Puntamba Land struggle
Bhumi Hukka Andolan- The story of the people who dared to say no
A people who are insignificant in all sense could not have made any ripples in the society except through persistent struggle and immense sacrifices.The Bhill Community which constitute the majority of the members of Bhumi Hukka Andolan dared to say no the erronenous government decisions.They ,like their ancestors struggled relentlessly for their basic rights despite all odds.The organized struggle for the last 15 years, has lost vigour and vitality as the number diminished .But it has created dents in the legal frame work and on the society which has been non inclusive for centuries
Socio-economic,Political and Cultural background of the area
Ahmednagar is Maharashtra’s most advanced district in many ways. It has the maximum number of sugar factories Main Crops are Sugarcane, bajra, and jowar.Due to frequent droughts the production of sugarcane has come down considerably.
The political economy of Ahmednagar district is dominated by the landed class belonging to the Maratha community and this factor replicates in the case of entire Maharastra. Though predominantly an agricultural economy sugar industry has been playing a vital role in shaping the lives and livelihood of not only the landed class but even the landless communities in this district . The sugar factories and the sugar barons with their cronies continue to dictate terms in each and every walk of life. The politicians in this area are invariably associated with one sugar factory or other. A gradual shift is being effected through the upcoming milk co-operatives eventhough these are also controlled by the sugar barons.
The tribals in Aurangabad district who are part of the struggle have occupied gairan or forest land.They also face a similar socio political milieu
The tribal profile
“Even the lowest officer might take a Bhil’s life without offence”(Bombay Gazatteer 1884)
“In 1804 Balaji Lakshman invited a large body of Bhils to meeting at Kopergaon on the Godavari, treacherously seized them and threw them down into two wells” ”(Bombay Gazatteer 1884)
“When the Marathas began to occupy Central India ,they treated the Bhils with great cruelty.A Bhil caught in a disturbed part of the country was without enquiry flogged and hanged. Hundreds were thrown over high cliffs and large bodies of them,assembled under promise of pardon were beheaded or blown from guns.Their women were mutilated or smothered by smoke,and their children smashed to death against stones.”(Mahashtra State Gazatteer 1976)
Eventhough there is insignificant social boycott, the adivasis who belong to the Bhil community are in general treated as those engaged in petty pilferage,a colonial concept still perpetrated by the authorities as a venerable vestige. The English had hated them as much as they dreaded them.Most of the writing by the English was pregnant with derision “As a class they are thievish, dirty, cruel ,extravagant and given to drink but brave hard working , truthful and faithful when trusted”.They take the credit that it was under them that they began a settled and peaceful life.The revolt by the Bhils against the British to protect their land were treated as looting and decoity.The defiance of Bhaguji Naik near Sinnar and Sangamner (1857-59) gave sleepless nights to the English.However,history seldom sees this as part of the freedom struggle of 1857. On the whole the British treated it as a community of thieves.This belief is built into the present admininstrative system as well. If any theft takes place in any place,the adivasis are the first victims to be picked up.A number of under-trials in many of the jails and sub-jails belong to this category.The attitude towards the Bhil community is usually that of derision and scorn.This is also because the “Bhillatti” ,a place in the village where the Bhills stay ,is synonymous with the village pub.In many of the villages adivasis are engaged in making illicit liquor.Eventhough majority of them do not drink,the over all opininion is that adivasis are outright drunkards. One wonders in which archives of human evolution,the remarks made by Abul Fazal in his account of Akbar’s time ,Ain-I-Akbbari ,is stored.He noted that “They (Bhils) are illustrious and law abiding”.A systematic distortion of history by the dominant class and vested interests is not uncommon.The vicissitudes of Bhils is akin to that of many of the tribal communities .
The facts are far from the common attributes of denigration. Some of the most trustworthy employees in the farm sector are from the Bhil community. Most of the landlords rely heavily on their selfless and honest service. Usually the adivasis stay in the farms and guard them where as the landlords stay in the villages.Their fearlessness and loyalty are unquestionable but in society they are still treated as thieves and drunkards.A community, emaciated by lack of self –respect and fleeced by overexploitations and allegations.A community which has become a mere skeleton of the indigenous glories.A community which has become a door mat for the rest of the society.A community which became a mere number of people.
A brief historical note.
Bhils in Ahmednagar district in general do not know their ancestorial roots eventhough there is a belief that they are from the Satputa hills.It is also said that Banswara in Rajasthan is the cradle of the Bhils There is no undisputed theory as to the origin of the tribe,It is generally accepted that they are the earliest inhabitants of the country and they are referred to as the bowman. The term Bhil comes from a Dravidian term which stands for bow the characteristic weapon of this tribe.. There is no conclusive answer to the question as to whether the Bhils(also Bheels) were a Kolerian or a Dravidian tribe.The Ehnological Committee of the Central Provinces in its report dated in the year 1868 classifies the Bhils as a Kolerian tribe and usually they are treated in association with the Kolis.
The term Bhil seems to occur for the first time in A.D.600 eventhough traditional belief claim that Valmiki and Eklavya were Bhils.It is also said that god Krishna was killed by a Bhil.There are a number of other legends that are associated with this tribe .The recorded historical refernce to this tribe is closely associated with the Rajputs.It is now believed that they have ceded to the Rajputs the hill ranges of Khandesh,Central India and Rajputana.It is also believed that Bhils occupied Mewar and Udaipur under their own chiefs from where they were driven out and found their way to Khandesh and spread out to other parts of the country.
