Thursday, October 23, 2008

Secularism at stake : Need to isolate religious rights

Revivalism of religious rights is a challenge to democratic secular constitution

By Vidya Bhushan Rawat

Immediately after the Delhi bomb blast, the police as usual, claimed to have cracked the case by arresting several people in a raid at Batla House, in the South Delhi’s Jamia Nagar area. Vice Chancellor of Jamia Milia Islamia, Mushir-ul-Hasan, who was seen to be a villain in the community on his forthright comment on the prohibition of ‘ Satanic Verses’, became a hero as soon as he decided that the University would provide all the legal assistance to the alleged terrorists who were student of the University. While ‘seculars’ have applauded the case, the Hindutva affiliates are up in arm against this, terming it unconstitutional as well as appeasement of the Muslims.

I am not entering into this debate on what is right and what is wrong as some people have decided to become judgmental terming one community always wrong while other always feel that it is victimized without introspecting our own self. Prof. Mushirul Hasan recently said in a meeting in Delhi as why should Muslim always be answerable to everything that is happening around them. He was actually saying that why do we expect Muslims only to react when there are bomb blasts or there is a Fatwa. His question was that the debate liberal verses fundamentalist Muslims is a sham and nobody ever think of other communities in the same way. Have we ever talked of a liberal Hindu verses communal one? That question would not arise as the upper caste Hindus are always perceived to be liberal one. Prof Hasan suggests as why should Muslims in India be responsible for whatever happening elsewhere? Ofcourse, Muslims of India are not responsible for whatever is happening in Bangladesh, Pakistan or any other ‘Islamic’ country but definitely they can speak against the treatment that minorities gets in these countries. Let us not speak about ordinary Muslim who is working harder for his survival in this country but why should those who champion the cause of Muslims remain mute to such things. Are we so na├»ve to say that there is nothing common in South Asia and we remained neutral to things happening in our neighborhood even when majority of us have relations in Pakistan, Bangladesh, Nepal, Bhutan as well as Sri-Lanka. If the things in our neighbors do not affect us then Karunanidhi and entire Tamilnadu should not have felt the jitters because of the conditions of Tamils prevailing in Sri-Lanka.

Now, the debate revolves around the students who were picked up by the police as well as the encounter that was carried out by the Delhi police in Batla House. It is extremely unfortunate that today’s embedded media do not give the other side of the story. This CNNisation of the news and later pontification by the editors on their own story is a bit too much to digest. Much worst is the case when ‘breaking news’ appears and a reporter gets ‘confession’ from the ‘terrorist’. If we accept police confessions as the proof then why the Indian media and agencies are afraid of not accepting the same when an Indian prisoner in Pakistan confessed his hand in bombing.

Unfortunately, we are in the midst of an information war. Whether it is the Islamic sites or the Hindu fascists, every one is speaking to their own converts. And the biggest casualty here is the truth and freedom. Fact of the matter is that in this game of religious war, the common man, the poor and the women are at the receiving end. All talks of reforms are closed down as the main threat is then perceived from outside the community.

It is unfortunate that a legal aid given to a person is considered against the nation. One can disagree on the nature of support but one can not deny right to defense to those ‘alleged terrorists’. Ofcourse, I would hate it if people like Mulayan, Advani and Amar Singh jumps into the fray and sing the chorus. The political degeneration of the country is so much that none is going to believe in the truth. Hence every community should be vary of these power hungry politicians who are selling the country to the private parties, engineering communal and caste riots and then coming with great ideas for a secular idea. Sorry, in the state of affair, the credibility of our political class is so low that it gives strength to fundamentalist forces as they appear better than others. People easily ignore that corruption and dishonesty is not just in financial term but also in the ideological form.

