castes and Scheduled tribes account for 25percent of India’s population but only 0.1 percent of them are above the poverty line. By supporting this Jal Satyagraha we are distancing our lower caste brothers from the idea of WEAPON as last resort. We can not predict the future but we can keep a track of it. We have to put in collective effort to make a genuine Land Acquisition and Rehabilitation and Resettlement Bill a reality before it is too late.

Manish Aagneya

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