The term Bhil was used by the more civilized to refer to all who lead a lawless life.The members of this tribe do not use this term among themselves but refer to one another according to the personal relationship or the official title such as naik.
Demographically ,the adivasi community ,remains a perriphoral entity in terms of their magnitude and in terms of their habitat .At the beginning of 19th century it is reported that 15,000 Bhils were massacred in 15 months.One may wonder what could have been the size of the population,if Bhils were not murdered in early 18th century.Most of the villages have a population of less than 5% of adivasis and out of that majority of them stay in the worst locality of the village where neither water supply,electricity or other civic facilities are assured on papers during the election period and easily forgotten afterwards. They become a ethnic decoration for many politicians who proclaim their cause as their life mission and keep them in serfdom with manipulative political sops. Those living on the farms prefer the loss of freedom to starvation. Illustrative evidences of the conditions in the remote villages and hamlets are more horrifying than what one can visualize. They have to be seen and experienced before one can understand the magnitude of the problem.Indebtedness is more a way of life than a mere facet of their economic relations.
Most of the families have relatively big families.The concept of family planning is slowly seeping into this community as well.However,how convinced they are about the need for a small family is,doubtful.This factor is evinced by the prevalence of large families even among the younger generation. Most of the families need more children to increase their income.More children means more people to earn for the family.Children are also required to graze their livestock. Fetching water ,another grueling exercise requires more helping hands ,Since the children are sent to work at an early age and the kind of work they undertake establish a strong correlation of large families to expected income.
Early marriage is a ubiquitous phenomenon despite the prohibitory scepter. They have their own arguments which may convince even the hardcore and erudite family planning advocates. They say that their girls do not go the school,most of them can not afford to send them to the school.If they do no go to the schools,they have to remain at home or go for work.They feel their girls can not be left alone at home when they go for work. If they go for work,they are afraid of their employers.Moreover, the parents also feel that looking after them is also a costly matter. With all these excuses they marry their girl children before they reach the age of 15.Boys also marry quite early.There are ingenious ways of getting them married eventhough the government has increased its vigil against this social problem.
The social stigma notwithstanding,this community has gradually been knit into the dominant cultural fabric by a non autarchic process.There is superficially very little difference in the over all cultural practices because the adivasis have by and large accepted the dominant Hindu culture and way of life.But if one probes deep into the intricacies of adivasi life even in their most non cordial milieu, one still finds a well distinguished life style, an indomitable spirit for independence ,an unquenchable desire for self sufficiency,a resurging bitterness against the oppresession and an uncompromising will to protect their culture.Be it in the celebration of life or in the sorrows of death,the cultural practices are distinct for this community.It is worth listening to certain exclusive tunes emanating from their hamlets in the wee hours. One is forced to travel back in time and kneel at the portals of the age old mysteries and practices which the prehistoric humans had. One confronts the philosophical question of the role of time in making the human in its entirety and the times that humans create There are however, commonalities with other cultural practices . Contradictions and exceptions,a ubiquitous phenomenon related to all cultures, are not non-existent in the adivasi culture as well.. The eclipsing of tribal culture is not only because of the insignificant demographic strength but also because of the non-contiguity of habitat.Forces from within,due to exposure to various cultural onslaughts and forces from without due to ever changing economic and environment conditions have changed the life style of the adivasis considerably. An evolving life philosophy based on the day to day challenges of life and oppressions from the powerful class has emerged over the years. A blend of strong belief in the powers of goddess Lakshmi /Yedumatha is inculcated to the younger generation along with the rudiments of earning a livelihood in the hostile economic and social conditions.
Bhils in this region have surnames like Pawar,Mali,Salunkhe Aher, Barde, Chavan, Devli, Gaikwad, Gang, Ganudi, Gangurde,Jadhav ,More,Nikam, and Chavan.These surnames were common in the late 19th Century. Men add Naik to their names when they refer to another Bhil and women bai.They seldom use the term Bhil.
They eat flesh but not of cows,pigs,crows and vultures. They kill goats in honour of their family gods on Dasara. The dead are buried but have similar tenth day ceremony as that of the other Hindu castes.Their religious teacher is called Gosavi,or Bhagat but for all ceremonies like marriage and death,Brahmins are called.
In a hamlet of 20 families,it is difficult to see a single woman who can read and write. Even the boys do not go to school if their hamlets are far away from the schools. Even if some venture to go,they say they do not like the school because the teachers beat them. This may not be true in all the cases.One will not fail to see the children hiding or playing in the bushes and catching birds with their catapult or collect honey instead of going to school.Even with the incentives given by the government,some parents also feel their children’s time has an opportunity cost greater than zero. Some of the parents send the children exclusively to collect the rice that is being distributed. Children are often asked to go to graze their goats,or collect firewood. High ratio of drop out is characteristic feature of this community.Education by and large has eluded adivasis and convincing them that education can be another form of investment in human resources is almost impossible. Their children lack the competitive edge in the society both academically and financially. They often ask “who can afford to pay huge amount to get a job after the education”. There are a few exceptions. A few children who managed to clear the tenth standard have got into the police or armed force.