As the elections season approaches we will witness continuous violence against the minorities in the country. Muslims are already in the receiving end and now the Christians are also being targeted systematically. The Hindutva propagandists have planned every thing well in advance and how to describe each of their action which has one agenda in different forms. The Muslims therefore are easily described as ‘terrorists’, suited to each one of us in India after George Bush’s notorious Islamic Fascism and ‘ either with us or our enemy’ statements. Christians, the blue eyed boy of Indian establishment are now at the receiving end. Despite churning out best Brahmins of the Hindutva brand today, the Christians face the dilemma of the political system in India. Surely, evangelism is part of Christianity but definitely there will always be violence on such cases as Hindutva’s targeting Christians is a threat to freedom and liberty of choosing one’s faith. It threaten the Dalits indirectly to be ware of such conversion to either to Christianity or Islam, else you will meet with the same fate.

Yet, Orissa’s violence can undoubtedly be termed as ethnic cleansing of the Christian minorities. That Sangh’s goons are roaming around, preaching hatred and killing people at their will shows how the Navin Patnayak’s administration has failed to protect the hapless Christians who happened to be Dalits. The Sangh parivar and its offshoot organizations have organized their hatred in the tribal dominated areas. From the very beginning the Sangh says that Lakshmananda was not killed by the Maoists despite their claim. Ofcourse, most of those who have been following such violence know that Maoists rarely make such claims and counter claim and in this case their claims are also surprising. Nevertheless, the government of Orissa’s pathetic helplessness reflects a mindset which gives an almost free hand to RSS and its affiliates to do things at their will.

Union Home Minister Shiv Raj Patil and his two colleagues have been miserable for the country. Patil had lost his Latur seat and was awarded the plum ministry for his loyalty to Gandhi family. If he was an efficient man, nobody would have objected to his cooption in the Ministry but he seems to be a Minister for nothing. Such sensitive department can not be left to just personal loyalists as country would have to pay a price for it.

If the home ministry had been strong enough to take action in each of these issues, the Sangh Parivar and its goons could not have got such freedom to assault any one at their will. Patil represent at best the duality of Congress party in dealing with the communal elements. Congress, which actually was a representative body of a majority of diverse Indian communities once upon a time despite its Brahmanical character slid in the decimation after 1980s as Indira Gandhi started using the upper caste Hindu sentiments and the first call was Congress’s role in subsequent elections in Jammu and Kashmir and then operation Blue Star in June 1984, when the government ordered Army assault at the Harmandir Saheb. It mobilized the Hindu population of the country despite the fact that Sikh were completely marginalized. None had bothered to wipe the tears of those Sikh families who became victim of this marginalization.

But the rulers have understood well that by making mockery of law and vilifying one community, you can easily come close to power and therefore there is always a danger in India which is the entry of brahmanical supremacy through various doors. Through, the Hindutva propaganda and vicious violence against minorities, through the congress in action which allow the Hindutva lunatics to carry on their threat to minorities and Congress than proclaiming their sole protector and thirdly, through the state apparatus which has completely been Hinduised in the name of terrorism and goes by the same way as have inherited from the British and finally through secular platform which look different from Congress but a motley group of disgruntled politicians mainly from the upper caste Hindu background, secularism for whom means sitting with an Imam Bukhari or some Holy priests who can cry against the Indian state and the government of the day . Secularism has other vanguards also in India. Whenever these things happen, we see the same faces at one platform swearing in the name of secularism and protecting ‘minorities’. Deve Gowda, the other day, said how much pained he was on the happenings against the minorities. One should have asked him the question if he had thought beyond his son’s interest in Karnataka state, BJP would not have played havoc with them. Yeren Naidu was there who had no words for the Sangh parivar and their activist. Rather, his focus was how Congress had engineered communal riots in Andhra. Mulayam Singh and Amar Singh are now the biggest champion of secularism as Bombay’s king Bal Thackeray has asked for a ban on Samajwadi party and asking Amar Singh to leave India. Amar Singh’s greatest friend and brother Amitabh Bachchan is one of the best friends of the Thackrays so one does not know what kind of ideology they belong to. So far, Indian secularism has always been of pampering communities through bad examples like issue of terrorism, uniform civil code, Shariat and so on. None of them have time to feel that secularism is participation in nation building and socio-cultural political life of the country. And therefore, any one who believes in secularism, must feel convinced that Muslims are one of the most vulnerable communities in India at the moment. A majority of them live in poverty, malnutrition and deep insecurity. There is a hidden biasness against them in the government and even in the secular circles. If the secular parties were so much concern including Mr Mulayam Singh and Deve Gowda, they should have been more worried about the common Muslims and not with the issues of giving certificate who is a terrorist and who is not. Instead, one would have thanked to ensure fair participation of Muslims in our administration, in police and paramilitary forces, in our industries as well as civil services. Alas, our politician would never venture to think as why Muslim participation in our power structure is reducing and that it need redressed. As long as this happen, only the caste Hindus will be the leaders of Muslims in the name of secularism and those Muslims who do not believe in these fundamentalist leaders will either be termed as liberals or terrorists.

