India is a country of villages. Accordind to 2011 Census it has got 6,40,867 villages. According to the same Census out of a total population of 121 crores 83.3 crores live in villages and 37.7 crores live in cities. As such nearly 70% population of this country is rural and 30% only is urban. Out of the total 24.39 crore families 17.96 crores live in rural area and out of them 3.31 crores are Scheduled Castes (Dalis) and 1.96 crores are Scheduled Tribes (Tribals/Adivasis). In India the population of Dalits is 20.14 crores which forms 16.6% of the total population of the country. The total population of Adivasis (Tribals) is 10.42 crores which is 8.6% of the total population of the country.
According to Socio-Economic and Caste Census-2011, 56% Rural families are landless and out of them 73% are Dalits and 79% are Tribal families. Out of Rural families 45% Dalit and 30% Tribal families are Mannual Labourers only. Similarily out of Rural families 18.35% Dalit and 38% Tribal families are agricultarists. From this Census report it has come to light that out of our total population only 40% are regularily employed and 60% are casual workers who remain unemployed for most of the time.
From the above statistics some important aspects of Dalits and Tribals come to the forefront. One is that about 73% of Rural Dalit families and 79% of Tribal families depend on mannual labour only. Secondly most of Dalit and Tribal families are deprived. Thirdly they donot own any means of production like land etc. and for lack of any other skill they are dependent on mannual labour only. They are mostly landless and very few of them own land. As such most of the Dalit and Tribal families are dependent on land owning communities. Not only this they depend on them for cutting grass for their animals and even for natural call. Due to landlessness and limited seasonal agriculture emloyment they remain unemployed for most of the time.
It is well known that India is an agriculture country and its 60% population is either agricultarist or agriculture labour. From the above statistics it is clear that most of the Dalits and Tribals are landless and are capable of doing mannual labour only. As such landlessness and being mannual labourers only are their biggest vulnerabilities. On account of it they are neither able to face the atrocities committed on them due to caste discrimination and untouchability nor they are in a position to fight for proper wages. Agriculture employment being seasonal they have to search for employment elsewhere or remain unemployed. On account of this 73% Dalits and 79% Tribal families are vulnerable and landless.
It is a fact that in rural India land is not only a source of production but it also symbolises the respect and social status. In the village the person who owns land is not only economically secure but he is also socially respected. Now as most of the Dalits neither own land nor they have regular employment, as such they are neither economically secure nor they are socially respected. Rural Dalits can get empowered only if they get land and regular employment. Hence land redistribution and secure employment is the first need of the landless Dalits and Tribal families.
After India became independent Zamindari Abolition and Land Reforms were the measures adopted for redisrtribution of resources. Under this scheme Land Ceiling Laws were enacted to make land available for redistribution to the landless. But open dishonesty was practiced in the implementation of these laws because most of the leaders of the then ruling Congress Party were big land holders and the same class dominated the bureaucracy. The result was that very little land could become available for distribution to the landless by the implementation of the land reforms and even that land was not distributed. This resulted in the land remaining in the hands of the earleir owners. Even today huge land is with individuals, public trusts and temples and anonymous owners. As a result of it there are 18.53% small and 64.77% marginal farmers in the country who own only 41.52% of total agriculture land. The remaining 59% area is in the posession of 17% medium and big farmers.
Socio-Economic and Caste Census statistics show that land rights is the most important question for rural Dalits and Adivasis (Tribals) which cannot be solved without proper implementation of Land Reforms but the tragedy is that Land Reforms and Land Distribution donot figure in the agenda of any Dalit and Non-Dalit political party. It is seen that the states like West Bengal and Keral where land reforms were stricly enforced by Left Party governments and land was made available to the Dalits and Adivasis their social and economic condtion has improved.
