Caste And Land : Message From
Chengara And Khagaria
By Vidya Bhushan Rawat
08 October, 2009
At the United Nation’s Human Rights Council the member countries, much to the dismay of the faithful Babus of the government of India, passed a resolution terming caste system as a discrimination and violation of human rights. This is an important event though the Human Rights Council off late has become victim of religious right wing elements working in the name of multiculturalism. We all know this council has passed many such resolutions which violate fundamental principal of secularism, freedom of expression and life beyond religious values. However, in terms of issue of caste, one hopes that such resolution will at least force government of India not to oppose such things in future and accept the dark realities of castes in India.
We all know that UN resolutions do not work much. At the end the battle for dignity and equality has to be fought in India and by the people involved. Two important incidents happened in India with far reaching consequences. One was the killing of 16 farmers belonging to Kurmi community allegedly by the Mushahars in Khagaria, Bihar and second the ‘successful’ ‘culmination’ of Chengara land struggle in Kerala. Coming days would be important to understand the ramification of both the incidents.
Khagaria’s killings have been highly unfortunate and need condemnation yet if the reports of radicalization of Mushahars are true then there is a need of introspection.
They remain one of the most isolated and ostracized community in India and there are many such communities who remain completely marginal. They neither have political representation nor know anything of governance structure. The bureaucracy dominated by the caste Hindus do not even consider them as human being. India was among the first countries to have enacted some of the ‘change making’ laws, a secular constitution, equal rights but Indian villages do not portray the same reality of life. In fact, they remain caged in ‘different’ nations where each caste is a nation as described by V.T.Rajshekar, the formidable editor of Dalit voice. These castes do not even talk to each other and the talks of Bahujan and broader Dalit alliance is actually a political construct because very little has been done to culturally integrate with each other. A number of people feel easier to assimilate themselves with caste Hindus then to siding with the other marginalized communities considered to be below them.
And in such a scenario the votaries of Bahujan should understand that their work is much bigger than what they think. By merely chanting anti brahmanical mantra would not work as it has not worked in the absence of discussion the differences between the different communities. One has to understand that in the absence of an ideological clarity no coming together would succeed and would be easily co-opted and misused by the powerful. A mere political coalition would meet the same fate as happened to Mulayam-Maywati coming together and later the efforts by Nitish Kumar in Bihar, who created term Mahadalit to forge a combination with his power community of Kurmis. One need to understand that these political terminologies are more for the consumption of the political class and do not mean anything beyond electoral politics. When the Samajawadi party and BSP came together, it never meant that the Dalits and backward communities particularly the chamars and Yadavs would socialize more. Some people felt but it was not possible unless the backward castes debrahminise themselves. Similar thing happened in Bihar where the Kurmis first thought of Mahadalit as a counter to Muslim-Yadav-Dusadh politics of Laloo and Ramvilas Paswan. In his zeal to divide the Dalits and reap a good harvest, Nitish Kumar appointed a commission to assess the need of the Mahadalits in Bihar. The commission headed by One senior bureaucrat Mr Bandhopadhyaya has submitted its recommendation but the government of Bihar is not keen to present the report in the assembly. Now, the worst things are emerging after Khagaria killings. Initially, the government blamed it on the Naxals but later reports coming in the Indian Express suggested it was an intern caste land dispute and the Mushahars had been demanding land redistribution. The dark fact from UP, Bihar, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, Andhra Pradesh and Tamilnadu are that most of the village land, which is called as government land or Panchayat land in different states, is illegally grabbed the local powerful communities. Hence, when we talk of land reform and implementation of ceiling laws, how the farming communities go jittery and the fictitious unity in the name of Bahujan breaks. The Kurmis have now warned chief Minister Nitish Kumar not to ‘appease’ the Mushahars. ‘How dare they do it?’ The fear among them is that if the Mushahars start questioning about the land ceiling and other acts, then it would be difficult to contain their anger. So for the vote bank the concept of Bahujan bite dust. At the end, it is your caste that matter so if you lose the caste support then the human rights values and all the concerns for the ‘poor dalits’ disappear.
While reports from Bihar suggests concern, another report is emerging from Chengara, in Kerala where the movement for the land rights of the people has culminated in an agreement between the government and Sadhujana Vimochana Samyuktha Vedi led by Laha Gopalan and one can understand how the pink dailies of the country had a sigh of relief terming it one of the biggest victory through Ahimsa in recent years. Even we all know that Laha Gopalan and his organizations had nothing to do with Gandhi, the authors were ready to propagate his movement as that of Gandhian struggle. ‘There is every chance of one getting carried away by the mannerisms of a loser expressed by Laha Gopalan after the discussion on Monday. But, in reality, it was the expression of success in a very peculiar way. Chengara struggle was fought on Ahimsa and won by Ahimsa. The portraits of Buddha and Ambedkar that were seen everywhere in the Chengara struggle heartland were the real driving force behind Laha Gopalan and team. After living in penury for 795 days and sacrificing 13 precious lives, the Sadhhujana Vimochana Samyuktha Vedi could make the Government of Kerala bite the dust. The biggest difference between the Muthanga struggle led by C.K.Janu and Geethanandan and the Chengara struggle led by Laha Gopalan is the result. The Muthanga agitators are still fighting for their promised piece of land while Chengara strikers could fetch a timebound assurance from the Chief Minister that the promises will be fulfilled in three months’ wrote an ‘expert’ in ‘Financial Express’, yesterday.