India’s basic problem lies in this certification of what is terrorism and what is not. While the Advani and company want every Muslim to be arrested and hanged for the ‘blasphemy’ of challenging the Indian state, the Indian ‘secular’ parties and political activists, seems to have lost faith in the political structure. And in this, the fundamentalist grains the most because those who do not believe in democracy and secular values are actually the biggest beneficiary of the secular state.

The threat to Indian statehood is bigger and vital but the response has been mute and reactionary. Rather than proactive, it is becoming more in the form of symbols and so called unity of all the reactionaries who are outside the brahmancial reactions. So, it is becoming a fight between the Hindu reactionaries and all other reactionaries who do not like them. Can India survive a fight between different reactionaries? Where will be the common person and her interest? All these reactionaries are opposed to basic human rights, whether right to livelihood, right to choice and right to abort. They preach gospels and are against individual freedom and right to question religion.

Yes, these reactionaries only feed each other. They cry against the other except questioning their own misdeeds. The state of India has become a virtual enslave to these religious heads. It would have been greater if the Hindus, Muslims, Dalits, Sikhs, Christians demand for secular laws and secular values san the fundamentalist leaders. The longer the leadership goes to the religious fanatics pretending peace mongers, the more dangerous the entire issue of diversity. These priests actually do not fight a political battle but a battle of religious supremacy. They know the weaknesses of others but not ready to discuss their own issues. They scuttle all kind of reforms with in the communities and therefore this war of various religious identities in India is going to defeat people’s movement for reform. Secular groups must be vary of this and join hand in such a war where a common man can challenge the religious head of the community and even question him.

The other day, a few members of the catholic community met at Advani’s house. Some of them ‘discussed’ the growing tension between different religious and the answer was Advani’s condemnation of the rape of the nun. Are things so simple as our priests think? The goons of Sangh Parivar have been active in Orissa and they need to be tackled administratively by the government but here the Christian priests showing their spine to Advani and he in term is talking a dialogue between different communities. The problem is what is an administrative problem has been made a national problem and an ideological fight on the secular vision is completely been termed as communal problem. The hoodlums of the Hindutva are roaming free, taking course of action which they like and finally the political patronage.

It is important to understand the current crisis in India is self created by the Hindutva protagonists which in turn strengthen the similar forces elsewhere as the religious heads take over as the leader of the community. Now, one should ask the government what is the need to discuss about what happened in Adilabad. A shameful and most atrocious incident happened in Andhra Pradesh when a Muslim family of six was burnt alive by the Hindu militants and nothing happened. It is tragic that the government seems to be sleeping and the incidents just passed as we see so much from the secular gangs about Batla house simply because the things happened in Delhi and you make a good news but why we keep quiet on what happened in Adilabad which should have put all of us to shame and shock.

Many of our friends say that Muslims do not need to speak all the time. Why not? We all need to speak all the time against fundamentalism. Muslims are no exception. If we do not speak the space will be taken over by the fundamentalists gangs who need some enemies to fight with and if there is no enemy they will create one.