It is known that in Uttar Pradesh from 1995 to 2012 Mayawati, a Dalit, was Chief Minister for four times . During her regime only some land was distributed in 1995 in Central and Western Uttar Pradesh (U.P.) and that too in a very small quantity and no land was distributed in the remaining parts of the state. In Eastern U.P. which has got a dense population of Dalits no land was distributed except in Gorakhpur district which was due to the initiative of Mr. Harish Chandra, the then Commiissioner of Gorakhpur Division. I witnessed the pitiable condition of landless Dalits in Sonbhadra and Chandauli districts of eastern U.P. when I contested Lok Sabha election in 2014 from Robertsganj constituency. The condition of the Adivasis of these districts is really very shocking.
It is a fact that in 1995 there was sufficient land available under Ceiling Surplus Land, Gram Samaj, Fallow Land and Bhoodan Land in U.P. for distribution to landless Dalits, Adivasis and other landless families but Mayawati did not distribute it with the result that it continued to remain in the posession of illegal occupents. Not only this she did not take any action to give posession of land to the families who were given land pattas (land entitlements) during earlier Congress regime. After 1995, Mayawati did not take any initiative to distribute land or restore posession to the owners of Land Pattas just to avoid ire of the powerful communities who became her voters under the so called “Social Engineering.” It came to light from the Land Owners statistics of 2001 Census that during 10 years span of 1991-2001, 23% of Dalits became landless who previously owned land. It is worth noting that during this period Mayawati was thrice Chief Minister of U.P.
For empowerment of Adivasis, Forest Rights Act-2006 and Rules came into force in 2008. Under this Act the Adivasis and othes living in the Protected Forest area were to get title of the land as a matter of right which they had in their posession and under cultivation . For this they had to submit their claims to the Revenue authorties. Mayawati was the Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh fron 2007 to 2012 but Mayawati government did not take any effective action to implement this Act with the result that as on 30.1.2012 out of 92,406 claims 74,701 claims i.e. 81% claims were rejected. The result was that only 17,705 claims (19%) were accepted and 1,39,77 hectares of land was distributed.
Now when we come to Gujrat, a beneficiary of Modi’s Development Model the situation is very dismal. As on 30.04.2016, under Forest Rights Act out of 1,90,097 claims only 77,038 were accepted and only a total of 11,92,351 hectares land was distributed. As such 65% of the claims were rejected and only 35% claims were accepted. That is why in Gujrat Dalits and Adivasis had to launch a Land Right Agitation demanding 5 Acres of land to each landless family.
In the face of Mayawati’s carelessness and anti-Dalit/Adivasi policy All India Peoples Front (AIPF) had to file a Public Interest Litigation (PIL) in Allahabad High Court in which the Court gave an order for reprocessing of claims under Forest Rights Act but neither Mayawati nor Mulayam Singh Yadav government took any interest to reprocess the claims. At the national level as on 30.04.201 out of 44,23,464 claims 38,57,379 claims were disposed off out of which only 17,44,274 claims have been accepted and 1.03,58,376 Acres land has been distributed which comes out to be about 5 Acres per claim. At the national level the rate of rejection of claims is 53.8% whereas it is 80.15% for the state of Uttar Pradesh which has been ruled by Mayawati, a Dalit and Mulayam Singh, a Backward Class Chief Minister. It transpires that, both Mayawati and Mulayam Singh are responsible for the tardy implementation of Forest Rights Act in Uttar Pradesh.
From the above it becomes clear that both the Central and State governments have been careless and disinterested in the empowerment of Dalits and adivasis through distribution of land to them. The political parties both Dalit and Non-Dalit donot want to empower Dalits and Adivasis and want to keep them poor and dependent for using them as vote banks. U.P. is a classical example of this mentality where Mayawati, a Dalit and Mulayam Singh, a Backward Claas has been Chief Minister four times and three times respectively. All the political parties are indulging in caste and communal politics. None of them has Land Reforms and Land Distribution to Dalits-Adivasis and other landless categories for empowering them. Land is a very valuable asset for them.