Children, who wander in the bushes, toil in the fields, cut firewood are all treated in general as illiterate, unintelligent and uncultured. The experience may be contrary to the truth.
Many of the families seasonally migrate to the brick kilns and for sugarcane cutting. They take their children along with them. This also adversely affect their education. Even if the children are left behind, they are not properly cared for. They often stay with their relatives who may not look after their studies.
Most of the dalits and adivasis do not play the key role in determining the production process in the economy but on the contrary are treated merely as one of the factors of production. The reason is simple, they do not own the means of production except labour. Most of them live a subhuman life, eking out their livelihood from farm labour.Their labour power too is substantially incapacitated by semi-bondedness. The adivasis are the least in the ladder of the economic functions especially in the non-adivasi area of the district. Except for just one Taluka in the district, adivasi population and land ownership is insignificant in the other talukas.
Dwindling work opportunities force many of them to take huge loans either from sugar cutting contractors or brick kiln owners , a ritualistic feature embedded in the life cycle of many adivasi families in this area.Seasonal migration becomes a routine. And a very poor literacy rate among the adivasis is a sine qua non of such an occupational pattern.
A large number of them live as semi-bonded labourers with the large farm operators or migrate seasonally to the brick kilns or for cutting sugarcane.
A qualitative note on the nature of the labour unit has to be made in this context.Be it in the work in brick kilns, sugarcane cutting fields or in the ordinary farms,the entire family is treated as a single labour unit.The concept makes the children of tender age members of the workforce. The job is assigned to the family on a contract basis and the parents invariably get the assistance from the children by allotting them the less strenuous jobs. However, sighting children, sweating out in the scorching sun in the brick kilns, is easy for any ordinary person except the law enforcing authorities. Many of these brick kilns are run illegally by person who have good nexus with the government authorities.
One also sees a number of them go fishing but not in a commercial way.Very few of them market their catch but use it for their household use.They dry up the surplus catch and preserve it for the lean seasons. They also do hunting but again that is limited to rabbits and birds and that is also shared in the community . The children go around in the thorny bushes to collect berries and honey. In none of the hamlets, the above activities like hunting and fishing form a commercial base for the adivasis. Again a few exceptions may be found in the case of fishing. A couple of them sell what they catch at the village streets. Mostly the fish they sell are small in size .Their ,investments and operations are basically on a small scale basis
A few families are involved in making illicit liquor and as it was indicated earlier Bhillatti is scornfully treated as source of all the vice by the village especially by the village women whose husbands visit the place for drinking. However,it may be noted that adivasis are not the only ones who make illicit liquor. There are other patrons and major players in this business in the village.Again . Adivasisialso pay in nominal as well as in real terms.The routine raid of their hamlets and confiscation of their liquor indicates the obvious.
The government lips service of development programme for tribals in non-tribal areas is an unheard thing in this part of the State.Tribal Sub Plan of the state of Maharashtra infact covers hardly 51 % of the tribal population in the state and the rest of the tribals living outside the Tribal Sub Plan programme do not get any benefit.The schemes are there but are often appropriated by someoneelse.
Bhumi Hukka Andolan
The early days.
It was in early nineties that large scale attrocities on adivasis began to surface in Kopergaon and Shrirampur Talukas of Ahmednagar District.Many of the cases were related to their land. A number of murders of tribas had also taken place in this region.These murders were never registered nor A few adivasi youth came together to discuss various issues related to adivasis .It was a in such a meeting that Pradeep Sampath Dushing of Shingva showed concern over various issues affecting dalits and adivasis .
Adivasi Awareness Campaign
A week long campaighn and meetings were held in forty villages in Kopergaon and Shrirampur Talukas of Ahmednagar Districts and in Vaijapur Taluka of Aurangabad District with the intention of starting the units of Bhumi Hukka Andolan. .Land issue was the main concern in all the meetings held in these villages.
Adivasi Bhumi Hukka Parishad
On 11th November 1995 a Parishad was organised at Shrirampur with the following three demands.
1.The fallow land under the custody of Maharashtra State Farming Corporation should be given to landless including adivasis
2.Attrocities on adivasis should be stopped.
3.Minimum wage Act should be implemented.
4. Regularisation of encroachment on forest and Gairan (pastoral) lands
The Parishad held at Shrirampur brought together not only adivasis but dalits and Nomadic Tribe groups under one banner.A number adivasis who had occupied government land at various place began to come together.
There were a large number of adivasis from Aurangabad district.They had occupied forest lands and pastoral lands.
Land struggle is first of all for our survival .It is our basic right.It is also for our stomach.We do not have much need.We should have our two meals.Our children also should be fed.We are not asking for huge estates.There are large number of landlords and politicians who have hundreds of acres of land.We need only a few acres that will feed our family.Our great forefathers lived in jungles but now there are no jungles and we have to rely on farms for our livelihood.It is the duty of the government to provide us with resources so that we will live a dignified life.
While elaborate discussion on globalisation, privatisation and transnational finance was taking place during the early nineties , a group of adivasis fought a silent battle against vested interests and power structures in Ahmednagar district of Maharashtra state. It was a challenge to the government’s effort to divest natural resources from the weaker sections and enrich the global partners and rich landlords. Even though the organised struggle lost the magnitude it had in its initial stage, the determination of these tribals who withstood attacks from local landlords, harassment from police and state machineries, threats to activists and the burning of huts is testimony that everything is not lost.