After the Batala House incident, a well known TV anchor wrote an article asking Muslims to ponder over as why they need to support terrorists when Jamia Milia teachers decided to speak. In democracy, we all need to be vigilant and if an incident like Batla House can happen in Delhi, you can not imagine what happen in other parts of the country. Indian media as well as activist-politicians are treading dangerous path. Here people are already being declared as terrorists according to their religion and hence none of the media person will dare to call Bajrang Dal a terrorist organization. Advani is a nationalist, so is Thackeray and others but if other do the same; they will be branded and questioned. But the interesting news has just appeared in the Indian Express today when for the first time the mainstream media has reported in its front paged item that behind the Malegaon and other blasts, the police believe the hand of Hindu Jagarn Manch. ( Indian Express, Delhi October 23, 2008). I am sure the next day there will be many ifs and buts and not all Hindus would be declared as ‘terrorists’. Question is why the entire community should be vilified for the act of a few if they happen to be from the community. Indian media and society will have to ponder over this before putting any question.

Normally, these ‘liberal’ Hindus are more dangerous. Often they put question as ‘we accept that every Muslim is not a terrorist but why every terrorist is a Muslim’. This question is often asked to me and my answer is simple. It depends on your definition. You have not called people who can burn a family in Adilabad or Ahemedabad as terrorist. You have not called those who raped the nun and killed her as terrorist. You do not call who start his Rathyatra with a trail of blood behind it, as terrorist. You do not even stop him from becoming a prominent minister. You talk of morality but for others as you have information and media with you.

Yes, we are living in time when each one of us is passive about our own issues and about own communities. We have documents, truths and everything about our communities. We want to sale that victimization mindset. And it is here we are getting nowhere. Those who do not read history will always misinterpret it as we only believe in what our forefathers have told us. That is the beginning of fundamentalism and radicalism in our self. Therefore the Hindu liberal intellect would always say as why no Muslim country is either secular or democratic. It wont understand that in Algeria and Turkey the military had always intervened to stop a democratically elected government in the name of secularism. That the Islamic fundamentalist groups had been winning elections in these countries providing ample fuel to ‘secular’ army to intervene in the interest of the nation. Can we think of such an intervention in India to stop the likes of Narendra Modi in the interest of the country? Why should the same journalists, writer ignore the vital fact that the secular regimes in the middle eastern countries were dictatorial in nature resulting in religious revivalism fully supported by the American regimes to counter the former Soviet regimes.

It is important to understand the issues in wider perspectives and not be judgmental simply because somebody has got a newspaper and a channel in his hand. Media, academics as well as activists in India need lot of introspection. We simply do not speak on issues but are divided on communities line, both simply justifying their own positions. None of them dare to speak and support the dissent with in their own communities. As most of our communities want to listen to only those ideas which they have been conditioned and writers and activist know that and therefore vilify others. The biggest victim of this calumny is free thought and human rights which are perhaps still far cry with in each of these communities. Our state just represents our existing mindset. Why should we pretend that a democratic India is secular India also? The dirt in the name of secularism need to be cleaned first. Those who take shelter in the name of secularism need to believe in its perception and practice otherwise India is heading for a Afghanistan kind of a situation where we all will be speaking for our respective communities and not for those whose rights are violated and dignity challenged. It is a grave challenge and we must think it over. Give a space to common man please do not make the religious thugs an alternative to what is happening among us. A country victim of religious hatred can not look again to the mindsets who have concealed hatred in their heart and pretended smiles on their faces when they meet for a photo session.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Another Nandigram in making

Chengara’s Dalit-Adivasis call to restore their fundamental rights

By Vidya Bhushan Rawat

Bharathi Sreedharan could not resist taking risk on her life through dense forest as her children suffered in hunger and starvation in the Chengara village which has been unconstitutionally and unethically blocked by the trade union gangs of all the political parties including the ruling CPI(M) in Kerala. Her agonizing face reflected the happenings inside the village as for more than two months; it is completely cut off from rest of the country. No outsider is allowed to venture into the village and no villager is allowed to come out of it. CPM’s goons attack people from the buses once they recognize that they have sympathies with Chengara people. Many families are on the verge of hunger death if in the next few days no arrangement of food supply is done. ‘They want us to get out of the place but we are determined, says Bharathi, we won’t allow them to take over the place. We are ready to face any eventuality’. We are ready to die for the cause of our children’.

