22nd Sep, 2021: National Alliance of People’s Movements (NAPM) is deeply pained at the passing away of Comrade Laha Gopalan (72), one of the most fiery leaders of the Chengara Land struggle, which started in 2007.
The struggle exposed the myth of complete land reforms of Kerala. The working class, in particular dalits and adivasis, who have tilled and toiled in the land throughout history, were denied their rights when the land reforms were carried out in Kerala in 1970s. The excess land which was available to be distributed among the landless peasants were always hidden. On the other hand, tens of thousands of acres of land were occupied by various national and multinational corporations, such as estates of Tea, Coffee, Cardamom, Rubber etc.
The initial struggle by 300 landless families, organized as Sadhu Jana Vimochana Samyukta Vedi, led by Mr.Gopalan began cultivation on around on nearly 145 hectares of the Harrison Malayalam Rubber Plantation at Chengara in August 2007, pitching tents and demanding five acres land each for farming.
The State and almost all established, mainstream political parties and their trade unions resisted the struggle by landless peasants. Undeterred, they led a militant struggle challenging the whole police state and drew national attention. Since then, thousands of families have been fighting for their right to land.
The able leadership of Laha Gopalan, his ideological clarity and organizational capabilities were very much critical for the success of that struggle. Later the State had to call the leaders for discussion and reached a settlement to distribute land to some of the landless families.
It is notable that even to this day, a large number of estates, which are defunct and leaseholders of the land are selling it illegally to various parties for tourism or airports etc. The claim for such land was raised rightly in the Chengara struggle.
NAPM always stood in solidarity with the Chengara struggle and comrades from different states lent support and even visited the site of resistance. While we remember the historic struggle and contribution by Comrade Laha Gopalan, we reaffirm that the right to land for toiling peasants, most of whom are Dalits and adivasis, needs to be an important and continuing agenda for political and social movements. Drawing inspiration from the ongoing farmers struggle, we assert that land ownership by the toiling farmers, especially dalits, adivasis and women is central to sustaining agriculture and ecology.