India need to respond urgently to the agrarian question and engage with the communities, people and movements working for Comprehensive Land Reforms. It is long over due and in the absence of it, we can not build peace and strengthen democracy.
India, unlike others, is a caste ridden feudal society. After the independence we promised to our people that we will have ‘Swaraj’, our ‘own rule’ but soon the entire slogan was converted into a Savarna Raj with least botheration about the permanent settlement of Dalits and Adivasis.
The Indian state promised that there are three ways to ’empower’ the people from these segments. The first one was political representation in the form of ‘reserved seats’ in Parliament, state assemblies and PR institutions. The second was affirmative action programme through fixing of quota in the central and state government jobs which till 1980s were never filled and only a legislation that seat vacant would only be filled by the candidates from reserved category that the situation changed a bit but there too efforts have been made to make the entire reservation system as redundant.
The third and the most important part was Comprehensive Land Reforms which were completely ignored by the political leadership of the country because it had the power to alter the power relations in our villages which Baba Saheb Ambedkar termed as ‘den’ of ‘ignorance, narrow mindedness and prejudices’. Fact of the matter is that even after 70 years of our independence, these things exists and perhaps growing more now. It is unfortunate that not only political leadership but also various organisations talking of Dalit Rights actually ignored this vital question which related to over 95% of our population and can always change the power equations in the villages. Land redistribution agenda should have been in the forefront of our political parties who swear by social justice and speak of the Bahujan movement and Samajwad. They should and must take up the issue now as if they fail to respond to this historical injustice, history will not forgive them.
A look at the atrocities on Dalits and Adivasis in India will reveal that the majority of cases relate to land. Whatever little land have been allotted to them is either under the litigation or forcibly possessed by the powerful castes including many intermediary castes. Without resolving the land questions, we can not even imagine peace in our society. Caste question is also related to non distribution of the natural resources and controlled by the so called powerful jaatis. Each one of it try to dominate the others in the ladder believing in the concept of ‘graded inequality’ as Baba Saheb Ambedkar described the entire village social system.
Ekta Parishad’s #Janandolan2018 is an attempt to bring back the original land agenda of Comprehensive Agrarian Reform. They have also revived the Gandhian social action and mobilisation. Time have passed now and the situation have changed. The issues need to be tackled and legacy of social action must be revived. Over twenty five thousands people predominantly Adivasis and Dalits are marching from Gwalior towards Delhi to get their demands met by the government. It need determination and mobilisation skills to bring so many people to one platform and making them walk in scorching heat but it give extremely important learning to all of us. To the credit of Ekta Parishad, we have delegations from so many states including North East, Kerala, Tamilnadu, Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh, Telangana, Maharastra, Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Chhattishgarh, Madhya Pradesh, Jharkhand, Odisha and Rajasthan. I might have missed many others but the entire yatra is fascinating when you listen to people. There are Mushahar women from Bihar walking then you can also find, the Adivasis from Jharkhand, Chhattishgarh. Each one is carrying their own traditional food also. It also reflect that how much important this entire question of equal distribution of resources is which many of our friends just ignore or look down upon in utter contempt.
In 2012, the government of India actually agreed to various demands put up by Ekta Parishad and other organisations including bringing up a Homestead bill for all the homeless people by providing 10 decimal land to every homeless person. There was also a demand for Fast Track courts for the cases of land particularly related to Land Ceiling issues. The third was fair implementation of Forest Rights Act, distribution of five acres of agricultural land to landless people, recognition of women as farmers etc.
Though there are other demands too by Ekta Parishads but some of us who have been working on the land question through an Ambedkarite perspective too feel the need to make it more comprehensive because for us land struggle is an anti caste struggle also. If properly used, it can become a strong tool against the brahmanical hierarchy.
I have always mentioned that we had some very wonderful laws but where have they failed. It need to be understood that the feudal lords who drafted the Land Ceiling Act actually arranged everything to protect their interests. Hence, it is important for people of India to know why land ceiling act has been made to fail so that we all demand its removal. Several important points are important to note related to Land Ceiling and must be included in it.
First, all the land belonging to religious trusts must be included in Land Ceiling Laws. Like benefitting from the Income Tax acts too, these Trusts are industry themselves and feudal lords have protected their land under the pretext of some temples, mosques, Gurudwaras and other things.
Second, there is no ceiling on Gaushalas. You can have a gaushala in one thousand acre and attract no ceiling. The new gaubhakts are those who have all this and very easier way to evade ceiling. We demand it must be scrapped.
Third, the possession of land. Government and officials are happy to give us ‘data’ of how much land they have distributed but the fact is unless people take possession of the land, it is just a paper. A huge number of Dalits and adivasis as well as the MBCs have got these land entitlement but no efforts were made by the officers to ensure they get possession of their land.
Fourth, many of the communities have been living on land for years but they have no legal papers. It is easier for the powerful people to exploit them under the pretext that they would be thrown out of the village. Most of these belong to nomadic communities and hence they must be protected.
Fifth, the government must think of building a National Pasture corridore and allow communities to use it for grazing purposes. When you can make national corridor for all the sinking development let us think of it.
Sixth, Where is our Bhudan Land. How much was it distributed and who was it given. Many states have closed the Bhudan chapter but we must demand in all fairness as why Bhudan land was not distributed to people. In Telangana and Andhra, Bhudan land was given to Industries.
Protect our Common property Resources like village ponds, lakes, rivers, orchards, grazing lands , charagahs as they are people’s resources and allow communities to manage them.
The concept of Land Bank was to pull land from different places and give it to the landless people but today the government is using land bank to give it to Industries. We must demand moratorium on land acquisition.
Our forest regions must be demiliterised and Adivasis must be given access to their forests and use their knowledge and services for the protection of forests.
All those women and men who have left manual scavenging must be rehabilitated honorably and provided five acres of land as part of the rehabilitation package.
These are my thoughts on the issue. I compliment Ekta Parishad for taking up issues and hope they will continue to bring various social movements whether Gandhian, Ambedkarites, left or other community organisation on the issue and organise further consultations on the same. Land agenda should be converted into anti caste discrimination agenda and also our fight against untouchability. People have responded to call and the march is on. We dont know how this government deal with it but we know these are serious issues and we have not only to fight with the power but also with local feudal power structure which feel threatened with it.
Also important for all of to call for an upper limit of how much can a person can earn as well as purchase things. How much a company can buy our lands. Unless we decide about it, the one side we will have millions of hectare land in the hands of a very few people and more than 90% of our population will suffer. We must not create corporate monopolies on natural resources. It is time, we take these issues among our people, larger civil society, social movements, academia and political leaders who are serious on the issue. The country will sink further if corporate monopolies on our essential things remain unchecked hence a demand for land reform or agrarian reform will remain incomplete and farce if we dont call for building up a national commission and fixing up a limit on land purchase for the commercial or professional purposes in the name of development. You cant give people anything if you dont restrict corporate monopolies and fix up their limit to buy and earn things.
Vidya Bhushan Rawat is a social and human rights activist. He blogs at www.manukhsi.blogspot.com twitter @freetohumanity Email: [email protected]