Marathwada region of Maharashtra
In the Marathwada region of Maharashtra, grazing lands, traditionally referred to as gairan cover 2,31,300 ha, which is, 3.6% of the total geographic area of 64,813 sq.km. On an average, each village has 230 ha of gairan land. Besides gairan other common lands (temple lands, revenue lands, gifted vatani lands of the dalits, fertile patches around changing river basins, etc) also exist in this area.
The landless poor in this region (mostly dalits and pardhi tribes) get fuel and fodder from the gairan land. In the feudal and caste ridden society of Marathwada, where the Marathas were the land owning caste, the dalit community depended completely on agriculture labour for their livelihood but owned no land. This dependency pushed them to the bottom of the economic structure.
While gairan lands w ere brought under the management of the gram panchayats in 1956, it was during the Nizam’s rule that the dalits and pardhis started cultivation on gairan land. The earliest gairan possessions date back to 1952-53. With growing awareness of rights among dalits, they began to aspire for more sustainable and permanent livelihood mechanisms. Since purchase of arable land was out of the question for economic reasons, the only option left was cultivation on the gairan land, which were largely non-private. (This was termed as ‘encroachment’ as they had no legal right to possess the lands.)
The encroachments in Marathwada by the dalits were inspired by the Jabran Jot (forcible cultivation) movement of the 1960s in which the tribals of Chandrapur district encroached on forest lands after being driven out of their own lands. The political influence of Ambedkar on dalits was another force behind the upsurge for land rights. This was the time when provisions for the upliftment of dalits made in the Constitution and in the five-year plans, were turning futile.
The initial cases of dalits possessing gairan land met with severe resistance from the landed communities accompanied by violence and bloodshed.
By 1991, with support from social activists, the movement had become strong enough for the state government to regularise encroachments on gairan land of 23,938 people of whom 19,852 were dalits. Since then, several GRs have been passed to give legal entitlements of land (pattas) to dalit labourers. However, these GRs have remained mostly on paper. The disillusionment that set in after the 1991 GR, which failed to meet the demands, gave rise to a land struggle in Marathwada in the post-1990s.
Emergence of Jamin Adhikar Andolan
Activist groups looked at the reassurances given by the government from time to time as an attempt to slow down the momentum of the land struggle in the state. Dalit leaders involved in the land struggle began to realise that they must work together to advocate the rights of the landless. Around the year 2000, there were several peoples’ organisations and NGOs in Marathwada working with dalits. Through the process of alliance building, informal meetings and consultations, the Marathwada Lok Vikas Manch (MLVM), with a majority dalit membership, was formed. MLVM became instrumental in focusing attention on the issue of gairan.
Around the same time, the Manaviya Hakka Abhiyaan (Campaign for Human Rights or CHR) working for dalit human rights also took up this issue.
‘Availability of gairans’ and ‘stressed livelihoods of dalits’ was on the agenda of all associated activist groups in both these networks. A composite strategy started appearing. It is against this background that the Jamin Adhikar Andolan (JAA) was formed. JAA was an outcome of a two-year long process of alliance building.
JAA is advocating a uniform land reform policy to ensure land entitlement to all the landless, and increased government investment in natural resources development to enhance the livelihood options of the poor and the marginalised.
Some of the initiatives of JAA in Marathwada include:
- Mobilising the landless of all castes and religions in this struggle.
- sensitising panchayats and promoting candidates from backward and minority communities to get elected in local governance.
- promoting women’s ownership over land.
- sensitising local governance officials.
- facilitating the process of land verification by the talathi besides filing complains of atrocities.
- creating a cadre of barefoot activists in districts to provide training and for mobilising.
- making use of the GRs of 1991 and 1992 to demand regularisation of land titles in the name of the landless.