Bharathi came hiding to get some ration from her brother. When the road is blocked from all the way, it is possible only through walking around 10 kilometers in the forest to come and reach the office and wait for him to be there at Laha Gopalan’s office who is the leader of ‘ Sadhu Jan Vimochana Samyukta Vedi’, the organization fighting for the land and livelihood rights of the Dalits and Adivasis in Chengara. It is remarkable that people have united in this struggle and are determined to sacrifice their lives for the land. Interestingly, it is for the first time, that Kerala is witnessing an assertive emerging Dalit Adivasi struggle independent of the influence of dominating communities irrespective of religion.

Gopalan hails from a trade union back ground as he worked in Electricity department and now swears by the legacy of both Baba Saheb Ambedkar and Ayyankali, another Dalit revolutionary from Kerala. The semi constructed office in Pattthanamthittha is a place where all the Dalit-Advasis in the Chengara struggle come and stay. According to Laha Gopalan, they ventured into the area some fourteen months back, as it was legally a government land which should have gone to the landless Dalit-Adivasis of Kerala. The government of Kerala was never interested in the land reform and whatever happened in the name of land reform was eyewash. The tragedy is that there are villages where the Dalits do not have land for even cremating their people. The issue of Dalits and tribal has been neglected by the national and state level parties and hence we decided to make our own destiny.

About 10 kilometer away towards Tiruwala lives the big family of Sabu who are five brothers. Each brother has a big family of his own to support. They have no land. Sabu and his wife have small tea shop. The number of children in the family and the small kitchen that they have for their survival tell the story as how the successive Kerala governments failed to give land to the Dalits. ‘ Sabu was happy that Chengara’s vast track could have provided him a source of independent living and some land for agriculture work. He went there with other families. The real assault came from the trade unions this year when people refused to leave their land. ‘ The union felt that they can coerce us to accept their issues but at the moment people are ready to die. They will commit mass suicide if police and other forces are sending to evict them. We are not ready to accept anything less than a decent land package for our children’, say Sabu. He adds that situation is worsening as there is no food, no water and no sanitation in the entire area. Particularly, it is becoming difficult for children and elderly people to stay. Because of the blockade, we can not provide emergency treatment to any of the villagers as vehicles are not allowed and there is every chance of a bloody fight if we come in touch with the trade union people. Children are facing the malnutrition as there is nothing to eat and drink. We can not go to market to buy milk and rice. Moreover, because of no work in the past two months, there is no money to buy anything’.

How come he is here in the village. ‘ Sir, the union people allowed us 5 days leaves during the Onam festivities. We were allowed to move in and out and hence I came here. I have overstayed here and hence it is difficult to go there because of blockade’. I can not speak to my relatives and friends there, I am really worried as if food is not provided to people soon, they will start dying soon. I am concerned about children and elderly people. They are completely cut off from the rest of the world. It is shameful.’

The seize of Chengara went off well until one day the government which was keen to revive its lease to Harrison Plantation decided that the Dalit and Adivasis could only be evicted if they push it through other routs which is ‘right to live’ issue of the 70 odd plantation workers who were working there. The issue is the Chengara’s tea plantation was already defunct years ago and hence to blame the current situation for the crisis is absolutely wrong. Harrison Plantation cannot use these 70 workers as a shield to deny land rights of the people. The tactics they adopted are fascistic in nature as from the August this year, the situation worsened after the plantation trade union and CPM in particular started blockade. Now the parties have not only used the local tea plantation trade unions but people have been invited from other parts of the state also against the landless people. All the ways going to Chengara were blocked by the party men and no material including medical aid was allowed to go into the village. Only allowance given to people was during ONAM festivities when the blockade was lifted for 5 days to let the people celebrate the festival. But after that the blockade has become functional and harsher and it might turn into a bloody war. Now the situation has gone out of hand. People inside the Chengara area have no source of livelihood; there is no supply of food and water. Some Muslim youth organizations of the area wanted to send rice for the families but but never allowed to do so. It is violation of their rights to food and free from hunger. The state government has shamelessly allowed the situation to go out of hand which has given strength to the trade unions.