History of the struggle
The movement which began in 1994 was a response to the decision of the government of Maharashtra to dissolve the Maharashtra State Farming Corporation (MSFC), a state-owned enterprise, and give part of the land to the former owners of the land and the rest to multinational seed companies.. The landless adivasis in this area have been depending on these lands for a number of years, even before the corporation came into existence. The corporation could cultivate hardly half of its land and the thorny trees (firangee babool) which grew on these lands became a blessing in disguise for these adivasis especially when there were no employment opportunities . For many of them, firewood collection from these lands was more profitable than farm labour.
Adivasis clearing the thorny bushes in a govt.fallow land
A number of occupations had already taken place even before the movement began. When the movement began, large tracts of wasteland in Kopergaon and Shrirampur talukas and some parts in the newly formed Rahata taluka were occupied by adivasis and nomadic tribes by clearing up the thorny bushes and bringing them under cultivation. There were a few dalits and landless labourers from other communities who joined the movement. However, more than 90% of the people involved in the movement were adivasis.
The movement had reached its peak in its initial stages itself. However, fissures began due to the composition of the committee which managed the movement. There were personality clashes.Members of the the left party who were in the committee had its own agenda, the dalit groups their own and the adivasis had a very poor leadership. A downfall in the organisational strength was imminent and unavoidable. What remained was a group of adivasis and a few dalits strongly united and determined to fight upto the hilt under the leadership of Pradeep Dushing.A Committee was formed by the the leaders of each hamlet and this Committee which was called Bhumi Hukka Andolan Samitee , managed the affairs of the movement.
Harassment from the state administration poured in, abundantly coupled with atrocities from unfriendly landlords who had an eye on the government land. A few huts were destroyed in the initial stages. Confrontation with police and landlords became a regular feature of the movement. A large number of activists left the movement and the remaining had to face severe hardships. The leader of the movement Pradeep Dushing had twelve false cases pending against him. But the movement continued with the same determination as it had at the initial stage.
Consolidation of efforts
Since many adivasis had not made a collective demand for the government lands,there was a strong suggestion in the meetings that there should be a collective effort to cultivate the waste lands under the custody of MSFC.This decision coincide with the decision o f the government of Maharashtra to give the MSFC land to the Khandakaris. To establish a claim of adivasi on the waste land it was decided that the collective campaign would start off at Shingva on December 18th 1995 in the presence of the leader of Adivasi Sangram Parishad..This was with a view to consolidate various efforts at different villages.However he did not turn up on the crucial day.The discontented people decided to start the campaign on their own with Pradeep Dushing taking the first initiative at Shingva. The adivasis began to put up small huts in the lands under their custody.
Large tracts of fallow land was brought under cultivation by adivasis .There were also a few new occupation of land in Malawadi Undirgaon Khairee Chitalee Puntamba,Rustapur,Shingva,Savlivihir, Shirdi,Na.Pa.Wadi,Kokantan.There were number of adivasis who had come from neigbouring villages to occupy these lands
Methods of struggle
There has been no preplanned strategy or methodology for the struggle.Nor was there any replication of strategies used elsewhere.The struggle was mainly an error learning process.The participants of the struggle would chalk out the various strategies that had to be used as and when the need arises.
On the whole we have been using the following methods
a) Occupying the land
The primary concern was to occupy the land and cultivate it.This has been a smooth process.There were a few thousand new occupation after our organized struggle began.Clearing of the thorny bushes and selling the firewood to make a leaving was done collectively.Each of the occupant was allotted 4-5 acres of land.The allocation was done by the local community itself. There was a considerable degree of sharing of resources in the initial stages.
Bhumi Hukka Andolan had been making various representations and demostrations to bring its demand before the government of Maharasthra.There were two morchas to the Collecotor’s office,one to the Mantralaya at Mumbai,one at Nagpur when the Assembly was on and a number them to Tahasil offices at Kopergaon,Shrirampur and Rahata.There were also a few rusta roko. The organisation went on hunger strikes six times to press for its demands.There were also dharnas at various places.The andolan had been regularly sending applications to various authorities to demand for land.A non-violent process was accepted without adopting it formally.
a) Writ petitions
b) Cases in the lower courts
Besides the democratic processes ,the andolan also had been fighting legal battle as well .A writ petition was file in the Bombay High Court at its Aurangabad Bench requesting the Court to direct the government of Maharashtra to look into the demands of Bhumi Hukka Andolan.A favourable order was procured by the andolan and the government officials did a panchnama of many of the occupations.Many more panchnama are yet to be done even though applications were given.
A number of atrocity cases are filed in Rahata Court after the police failed to register cases of atrocities against the tribals.
The grounds on which the movement approched the High Court were the following.
1.The land under the custody of the adivasis is government waste lands – as per records maintained by the Revenue Department.
2.The said land was acquired by the government of Maharashtra under the Ceiling Act 1961 and declared surplus land- as per records maintained by the Revenue Department
3,The adivasis have occupied the government waste land before 1990 and they should be given the landright as per the GR dt..28-11-1991 regarding encroachment.
b) Cases in the lower courts
Adivasis had to file a number of cases against the landlords and the state officials whenever there was an act of atrocity against them.The police officials usually do not attend to the cases filed by the adivasis.They are often beneficiaries of favours from the land lords and the government officials.After repeated complaints,both oral and oral,the adivasis are forced to file private complaints.