Hence in the face of the complacent and unconcerned attitude of political parties towards land reforms and empowerment of Dalits and Adivasis, there is no alternative but to agitate for land rights. Dalits have a long history of agitation for land. In 1953 land agitation was launched in Marathwara area of Hyderabad state and in 1958 in Konkan area of Maharashtra under the guidance of Dr. Ambedkar. The biggest land rights agitation was carried out by Repubican Party of India from 6th December, 1964 to 10th February, 1965 in which more than 3 million Dalits courted arrest. As a result of it the then Congress government had to agree for land distribution to Dalits. ” Land to the Landless” was the key slogan of this agitation. But unfortunately later on no such agitation was launched by Dalits with the result that no land was distributed and majority of the Dalits have remained landless. No doubt Bahujan Samaj Party leader Kanshi Ram had given the slogan of ” Jo Zamin Sarkaari hai vo zamin hamari hai” ( All government land is ours) before coming into power but this slogan was easily forgotten once it got into power.
In his histirical speech at Agra on 23rd March, 1956 Dr. BR Ambedkar had pointed out the importance and need of land for Dalits where he said,” I am much worried for the landless labourers living in the villages. I could not do much for them. I cannot bear with their sorrows and woes. The main reason for their ruin is that they do not own land. That is why they are victims of atrocities and insults. I will struggle for them and If the government creats hurdels I will lead them and fight legal battle for them. But I will make every possible efforts to get land for them.” From this statement it is clear that Dr. Ambedkar knew the importance of land for empowerment of Dalits and he was prepared to take recourse to legal battle and public agitation to get it. But unfortunately he did not live long to give it a practical shape.
In the meanwhile Adivasis have been carrying out “Land Rights Movement” in different parts of the country but Dalits did not launch any such movement as a result no land has been distributed to them. The main agenda of Naxalbari movement was to get land to the landless. Recently a call for allotment of 5 Acres of land to Dalits in Tamilnadu, Andhra Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh has been given by Dalits and Adivasis. The latest Dalit agitaion of Gujrat has also demanded 5 Acres of land for landless Dalit families and land titles under Forest Rights Act for Adivasis. This movement can take the Dalits out of the cowweb of identity politics which has reduced them to just vote bank for unscruplous Dalit politicians. If this demand spreads to other states also it will give a radical agenda to Dalit movement and force the political parties to give a place to land rights in their political agenda. Hence land rights demand should be raised immediately in the states where Assembly elections are going to be held early next year. It will put all the political parties to test for their concern or lack of it for Dalit empowerment.
Real empowerment of Dalits and Adivasis is possible only through strict implemntation of land refoms and giving land to them. Adivasis should be given land titles by proper implementaion of Forest Rights Act. It requires a strong political will which is totally lacking at present. It is certain that no government is going to do it willingly unless Dalits and Adivasis launch a strong agitation for land allotment. The political parties like BSP which believe in easy identity politics cannot undertake land struggle on its political agenda because it shuns all types of struggle. Actually Dalit politics needs a new radical agenda covering their material issues like land distribution, poverty, unemployment and atrocities etc. All India Peoples Front (AIPF) has given a prominent place to Land Reforms and distributin of land to landless people. It had filed a Public Interest Litigation in Allahabad High Court for proper implementation of Forest Rights Act which was badly failed by Mayawati and Mulayam Singh government in U.P. The High Court had issued directives to the state government for reprocessing the land claims of Adivasis which had suffered wholesale rejection by the authorities. AIPF has again launched a struggle for proper implementation of Forest Rights Act in eastern U.P. It is going to hold a big dharna at Jantar Mantar in New Delhi on 9th November demanding reprocessing of land claims of adivasis under Forest Rights Act. All pro-people and progressive organisations are requested to come forward and join hands to compel the governments to take up Land Reforms and all the political parties to declare their agenda regarding implementation of Land Reforms and distribution of 5 Acres of land to Dalits including other landless families. Proper implementation of Forest Rights Act also needs to be reimphasised at political level.
SR Darapuri I.P.S.(Retd) and National Spokesman, All India Peoples Front