Monday, December 28, 2009

Following the Rule of law means end of Justice?

Salute to the spirit of struggle of Subedar Jasram

By Vidya Bhushan Rawat

As I write this tribute to a very respected friend who looked to me to get the justice for over 150 landless Dalit families in Shaheed Udham Singh Nagar, for over 20 years. It was way back in 1994 when Subedar Jasram met me in Delhi at Ambedkar Bhavan. It was a meeting called by a friend when Subedar narrated story of horror in the Tarai region of Uttar-Pradesh. Afterwards, we got in touch regularly watching and reviewing the situation in that region where land ceiling laws were never implemented and where the terror of certain communities are still the order of the day.

We all know how difficult it is to fight for land battle in this region where a padyatra conducted by us last year was met with spying of our activities and threatening the poor villagers of dire consequences. The threat did not end at the grassroots, it came to me many time on my mails and various comments at my blogs too. In 1995, when some of us went from Delhi to investigate the case and assure the villagers that we are working with them, the encroachers of the land, attacked us for ‘inciting’ the ‘harijans’, a term deliberately used to describe the Dalits. Subsequently, the threats continued and when they did not work, there were efforts for co-option and finally the economic boycott of the Dalits.

Each activity was reported to not only the courts, but to the governments of the days in the form of representations to political parties and autonomous institutions yet nothing yielded result. Led by both Maywati and Mulayam Singh Yadav, the governments in Uttar-Pradesh did not do anything. Contrary to this, they played with those who had really exploited the Dalits, the powerful land mafia in the region. Later, when Uttarakhand state came into being, the condition of Dalits worsened in this region as the government, the bureaucracy did not work to help them.

To those who do not know the background of this, I would like to inform that, over 1167 acres of land in possession of M/s Escorts Farms Limited by declared as surplus land by the Commissioner of Nainital in 1990s. Nobody ever take notice of it as the land was being tilled by about 150 Dalit families who had developed ‘Ambedkar Gaon, near Hari nagar. Several years later, when the land became cultivable by seer hard work of the Dalits, the owners of M/s Escorts Farms Limited realized that the land should now be cleared. With the help of police and local administration they not only bulldozed the community but put them behind the bar for charges of illegal occupation of land and trying to disturb peace. Cases were filed in local courts. Commission of inquiries suggested that the Dalits were tilling the land and had some cemented structure also, but the company always tried to say that nothing existed. In a clever and manipulative way, it challenged the government’s ceiling order in the high court to make it a case between the government and the company. It was natural but with efforts, the Allahabad High Court decided to hear the cases of the Dalits as a grieving party.

In 1997, Allahabad High Court’s judgment upheld the order of the Commissioner of Kumaon, Nainital and posed a fine of Rs ten lakh on the company to compensate the government. It also asked the government to suitably rehabilitate the Dalits.

The government never took control of it. I had personally been involved in the entire exercise. From the chief ministers to senior leaders, we searched every option. The National Human Rights Commission, SC-ST Commission and every avenue in this ‘liberal’ democracy was used but to no avail. The government never took over the land. Interestingly to our disgust, the lords of the company were selling the land illegally to people outside the state. Nobody can procure land in Uttarakhand yet the number of immigrants from other states have been increasing but our governments do not understand this. Most of them are poor farmers from Punjab who have been lured for big land in this region. They end up in nothing as they can not really legally own it.

The aggrieved party went to the Supreme Court and in February 2004, it lost the case there. The two judge bench upheld Allahabad High Court order yet the authorities decided not to act on it. Again, we had the same exercise asking the political leadership to act. Congress party had come to power at the centre in May 2004 and Sonia Gandhi became chairperson of National Integration Council. Representation were made to her but nothing happened. Instead, the honorable chief minister of Uttarakhand, Mr Narain Dutt Tiwari, found a noble way of implementing the court’s order. He first ordered demolition of the houses of encroachers and later when lot of noises were made by Akali Dal and other political parties including BJP and Bharatiya Kisan Union, that Sikhs were being targeted in Tarai, redistributed to the same land to people along with hefty compensation package. Finally, Subedar Jasram approached the Lokayukta for justice. Some of us informed him to find out the political solution rather then approaching the courts as it was too tidy and danger of being rejected. After two years of hearing, the Lokayukta of Uttarakhand, Justice S.Z.Raza submitted a report to state government indicting the revenue department and district magistrate of Shaheed Udham Singh Nagar for violating the Supreme Court order. When we challenged the government redistributing the land to those who the court called encroachers, the government rejected our plea. It said that it has a right to redistribute the ceiling surplus land according to its own choice and it can not be forced to distribute it in a particular way. We showed them the clauses of the Zamindari Abolition Act and also the clause of how the ceiling land should be redistributed after declaring surplus which clearly mentioned SC, ST, war widows etc. All those who were given land never came under this category but nothing happened. Based on the report of Lokayukta, we went to the Supreme Court where the petition is pending for final disposal.

This is a small side of a big story which has taken nearly 20 years and yet to get justice. Subedar Jasram, who was 85 years of age continued with this battle. Just four days before his death, I tried to speak to him. His family contacted me that he is in the last stage and was barely able to speak. I said that we will win this battle. He was an optimist. I never saw a person like him. He did not suffer from any ideological crisis. He wanted land for his people. He was very simple but true to his convictions. I know very well that every movement has to pass through it. Hungary stomachs can not wait for even a year. People used to contribute money but justice was not in our hand. People would blame him that he is not doing enough but what could we do. We did not have enough number to make a protest felt in Dehradun, or Nainital. Most of the Dalits there are immigrants and the upper caste dominated Uttarakhand simply has no time for them. Narain Dutt Tiwari, the honorable retired governor of Andhra Pradesh was instrumental in getting many outsiders huge benami land in this region. He simply did not act on any of our complaints. In fact, why should he alone, none were ready to act.