Learnings from the legal battle.
It may be worth noting here some of the painful lessons we learnt during the legal battle.
a) It is a very costly venture
b) It is very lengthy and time consuming process
c) Very difficult to collate the facts.
d) The local lawyers are more often more harmful than the adversary itself.
Despite the above dampeners,we had been filing private complaints.This strategy has been used as a deterrent.
Attrocities and harassment
The adivasis who had occupied the government land had been facing attrocities of various kinds. There were destruction of huts and threats from the land lord who had eye on the same land.Such incidents took place in Rui,Kokantan, ,Rustapur,Shingva Savlivihir.Large number of complaints were made against such persons but the adivasis had always been the losers.The worst of such attack was when 4 women including Indubai Manjre who was killed in the police firing, were brutally attacked by landlords at Shingva in 1999.All their huts were burnt down.
There were also harasssment from the MSFC.A large number of false cases were filed by them with the help of police against the adivasis and activists.There were 10 such cases against Pradeep Dushing and 6 cases against some of the adivasis who occupied the land.
A number of attrocities had been reported to NHRC,Amnesty International ,AHRC and to various human right organisations.
The organisation is managed by a Samitee comprising of 11 members.Eventhogh Pradeep was not officially elected as the President he became the de facto president because of the work he was doing.He had been carrying out all the official correspondence with the government officials. All the organisations matters were discussed in the monthly meeting of the Samitee.After the death of Pradeep Dushing ,three convenors manage the day today activities of the movement.But major decisions are taken at the monthly meeting of the Samitee.
The activists of the movement were also involved in imparting education to the children who could not attend the regular schools.There are 12 such centres managed by the activists who were trained over the period of time.However,because most of them who manage such centres are casual labourers,due to lack of payment many such centres get interrupted occasionally.
Women’s groups were also formed with the intention of starting income generation programmes.Three such active groups with a centralised production unit came into operations.Again,here too problems have cropped up and such activities have become economically unviable.
It may noted that a large number of adivasis have stopped cultivating their lands after the firing at Puntamba .However,they have not given up the land as such.Their claim continues.Moreover, due lack of adequate rains and non-availability of equipments many do not cultivate the land on time.
Their political involvement in the societal matters begins and ends during the election period unlike the dalit community which is politically more powerful,however disorganized they may be.Weak organizational phenomenon is corroborative of their economic conditions and both these factors indicate bi-way causality.
A collective voice of this community against injustice,oppression and neglect was unheard of in this area and it would have been almost an impossible dream if the land issue had not brought together the community under one banner . The decision of the adivasis to break the shackles of oppression was translated into a reality with the formation of Bhumi Hukka Andolan.
Other supplementary activities
A large number of demonstrations at various government establishments, road blocks, hunger strikes etc were the usual pattern of bringing the issue into the limelight. Youth training programmes had a limited but desired effect. A few youth have taken up the responsibility of organising village-level meetings. Women activists were trained locally to manage centers for the adivasi children in the remote hamlets.There were thirteen such centers where adivasi children sing and play under the trees and huts and simultaneously learn the basics.The verdant fields,the rustic cultural milieu, willows and valleys, bushes and bowers ,are all teachers in these experimental and experiential learning centers. The teachers are trained not to teach.The learning system which is being evolved still at its embryonic stage.The women who manage the centers are mostly adivasis and have hardly studied beyond seventh standard. Women’s Self Help Groups are also formed and on the fateful day of the police firing , some activists had come to Puntamba to open their first bank account of the SHG.
Attrocities on Adivasis
Atrocities on tribals had been taking place unabated and a constant fear of the landlords has gradually crept into the marrows of their lives and hence into their culture.Acceptance of murder of a fellow being as part of the right of the landlords,has been gradually gaining grounds. One is often confronted with large number of cases of atrocities against like murder,attack etc either by state or landlords. However, there is a more serious kind of atrocity in the form of inaction on the part of the state when the adivasis go with a complaint. Infact, atrocities through inaction is more rampant than atrocities through action.A few incidents may be narrated below.They are illustrative and not exhaustive.
The gruesome murder of an adivasi at Shirdi and the subsequent cover-up of the incident by the landlord with the assistance of the police is a case yet to be investigated. Despite protest rallies and hunger strikes, the police department was still avoiding a full-fledged investigation. As a last resort we approached the High Court with writ petition and the matter is in the court.
The attack on a hamlet at Shingva in Kopergaon Taluka by landlords had sent shudders through almost all the adivasi hamlets that are situated in the government wastelands. On June 11, 1999, a crowd of landlords from Shingva village attacked the settlement of the tribals on the outskirts of the village. The attack took place at night. There were only women and children. Their eight huts were burnt, three women brutally attacked with axe and sticks and their hands and legs were broken and were thrown on the roadside and in the farm. They lay there in the rain the whole night, even though the police visited the place immediately after the incident. One of the women wounded seriously was Indubai Manjre who died in the police firing on 25th June.
