Issue Date:

Adivasis want the state government to fulfill its promise of giving land to the landless

Policies for land 
redistribution, framed in the fifties, have still not been implemented by the 
Kerala government

The indefinite nilppusamaram or standing protest by Adivasi Gothra Maha Sabha, an umbrella body of independent tribal organisations in Thiruvananthapuram, has entered its 100th day today. The agitation for land began on July 9. Protestors from Wayanad, Palakkad, Idukki and other districts have been standing in front of the state secretariat from morning till evening every day.

Tribals are protesting because the state has not kept its promise of distributing land to the landless. They demand that the state government should stick to the package it had committed to in October 2001.

At the time, tribals led by adivasi leader C K Janu had built huts along the street in front of the secretariat. It was after 48 days of continuous agitation that the then A K Antony government agreed to a package for them. It promised to give all landless tribals 0.4 to two hectares of cultivable land as per land availability in each district.

A tribal mission was formed to supervise the programme. “The mission functioned only for one year and the agreement was sabotaged,” points out Janu.

When the government failed to implement the package, adivasis continued with their protests. In 2003, around 2,000 adivasis occupied the Muthanga Wildlife Sanctuary and started building houses there.

Without holding talks with them, the government ordered police firing after 45 days, on February 19, 2003. One adivasi and one policeman were killed.

According to Janu, projects were formulated in 1957, 1960 and 1974, in which adivasis would be rehabilitated in big farms. They would cultivate land under societies and after five years, the land would be divided among adivasi families, dispersing the societies.

There are about 15 rehabilitation areas including Priyadarshini, Sugandhagiri farms in Wayanad and Aralam in Kannur. There is no legal hurdle in distributing these farms which were originally formed for their rehabilitation. “However, both the Congress-led United Democratic government and the CPI(M)-led Left Democratic government did not bother to address the tribal land issue and continued betraying them with various promises, ” Janu says.

She points out that adivasis are perishing in all project areas  [2] and are working as bonded labourers without any entitlement to the land. “In Attappadi last year, more than 70 infants died due to malnourishment and failure of healthcare services and anganwadis. The root cause of all the issues adivasis face today is the giving of their land to non-tribals,” says Janu.

The state government has not made a serious effort to start a dialogue with the protestors. A few days ago, it has announced that a cabinet sub-committee, headed by state Forest Minister Thiruvanchur
Radhakrishnan, will be formed to look into the demands. No significant step to address the land issue has been proposed by the government.

The adivasis have decided to intensify the protest. “The agitation is not only for land but also for justice which has been denied all through these years,” says Geethananda, convenor of the protest.