It is unfortunate that in this war against their Dalits and tribal the organized gang of the trade union is taking action irrespective of ideology. It is a rare combination of how the upper caste communists and the Hindutva people can come together to wipe out the legitimate demands of the Dalits and tribals. The duplicity of the CPM’s idea comes that the same party launch movement for restoration of land in Andhra Pradesh but want to say that all the Dalits and tribals who have now settled in Chengara are encroachers. Perhaps they have forgotten their own slogan of ‘ Jo jameen sarkari hai, woh jameen hamari hai ( the government land is our land. Land struggles historically invoked this slogan. Harrison Plantation Company did not have legal rights to the acquired land. The lease expired long back. The dalits and tribal who did not get benefited under any programme of the government rightfully acquired the land and asked the government to redistribute it to them. How come the communist government of Kerala kept quiet and turned hostile to Dalits who have just extended the slogan what the communist parties have been raising every where else except in the states they have been ruling. Is it because this land struggle is first of its kind being led by the Dalits and have organized both the Dalits and tribal together in the state.

Dalits have been asking the government to allot them land. In 2006 in the Patthanamthitta district after five days struggle in the government land of rubber plantation area, the land was given to the Dalits on the papers only. Many people are still trying to find where there land is which was given to them on papers by the state government. Says, Raghu, one of the members of the Solidarity Committee, ‘we do not want papers, we want land’.

Patthanamthitta is a district about 60 kilometers from Kottayam, the heart of the Syrian Christian, the original brahmanical convert to Christianity. About 40 kilometer from the town is the heart of Ayappa, the Hindu God. The land relations here are different as the dominant community here is the upper caste Christians. What their role is in the entire struggle of the Dalits, I ask Raghu. ‘ Oh, like any other feudal, the Syrian Christians also are not interested in the battle of Dalits. Dalits here have separate churches for them.’ The Solidarity Committee members like Simon John, who is also Chairman of Backward People Development Corporation, Kerala concede that the original Brahmin converts to Christianity have not left their old prejudices in the Church and therefore are not very keen in supporting the movement of the Dalits and tribal in Chengara. Like the CPM cadre, many of them too feel that the Dalits and tribal have ‘encroached’ the government land, though it is another matter that they all forgot that Harrison Plantation has been the biggest encroacher and was overstaying at the place. It is also shocking that Kerala did not have substantial land reform and all talks of a Kerala module in the developmental text books are big farce if one visit the rural areas of Kerala and speak to Dalits and tribals. A lot is written about Kerala model as a state. Recently a friend wrote to me from London about casteless, dowerless society in Kerala. Yes, I said, Kerala’s caste prejudices are hidden underneath like West Bengal since the first thing the communist regime does is to stop the export of information to outside world. More importantly since a large number of writers and authors actually have been sympathetic to the CPM’s policies with upper caste mindset, they do not really expose the Kerala myth. It was not just Bengal, Tatas have huge track of land in Kerala in the name of tea gardens and plantation. One should not forget that great Dalit revolutionary Ayyankali emerged in Kerala to fight for the rights of Dalits. It is not for nothing that both Patthanmthitta and Trivendram represent two different kind of dominations that Kerala has : the Christian domination and the Hindu domination. Both these upper elites interest are against the rights of the Dalits and other marginalized communities. They remain caged to their old prejudiced worldview.

Laha Gopalan is a determined man. He has seen the traumas of the Dalit communities in the villages where they do not even have land for funeral leave alone for education and houses. ‘ The political parties, both at the national and state level have betrayed the cause of the Dalits and tribal,’ he says. ‘ We started our struggle when people failed to get land by any request. We found that there is no land to them and the government wanted to further the lease at the area which was being used by the Dalits and tribal. Our historic struggle started last year as 7000 people captured the area and started living there. One should have expected that the communist parties which have raised the slogans of ‘ jo jameen sarkari hai, wo jameen hamari hai, ( Government land is our land) today are strangely at the other end. There is no hope in the sight as the trade unions are determined to take law in their own hand and kill people with chief minister virtually becoming a ‘Dhritrastra’.