There was still another murder of an adivasi near Kopergaon in April 2001 and when Pradeep Dushing on behalf of Bhumi Hukka Andolan went to Kopergaon Police station to make complaint,the police refused to take the complaint.The complaint was later sent to DSP Ahmednagar.The matter is yet to be investigated and one is sure that it will never be investigated.
There was adivasi at Puntamba whose household items were confiscated and kept almost like a slave for thirty years by a landlord and when he made a complaint the matter was hushed up by paying a paltry sum.There is another adivasi family near Kopergaon,which is still kept bonded. The husband fled the site and the landlord is still searching for him.The wife is allowed to go the market but the children are not allowed to go out. She is not allowed to speak even to her own relatives in the workplace. Pradeep Dushing ,a few days before his death approached the lawyer and asked him how the family can be released and that work too remained uncompleted.
Just a few days before the firing incident at Puntamba ,a number of huts near Shingva were destroyed by landlords.A complaint was filed at Shirdi police station and no action was taken by the police.The adivasis in that hamlet had to leave the huts and move out because of constant fear.
One of the nightmarish aspect of the movement was the management of cases as large number of cases on the occupants started piling up at Kopergaon Court. Even bailing out the arrested was problematic since it was difficult to get sureties for the adivasis. The landed class were reluctant to be guarantors and demanded money in certain cases. Attending the court frequently for various cases became a millstone around the neck of adivasis.Harassing the adivasis through court cases became an entertainment for the state authorities.
Bhumi Hukka Andolan Samitee had been toying with the idea of filing a writ petition but with no avail. There were very few records to show that the occupations were prior to 1990.Collating the available data was a tedious and slow process. The court expenses were formidable.A sympathetic lawyer had to be found.The process was slow but continuous.
Adv.Irfan Engineer rendered invaluable legal service at this jucture.He went through the records,meticulously prepared a tentative draft for the petition despite the fact that he was quite skeptic because of the paucity of records.He also visited most of the hamlets where occupation had taken place.He also recommended our case to Adv. Praveen Wagh of Aurgangabad who prepared the final draft of the Petition.
The High court Order
The order passed by the High Court was almost a pleasant surprise for the adivasis. Despite the fact that the order was passed in January 2001,the government authorities were slow to act. After a month, around two hundred adivasis submitted application at the Tahasil office asking them to follow the High Court order and carry out enquiries regarding their occupations. More and more applications started piling up at the Tahasil office. The direction by the High Court that the judgment by Supreme Court should be followed gave relief to the adivasis and boosted up the morale of the movement.The Supreme Court judgement prohibits any eviction of occupations of government wastelands by adivasis before their demands are fully examined.
It was in connection with the High Court order and subsequent applications made by the adivasis to the Tahasildar,that an untoward incident took place at Rahata.One of the activists,John.PA went to ask the tahasildar why a number of applications of the adivasis were not accepted eventhough the similar applications were accepted earlier. . The Tahasildar,shouted at John and asked the police to put him behind the bars and was pushed out of the office by the employees.
The adivasis did not take this action by the Tahasildar lightly and decided to protest against such intimidating tactics of the authorities. Moreocver,they also wanted to know why the Tahasiladar is not taking action on their applications.An indefinite hungerstrike at his office had the desired effect.There was written apology on the part of the Tahasildar and he agreed to do the enquiry regarding the land occupation.
Eventhough the dates of enquiry were given in writing the authorities did not turn up on the prescribed day at Puntamba .The patient adivasis came on the next day and waited till 12 noon. The authorities did not turn up. The agitated adivasis locked up the Talati office with two officials insided Then the authorities turned up and all the enquiries were carried out subsequently.
It was with all these heavy burden of atrocities and humiliation that the community survived for the past years. It was on 19th June 2001 that the adivasis had another bitter taste of atrocity.A congress leader molested a tribal girl and beat up an adivasi youth and threatened the others with sharp weapon if they made a complaint. The girl’s father made a complaint at the Puntamba police station but the police asked the parents to take the girl away to some other place instead of taking action against the culprit. On the next day when the parents and relatives approached Reena John to help them to complain at Rahata Police station,the brother and father of the accused threatened them of dire consequence.After the complaint was made on 19th.the accused was arrested immediately. On the next day,about 15 adivasi took refuge at Reena’s house because further threat was given by the parents of the accused. The matter was immediately communicated to the Puntamba police station,Rahata Police Station,DSP Ahmednagar,IG of police at Nashik and asked them to provide protection but for five hours there had been no action from the police.One constable came home and assured the adivasis that nothing will happen to them and after an hour two police came and said that Reena’s husband is causing tension in the hamlet.Despite all the complaints, no protection or security was provided.Within a day the accused was released on bail and the adivasis were petrified .It was later known that the accused had influenced the police and the formal procedures were not followed by the police in presenting the case at the court and the judge released him on bail despite the fact that the girl was minor and the Attrocities Act was applied.
There was another aspect to the incident. The accused in the molestation case was associated with Bhumi Hukka Andolan .He belonged to the maratha community. He proved to be a serious worker in the initial stages and formed an impeccable pair with Pradeep Dushing. Eventhough the Samitee took major decisions,both Pradeep and the accused, managed the day to day affairs of the movement.However,the accused began to extort money from the tribals and collected money on behalf of the andolan but kept it with himself. He even pilfered receipt books and distributed them surreptitiously to some tribal hamlets.The adivasis had also complained that he had been harassing some of the women.Because of all these,.Bhumi Hukka Andolan Samitee disassociated itself from the accused. Meanwhile,many tribals were threatened to be evicted if they did not pay him whenever he demanded money from them.This pent up feeling kept surfacing in many of the Samitee meetings .
