Social workers demand that every eligible family of Mahbubnagar in Uttar Pradesh should get proprietary rights under FRA. The village was the centre of forest management during the British and is still facing colonial era repression in the present.
Lucknow: The District Level Forest Rights Committee meeting was held on March 2, Saturday under the chairmanship of District Magistrate Shambhu Kumar to convert the Vantangia Village of Mahbubnagar, Uttar Pradesh to a village gram category. During this meeting, it was stated that out of 247 claims, 144 claims were found eligible for proprietary rights under the Forest Rights Act. The villages have had to work hard to get these rights. Who are these Vantangiyas and what is their story?
Vantangiya’s have existed in India since the British
The British had their eyes for all the forests of India but had a peculiar interest in the forest of Deori, Nainital, Pilibhit, Lakhimpur Kheeri, Bahraich, Balrampur Maharajganj, Gorakhpur and more in Uttar Pradesh. After passing the Awadh Forest Rules, the British cunningly captured the forests of Bahraich in 1961, and in 1885, they brought in the forest department to control the forest produce. For this, four ranges of Motipur, Chakia, Charda and Bhinga were made. Bahraich's forests were very famous for the strong Sakhu wood.
Many Sakhu trees were chopped down to lay railway lines
The British were expanding rail lines at breakneck speed in the whole country. To lay a kilometre of a rail line, 60 Sakhu trees had to be sacrificed for their strength. The wood was used to lay sleepers below the railway line and the demand for the wood increased. The Forest officers in the newly minted forest department chopped down many Sakhu forests in the region.
The uniqueness of a Sakhu tree is that if its seed falls on the ground at midnight and is not sown deep in the land until morning, it can’t grow. In regions like Motipur, Kakaraha, Murthyaha, Nishan Ghat, Katarniya Ghat, the trees of Sakhu had disappeared. Due to a drought in the region, the tree couldn’t grow. The natural growth of a tree is known as natural rehydration in the forest language. The artificial growing of trees with the help of a nursery is known as mesmeric reproduction. The forest department did not possess the knowledge to grow Sakhu trees.
Many officers in the Bahraich region and other parts of the country went to the jungles in Myanmar to learn how to plant these trees from local Adivasis. The tribal community there trained them in the methods involved in growing Sakhu trees. This was called the ‘Tangiya’ method.
The word ‘Tangiya’ comes from Myanmar
The word means forest farming. The word ‘Tang’ means farming and ‘Ya’ means forest. If you find any place with a name ending with ‘ya’ it can be deduced that there used to be a forest there. The places like Bichia, Dhakia, Tadia, Chafaria, Badkhadia, Kataria etc bear this name. This form of farming is also called "zoom farming" or "shifting cultivation".
Forest Farming was hard work
People are given empty land for the Tangiya method. They have to clean the ground and plough it with the help of bullocks to make it sustainable for farming. The plants are sown in a line and there is a distance of 15 feet from one tree to the other. They have to grow their crop in this distance. The forest department used to take half of the total yield and they had to survive on the other half. In the second year, when the trees started to grow, the cultivation between the trees had to be cleared with a shovel and in the fifth year, they had to clear their cultivated fields and had to repeat this process on another empty land. For this, many people resided in their fields itself and at some places, a community living place for Tangiya labourers was created. Mahbubnagar was the capital for Tangiya forest workers. Taranagar and Najir Ganj were also the workers' centres. Getting pure drinking water at all these places was a big challenge. An old well was renewed in Mahbubnagar in 1935. It was constructed to provide water to hundreds of forest workers.
Forced labour under the Forest department
Labourers fled Taranagar and Najir Ganj in the absence of water. Tangiya labourers had to work hard in the forest department. They had to be given milk curd, ghee, grains and buffaloes for hunting. The forest officers had complete control even over the vegetables they had grown on their roof. Children of the labourers were forbidden from getting an education because if they became literate, where would the British find people to employ?
Britishers who trained in Myanmar had begun Tangiya cultivation
With training in Forest management from Myanmar, the British officers first began their plantation in 1925-26 with the Tangiya system in Motipur range. This work was experimental, for which three centres were established- Ghumna, Mahbubnagar and Motipur. In the initial work cycle, Sakhu seeds were sown in the Motipur range where the terrible outbreak of drought in 1915-16 had happened. There was no natural reproduction of trees in these areas.
Reading of the history of reserved forests shows that in 1925-26, the three centres of the Motipur range of Bahraich forest division were successful in this experiment.