Says Laha Gopalan, ‘ when we started our first struggle the government termed that they were genuine demands. In June 2006 about 5000 families were living in another plantation area when the revenue minister interfered and promised them land. Chief Minister Achutanandan promised about 1 acre land to each family of the landless but nothing happened. Since August 4, 2007, there are over 7000 families and the government has so far neglected their demand. The unions have surrounded the area and are beating people who are showing solidarity. The lives of the solidarity committee members are in deep threat in the area. They are being identified in the buses, taxis and even in the press conferences and targeted.’

‘ Even in the war zones people allow doctors and medical teams to visit the victims but here the goons of CPM and other trade unions have denied that too to the people,’ says Simon John. They are not allowing the food supply in the village. There is a hunger and starvation situation prevailing in the ‘samarbhoomi’ and one person is already dead due to hunger. It is violation of people’s right to life’, add John. ‘ We are deeply disturbed at the turn of events as government and political parties led by the upper castes are not at all bothered about the growing marginalization of the communities says another activist in Patthanamthittha.

Is it not strange and ironical that CPM and other communist parties who have been in the forefront of agitation against any kind of exploitation in the organized sector do not find that the landless people in Chengara are struggling for a genuine cause? The party leaders termed the entire struggle as unwanted and felt that the local goons and land mafias have taken over the Chengara land struggle. Ofcourse, Party’s anti Dalit stand is visible anywhere. One does not blame the top leadership of the party for being anti Dalit as it would be too much to blame but definitely party’s local leaders are not really that radical Dalit supporters as they should have been. CPM for that matter is like any other political party ( we wanted it remained a different political party) whose cadres hail from dominant communities and serve their local interest as we have seen in West Bengal and how the party remained mute to the displacement of about 700 Valmiki families in Belilius Park in Howarah several years back. Today, party’s proud MPs have made use of the entire space for private properties and shops. Ofcourse, the poor Balmikis never got support from any other Bhadralok parties in Bengal and living in Bengal in highly uncivilized and unacceptable conditions near the waste-mountains, on sewerage lines and on the railway tracks. Similar thing happen in Kerala where the Dalits and Adivasis of Chengara have not got support from any other political outfits. That gives strength to fascistic tendencies of the ruling party and their leaders. But the fact is this nationalism of the communist parties is more dangerous. Our problems with the Hindutva fascist is that we know that they are against the people but when the so called leaders of the proliterariat start behaving neo Hindutvavadis then situation need special remedial measures otherwise people’s frustration would explode soon.

Chengara’s land struggle is historical. It shows that people can not really depend on government dole out for land. Political parties in connivance with the defunct industrial houses are keeping people landless. New landlessness is on the rise. Courts are being used as an excuse to evict people. The marginalized have understood this and are ready to fight till end. If the government of Kerala think it is wrong, let it come out in open and say that they oppose people’s movement for land right. The government cannot use trade unions and other goons to threaten people and evict them. Life in Chengara has become miserable and any further delay will turn Chengara into another Nandigram. The situation in Chengara would become more dangerous and bloody if the government does not behave responsibly. All national and international rights bodies should take care of this note that denying people free movement is denying them right to choice and livelihood. Kerala government has failed to protect Chengara’s Dalits and Adivasis right to move free from one place and other. The inhuman blockade has created unprecedented situation where children and elderly people in Chengara are suffering. Any further delay would escalate the crisis and only government of Kerala would be held responsible for this. The government must act fast and negotiate with the struggling masses of Chengara. The trade union blockade is unconstitutional and illegal and must be removed immediately as it violate the fundamental rights of the people living there who are victim of the criminal silence of the government and civil society.

Monday, October 06, 2008

Battleground Kanjhawla : History in the making..