It was in this background that Pradeep Dushing was informed that he would be arrested for his involvment in the land movement.This irritated the adivasis further. On 24th June they have decided to take a rally to the Puntamba police station and present a memorandum.The main demands were that the adivasis need protection,the accused should be punished and the land which they have occupied should be given to them.Puntamba is the heartland of landlords who demand the MSFC land and some slogans were against the atrocities of these landlords. The adivasis used drums,shouted slogans carried sticks and reached the police station.
Majority of people in the rally were women.A few men were at the tail end of the rally which had an approximate strength of 300.As soon as they reached the police station Indubai Manjre told the police that they should be allowed to enter the station campus.Before she could negotiate the police started beating them up Women were mercilessly beaten up by male police and the the crowd was dispersed.Without any warning,without tear gas,without firing in the air ,the police started firing indiscriminately at the crowd. When Pradeep and Indubai fled the scene and took shelter in a school which is about 200 metres away.Two constables went behind them.Meanwhile Pradeep was hidden by his wife and two other women.The police pulled him out , fired at his lower abdomen within a distance of four feet.Indubai was also similary shot at pointblank range.Pradeep’s wife was dragged away and was not allowed to go to her dying husband.Reena rushed to see Pradeep and Pradeep’s last words were “Satpute called me by name and killed me”.Satpute is a constable posted at Puntamba police outpost.
The legal aspect of the land in question
The Chief Minister of Maharashtra has declared that the State Government moved a Bill in the Maharashtra State Legislative Assembly on 20th Julay 20001 to amend the Maharashtra Agricultural Lands (Ceiling on Holdings)Act, 1961.(Maharashtra Act No.XXVII of 1961), to enable the State Government to return the surplus lands taken over from the Joint Stock Sugar Companies to the ex-lessors up to ceiling limit area. Administrative approval of the Home Ministry of government of India was obtained to move this Bill. The original Maharashtra Agricultural Land (Ceiling on Holdings )Act, 1961 and subsequent major amendments to it have been placed in the IXth Schedule of the Constitution.The Amended Act was given President’s assent on 22nd april 2003 .This New Act will affect the right to livelihood of a very large number of agricultral labourers , men and women belonging landless families of scheduled castes, scheduled tribes and nomadic tribes and other backward classes out of which 60 % are women .These were the people who are supposed to be the beneficiaries of the original Agricultural Lands (Ceilings on Holdings) Act,1961.
The original Maharashtra Act No. XXVII of 1961 , was placed on the Statute Book, for securing the laudable object of “distribution of agricultural land as best to sub serve the common good.”The preamble of the Act proclaimed that it provided for the distribution of the surplus land to the landless and other persons. This original Act was amended by Maharashtra Act No. XXI of 1975 by which the Ceiling limit was lowered. The preamble to this amendment states that “it is now expedient to lower the Ceiling limit for making available additional land as surplus, so as to secure a still more equitable distribution of land and for the purpose of removing economic disparity and thereby for assisting more effectively landless and other persons. This amendment proclaimed to prevent “the concentration of means of agricultural production and wealth to the commons detriment”. Section 2 of this Amendment declared that provisions of this Act are enacted in pursuance of Article 31-C of the Constitution of India for giving effect policy of the state towards securing the principles specified in clauses (b) and (c) of Article 39 of the Constitution of India When the President of India signed the amendments on are given your assent it was a step towards the direction of defeating these very laudable objects, stated in the preamble of the Act.
Under the original Maharahstra Agricultural Land (Ceiling on Holdings ) Act ,1961 land measuring 85637 acres out of which 80% was perennially irrigated held by 13 joint stock sugar companies was declared surplus, and it was handed over to the Maharashtra State Faring Corporation Ltd., A State Public Sector undertaking (MSFC) for further cultivation along with all the 25000 permanent and daily rated agricultural workers with continuity of service and other benefits Out of the total land mass 35,910 acres was previously owned by these 13 joint stock Sugar Companies while 49,727 acres were taken on lease by these companies from 4015 landlords on long term basis for fifty or more years. Sugarcane was the main crop taken by the sugar companies on these lands. The Act was amended in 1970 and was given assent by the President of India . By these amended Act, the MSFC was granted the entire land on permanent basis . This land was vested in State Government as per the provisions of section 21 of the Maharashtra Agricultural Lands (Ceiling on Holding )Act 1961 free from all encumbrance.
This amendment also made a provision to enable the State Government to grant a part of this land for self cultivation to the persons who had previously leased their land to the industrial undertaking from who the surplus land was taken over by the State of Maharashtra on certain terms and conditions laid down therein. It was provided in amended sub section 3 of Section 28-1AA .that “The State Government may, subject to provisions of sub-section 4 and 5 , after considering the vies of the persons interested in the land referred to in subsection 1 also grant a part of such land to a person who previously leased land to the undertakings whose net annual income from all sources does not exceed Rs. 4,000 and who (not being public trust) requires that land for personal cultivation subject to the terms and conditions laid down therein”.