It was painful for old man to come to Delhi and walk kilometers and kilometers. He would complain to me that it was becoming difficult for him to walk now. For us finding lawyers were difficult. All those who claims to be champion of social justice, become typical lawyers when we go to them. It was difficult to convince the lawyers. They would go with their speed. For them every case is same. It does not matter whether it is delayed or not. I knew the pain of an activist. I know we feel disgruntled at the turn of event but at the home people would always ask: what is happening? When is the judgment coming? Many time, I felt whether we are cheating people for not fighting a big battle. I do not know what is big battle by asking people to pick up arms. I never believed in that as I know nobody has got anything out of it so far. All those fairy tales are good in red books only and not in real books. But definitely our record as a democracy does not shine.

These uncomfortable questions were regular for me. Once I approached a political friend of mine from the region to help ask his government to expedite the case and he promised to bring a set of ruling party leaders but for that we needed big mobilization of people. I declined saying that was not possible for me to arrange a huge political rally for him. It was a clear case of human rights violation and for resolving them, we do not need to bring a massive crowd. How can a minority community bring massive mobilization in India? I remember Baba Sahib’s prophetic words that a Gandhi can do fasting unto deaths for Muslims but not for the Dalits. Same thing is true today. The seculars do not get interested in Dalit cause. So they remain completely isolated and marginalized where their numbers are absolutely miniscule. That is the tragedy of India.

Subedar, during his battle lost his two sons and his wife. He was a rare gem of person who served his wife who was totally paralytic. He would talk to her and help her in emergencies unlike other ‘revolutionary’ males in India who are typical husbands at home while champion of liberalism outside. Whenever, I used to visit him, he would be sitting with his wife. She would ask me : ‘zamin to mil jayegi na’.. kya main dekh paoongi who din’.. ( hope I will get the land… can I see that day.. ) and the subedar would always remind her that people like me are always there with them.

Last year, we decided to do a Padyatra to carry on the battle and send a political message to those in powers to implement the court verdict. These government officials are simply anti Dalits and do not want to even negotiate. We were hounded every day by intelligence officials while the powerful mafia were after us, asking us to mend our ways. Subedar was very happy with our yatra. He promised to send his colleagues to our yatra. The age was catching him. And just two days before the yatra reached the village Harinagar, on December 28th, Subedar Jasram had a massive heart attack but he survived. I felt it was his spirit that survived him. We continued our padyatra in that difficult hour and culminated at his home. All of us met him and he realized that people from different regions were there for the padyatra. He felt bad as he wanted to greet each of us. That day, In realized that he had enough energy as none of the friends who met him that day felt that he would survive for long.

It was a miracle that the Subedar survived even after that. I had been updating him about our activities and about the court case. He was ever optimist of our efforts. He wanted to organize a big reception when the final order would come. Some time, I always felt that it was difficult to say no to people when they have hopes. Even a person like me who never felt much in these institutions had to believe in and do the best. Things were not in our hand and we could only do our best. The community was not there all the time. Many of them had died and many migrated. Most of the young children today have their children and narrate the horrifying image of that time. They have passed through one period. Rarely very few of them got educated. Subedar ensured that his grand children and daughter get educated, ofcourse, none of them had much with the movement.

Like every social activist, subedar too was quite alone at home. Some of his family people cared for him while other did not. Perhaps they felt that the man was giving too much time to villagers at their cost. Other felt his need for the land piece. I do not know what to say but some time I feel what one gets after following the constitution of this country. All of us who follow rule of law have to die without getting justice. Today, when I see tribal fighting their battle with gun, I do not know how to condemn them, I have a clear case in my own front, and waiting for justice and my beloved friends are leaving one by one without justice. There is no one to weep for all those who do not have a tag of big neta, abhineta or an educated intellectual. People like subedar Jasram, who contributed to the cause of their community, with a big heart remain unknown as those who write history only do parikrama around a few political leaders.. for them that is the final moment of empowerment but none of them dare to write that despite all these noise and slogan of empowerment, people still waiting for justice. What will be the compensation for those who lost their every thing ? Can any one return the life of those youngsters who lost their livelihood, their parents, their land and therefore their schooling?

For me, it is a personal failure. Though I am still optimist as our courts will do justice and the shameless political class will act on the cry of people, I am at loss of words for my inability to get things on time. One remains helpless in the heap of papers in the name of law. One remains pitied once you visit to a court. You are not at your own. You can only hope. I am sure the great services of Subedar jasram and his friends will not go in vain despite all these disappointments and shocks. The struggle for life will continue. Jai Bhim, Subedar, I salute your endless spirit. Hope it will inspire all of us and all those who have heard about his tireless efforts to get justice to his community. May be being a soldier, as well a Dalit, he had faith in country’s constitution. Subedar is no more and the wait is now more painful. Hope the pain does not convert into anger as Baba Saheb had predicted in his constituent assembly speech. The political class must ponder over, that if it continues to deny people justice, if our court become shelter of power brokers, then the oppressed communities will take law in their own hand and destroy everything that we do in the name of democracy. That would the saddest day for India as no body would have patience like me in the democratic values as people today are becoming more and more fed up with the current structure helping the status quoists and denying the oppressed their legitimate due to live with dignity.

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