Ghumna and Motipur Tangiya centres were closed down around 1954 but after the country's independence, the Tangiya labourers of Mahbubnagar completed the plantation work in hundreds of hectares. These people resurrected the jungle by planting several mixed species including Sakhu in 140 sq km.
Received Boring water after Independence
It was after independence that the Tangiya labourers received Boring for cultivation. In some places, schools were also started by the Forest Department to teach the children of Tangiya labourers. The forest department employees were stationed to teach them. In the early days, there was also a provision to give alcohol to these forest workers. In the Gram Establishment law of 1904, this subject has been mentioned in the last paragraph.
Threats of eviction when refused to do gainless jobs
After managing the forests till 1984, the work was complete and the Tangiya labourers needed employment. Frustrated with bad employment opportunities in the forest department, when the Mahbubnagar labourers expressed their frustration, they were threatened with eviction and land grab. The process of withdrawing their land had begun and they were warned with dire consequences. The planner of the work schedules wrote that since the Tangiya workers are disinterested in the work, it would be better to uproot them.
Forest Rights Act
After this, the forest department was hatching a secret plan to remove the villagers. During those days, the forest rights movement under the leadership of Jang Hindustani was in full swing. After reading the forest management work plans for Mahbubnagar, he went to Mahabubnagar along with the young people of Bichia and informed the people. He started organizing them. In the year 2006, the Forest Rights Act came into existence and he helped the Tangiya labourers. After facing the dangers on Mahbubnagar, a meeting was held there along with the people of Bhawanipur, Bichia, Tadia, Dhakia, Gokulpur, villages by creating a Van Gram Adhikar Manch, a village rights forum.
Development in these villages
The people of Mahbubnagar were dependent on political representatives and they felt that forest rights would be easily granted to them but this was their illusion. In their village, many political powers emerged and collapsed, but their situations didn’t change. After the foundation of the Vanvasi Janata Union, Mahbubnagar's movement became stronger. Sewarth Foundation surveyed all the households, analyzed the data collected and made the government aware. The problems of Mahbubnagar were shared at various platforms of the country by All India Janjivi Union. There are currently 256 families in Mahbubnagar. The total population of the village is 1374, of which 599 are women and 775 are male. There are elementary schools and pucca roads in the village. Lodh, Kurmi, Dalit, Yadav, Boat, Gosain and Muslim communities live here now.
Yogi Adityanath gave revenue village status
Most families have old lease receipts from the forest department. Only five families had ration cards at the beginning and is now reaching more families. 53 families are landless. 90 per cent of the families do not have a permanent house. They were named in the voter list of the nearest village panchayat Hansuliya. Often their names were expelled from the voter's list during elections and they continue to agitate against this. After the implementation of the Forest Rights Act, UP Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath gave the revenue village status to five Vantangiya villages of Gorakhpur, 18 in Maharajganj, five in Gonda, five in Balrampur and one village in Bahraich. Mahbubnagar has also begun the process to get the status. The administration did not spread any awareness or did any publicity for this and made people file incomplete claim forms and rejected them as well. When Jang Hindustani was made aware of this information, a thorough investigation was launched.
In this investigation, it was found that the Sub-Divisional Forest Rights Committee said that their village did not meet the 75 years of settlement criteria. Since Jang Hindustani had worked in these villages and had a lot of documents related to Mahbubnagar from Right to Information Act and the Forest Research Institute, Dehradun, therefore, he had evidence of the village was a settlement for hundreds of years. With the proof, he reached the District Officer, Chief Development Officer and Additional District Magistrate/Finance Office, Bahraich, and gave them photocopied documents and showed them the original which got accepted. All the officers of the district went to Mahbubnagar and after going to Chowpal, they had to conduct public hearings and the then Deputy District Magistrate, Kirti Prasad Bharti, went to the village and examined it and it was decided that 144 people in the village will get proprietary right. But social workers had demanded that every eligible family of Mahbubnagar should get proprietary rights under FRA.
District Magistrate Shambhu Kumar said that proposals to grant the Vantangiya Gram Mahbubnagar the revenue village status will be promptly sent to the Government.
The meeting was attended by ADM Ram Suresh Verma, District Social Welfare Officer RP Singh, DFC JP Singh, District Panchayat member Satish Porwal, Usha Devi, Nafisa Khatun and the social worker Jang Hindustani.
(The above article was published in Hindi on Sabrang.)