The state Government in pursuance of sub section 28-1 AA handed over an area of 14,261 acres of land 2067 persons who were ex-landlords.The total number of ex-lessors as it stood on the appointed day ie.January 1962 was 4015.The remaining 1408 ex-lessors had applied for grant of the land but these applications were rejected by the state government after following the due process of law and after proper hearing, after giving them fullest opportunity to participate in the enquiry. This leads to the obvious conclusion that there was no substance in their claims. Now by way of the proposed amendments, the previous decision of the state government denying the alleged claims of the ex-lessors after quasi judicial enquiry and confirmed by various tribunals and High Court are sought to be reversed with the intention of returning the, excess land which is now vested in the state government permanently .
All the small and medium sized landlords were granted land during the seventies for self cultivation. However, almost half of them have sold or disposed of the land and most of the rest do not personally cultivate the land . These ex-lessors’ forefathers were not interested in cultivating the land or were unable to cultivate the land personally and for this reason they transferred this land to the companies on the long term leases.
It should be noted that the MSFC has already paid the occupancy price in full as demanded by the State Government. In turn, State government has already paid the full amount of compensation to these ex-lessors under chapter 5 of the original Act. However, the state government has deliberately not made appropriate book entries to this effect during last 17 years ever after the payment of occupancy price. All this has been admitted by Revenue and Forest Department, Government of Maharasthra through the affidavit dated 18th July 1998 of one of its officers, Shri .S.K Jondhale.
The state government is now taking a retrograde step by giving encouragement to the zamindari system and to the lost claims.
The total land now in possession of the MSFC is 69559 acres out of which 20,444 is waste land out of which 8404 is under building The original boundaries of the individual land is not existing now.The government proposes to return 33,000 acres to the ex lessors.Out of the remaining 16000 acres hardly 50% is irrigated.
The Amendment also seeks to enable the Government to withdraw the entire land from the MSFC and grant any area of land now belonging to the Corporation for any “public purpose “.The term public purpose can be misused
Eviction and Attrocities
The adivasis and dalits have been looked upon as a threat factor ever since they began to occupy the government lands. Evictions and destruction of the huts were taking place right from the beginning. Way back in 1987 the first atrocity over the adivasis took place in Rustapur village. The landlords wanted them to leave the land and go.However, they stayed on.Bansi Salunkhe and Vishnu Salunkhe were beaten up in 1993 and they filed a complaint in the Rahata Police station.However, the police did not take any action.After the organization was formed, the first burning of the huts took place in 1995 at Savlivihir.Attrocity case was filed and the landlord was arrested. Compensation was granted to the old lady whose hut was burnt.However,the case subsequently failed because the landlord could pressurize the tribal witnesses.
There was no large scale eviction by the government forces till 2003. On 21 July, members of an adivasi community were forcibly evicted from their homes in Puntamba village and surrounding areas in the Ahmednagar district of Maharashtra. Around 50 huts and several acres of crops were destroyed by officials of the Maharashtra State Farming Corporation (MSFC), accompanied by up to 100 police officials. An appeal regarding their rights to the land, which was pending, was ignored by the officials carrying out the evictions. During the action at least one activist of the Adivasi Bhoomi Hakka Andolan (Tribal Land Rights Movement) was placed in preventive detention by police. The findings of a police investigation into the complaints filed by adivasis concerning the destruction of their homes remained unknown at the end of the year. In recent years a number of incidents have been reported where adivasis and activists working with them have faced harassment from local landowners and officials of the MSFC, including destruction of their property, verbal and physical abuse, arbitrary arrest and beating in police custody. While police have registered complaints against adivasis by officials and landowners, they have regularly refused to register complaints made by adivasis or to investigate their allegations of harassment.
The latest situation
An order which was delivered in the court of Nashik Divisional Revenue Commissioner has put the tribals and lawyers in a fix.The appeal was made to the Revenue Commissioner because the District Collector,in pursuance of our application for the regularization of our occupation,ruled that the land can not be given to us because the land belonged to the State Farming Corporation. We contented that the owner of the land is the State and it is fallow and we should be covered by the Government resolution of 1991 which says that the encroachment made by landless adivasis on government waste land should be regularized.The Revenue commissioner,in all his wisdom and after a considerable time ruled that the land belonged to the Forest department and hence it can not be distributed.A revision petition is filed with the Revenue Commissioner stating that there is a mistake of facts.
The huts continue to be destroyed without any notice.Still the people do not leave their land.
However, with the eviction of the adivasis and the subsequent destruction of all their crops changed the situation substantially.There is shortage of food among the adivasis in the past two years and there is malnutrition among the children.There is also uigration of the families to the brick kilns and for sugarcane cutting.
The tribals have to face the brunt of uncertain climatic conditions.
Adequate rain fall can ensure sufficient food grains for them .But Ahmednagar is a drought prone region.Most of the time the monsoon comes late and by the time it comes,the season for sowing Bajri would be gone.They have to depend then on Jowar.If there is no sufficient rainfall,the crop fails.This reduces the prospects of obtaining grains during the time of harvesting.
There are too many odds against us .The court cases are one of the most burdensome thing for the movement.There are judgments against the tribals.There are trials.There are pending cases which they have to attend regularly.
The organization has also become weak because of migration.Seasonal migration takes place due to lack of rains.Migration also take place due to frequent demolitions.