Now, we all know the Dalits and tribal have been treated worst in the so called left governments whether it is West Bengal or Kerala because they say that they do not belive in caste system hence it does not exist. If people remember well, the way CPI(M) government in Kerala had gone overboard on this issue to avoid a replication of Nandigram. Discussion with activists and friends in Chengara suggest that the government and political parties have done every effort to divide the Dalit movement which was growing and Chengara’s land struggle actually changed the entire situation. For the first time, we witness the Dalits, tribal and other community’s landless people fighting together. They have been altogether these years but now the government’s decision to distribute land has to be seen from a different angle. When everybody of the 1400 odd families fought together for their land right, why is that the compensation is different for different communities. Clear enough, the government and political parties in Kerala are afraid of an independent Dalit-tribal unity. The mainstream political parties always want the Dalits and tribal to be their tail-enders.
Laha Gopalan himself admitted that he was forced to compromise. One has to understand the psychology of the powerful communities in India. All the upper caste forces united under different names in Kerala against Chengara struggle. Even the Christian upper castes of Kottayam and Pathannamitththa were not interested in the struggle. Trade unions ( and our revolutionary friends are very much in owe with the dirty politics of trade unions) joined hand and created a blockade against the people of Chengara. If the Hindutva and Congress created a Salwajudam to get the tribal fight each others in Chhatishgarh, the government of Kerala used trade union of all political parties to create an unlawful blockade against the people of Chengara. One need to see the similar situation which existed in West Bengal when the Sweepers of Howrah municipal corporation, who used to live in 200 years old Belilius park, were thrown away by the state police and none of the political parties in Bengal came in support of these people. Over 7000 families are living in utter humiliation in West Bengal. Every time, one visit to such a state, it does not look different then Gujarat if you want to speak a language different than the CPM people.
Hence the newspapers may write about a victory of Chengara struggle but it is a careful manipulation by the government. It has already asked three months time to give the Dalits and tribal some land. Problem arise, when they are already occupying land which is actually government land as the state must redistribute the ceiling surplus land, where else they can send these people. The land supposed to be given to these people in lieu of leaving the Harrison Plantation would be abysmally low and will not alter any power equations in Kerala. Moreover, activists doubt the availability of land in Kerala. If government is really bothered it must redistribute land in Kerala. Lot of talks about redistribution and ‘progressive’ ‘communist’ government in Kerala but the fact of the matter is the Dalit-Adivasi assertion in Kerala has been successfully countered by the mainstream political parties. First they sidelined Gauri Amma, a powerful backward caste leader and now Laha Gopalan has been successfully brought to the so-called negotiation table to give them peanuts. Perhaps, the Marxists are full of new ideas where they can send these people to different locations and destroy the movement. Activists are fearing that a police action is eminent as there are different fractions in Chengara and not all would like to leave the place. Secondly, none of them know where they will get the plot of land. It is unlikely that people would leave the place without getting rehabilitation.
Both the Bihar and Kerala experience shows how the governments which are in power have used particular ideological formulations to build their own political empire and how they manipulate people’s sentiments. Such stories are emerging from everywhere and they will always happen as long as the movements are not democratic and their leaders embedded with a particular formulation dictate their fancies to the people. The condition of both the Dalits and Adivasis remain a matter of concern in all these states whether they come to power in the name of social justice or Marxism.
When those who claim to stick to the values of social justice and power to proletariat find it difficult to implement land reform and succumb to big industrial houses, hand over state forest, land and water to these big companies without asking the local people and their Panchayats, the impact would be wider and people are not going to sit silently. Governments over the years, have flouted norms developed by them including famous Samatha Judgment where the Supreme Court fixed up guidelines to take permission from the local tribal Panchayats. Yet, the political class continues on selling spree without any shame.
India’s power politics goes via land and participation in power. Land is the most important tool in bringing radical changes in our social structure based on hierarchical values. Historically Dalits have been denied right to own property and access to land. Adivasis had their land in the forest yet isolated and illegally grabbed by local feudal castes. Now the companies have their eyes on it. The political class is using the majoritarian parliamentary system for the benefit of its use, making leaders as messiah who distributes hard cash and liquor during the polls. The depressing scenario is that most of them have billions of rupees to use foul practices to get elected. The democratic system has failed resulting in utter chaos. If those in power use ‘sama, dama, dand, bhed, to destroy people’s movement, there will be further chaos as people are not going to leave their places and it will be a leaderless condition everywhere, very difficult to contain. Hopefully, those who believe in social justice and power to the people, would do the needful, at least justifying their ideology when they are in power. Both Bihar and Kerala need to act immediately, implement land ceiling laws fairly. There will be opposition to it by powerful communities, political interest groups but then international and national laws can not be circumvented to make a few communities and their political leaders happy at the cost of social justice and human rights.