Delhi’s farmers ready for a do or die battle against land Acquisition

By Vidya Bhushan Rawat

Delhi is preparing itself for the Commonwealth games 2010. High rise buildings, glitzy malls, broad roads, world class metro and an industrial hub, Delhi government has gone out of way to attract investors and acquire land for all these purposes. Very few would be aware of the fact is that Delhi is not just a city which was destroyed and built on seven occasions. Delhi is history of India, a city of diversity adds uniqueness to its culture. Amidst all this, Delhi’s villages too have an important role. The fertile land on the banks of Yamuna is now where we have the big concrete structure. Delhi’s urban space was eating the rural life of Delhi. For keeping Delhi’s environment clean and green, the government threw away the industries from the city, prohibited the diesel plying busses and switched the entire public transport to CNG. Unfortunately, the top brass in the government failed to understand that if they want to make Delhi a clean and green city, it can not come at the cost of decimating the villages in and around Delhi. In fact just last year, Delhi high court had asked the government to maintain its rural character where ever possible. When clean and fresh air are need of the hour so that Delhi does not suffocate, why has the authorities decided that villages in Delhi do not need them.

The lush green fields of Kanjhawla and other villages in the northwest districts of Delhi are facing the threat of acquisition for the industrial purposes. That Delhi’s redundant industries should be relocated here has send shock wave among the farming community whose main source of livelihood is agriculture. The DDA notified the area for acquisition in 2005 without ever consulting the local people as if their consent was not required. It is strange that ‘my land is being acquired but I am not even being asked whether I am interested in selling it or not, thundered Kalawati, a farmer woman who is ready to die for the cause of the land their ancestors have given to them. ‘ I am Laxmi Bai and even if our males do not have the courage to fight the battle, I will fight it with other women’, says Kalawati. ‘ We are not interested in your projects. We are farmers. We know farming and these companies are not there to take care of us. Once we get the money, that would be finished in two three years, what will happen after that.’

More than 1400 acre of land is being acquired for this industrialization purposes. The compensation being given was much below the market price. ‘ Market price are much higher than what is being offered to us, said a Bharatiya Kisan Union’s activist, which is spearheading the movement. This government is of the corporate and working with the capitalists. Both the soldiers and farmers, two important communities that serve the nation are unhappy today. Delhi government issued notification for acquisition of 8 villages in August 2005. These 8 villages are: Kanjhawla, Bakauni, Karala, Sultanpur Dabas, Ud Khurd, Tikari kalan, Tikari Khuard, Alipur. According to Mr Bhupendra Singh Rawat, Convenor of Jan Sangharsh Vahini, one of the organizations leading the movement, the Delhi government acquired about 1400 acres of land in Bawana for 392 crore rupees but the main question is how much of money is gone to the farmers, he asks. These authorities masquerading as revenue departments are nothing but middlemen he thunders and adds that the farmers of Delhi will teach the government a lesson.

The farmers have been on peaceful protest since March 19th, 2008. Nothing moved as the movement remained confined to local populace. Jan Sangharsh Vahini and Bhartiya kisan Union joined in the struggle and gave it new direction by linking it to the other broader struggles against land acquisition including anti Special Economic Zones campaigns and the result was a through and planned protest in the area. There were sporadic protests in the forms of Chakka Jams (traffic blockades), sittings on the road but the real protest emerged from the gherao of the Delhi Vidhan Sabha on September 10th, in which about 12 people were injured in police lathicharge and 60 protesters were arrested as they tried to barge into the Vidhan Sabha ( Delhi Assembly).

As the political leadership remained silent and the power hungry bureaucrats hell bent to acquire land considering farmer’s peaceful protest as ‘spontaneous without any organization that would die an unnatural death’, the protesters decided enough is enough and now the time has come to make the final assault on the power structure. On September 11th at 1 pm more than 1,200 farmers along with their families decided to seize the office of the Deputy Commissioner (DC). An equal number of police force was there to protect the DC from being humbled yet the protest remained calm and peaceful. Everyday, activists, academics, journalists, students are coming to the Dharana site and expressing their solidarity with the farmers.

‘The Delhi High Court has imposed a fine of Rs 10,000/- on the state government for its inability to function from the DCs office. ‘This is historical event, says Bhupendra Singh Rawat, who is spearheading the movement along with other farmer organization, ‘that the Dharana is going uninturptted and has entered in the fourth week. That the district collector’s office has become Dalals, middlemen for property dealers and corporate honchos. How can a government which we elect for five years decide about the ancestral property of farmers who are there for more than several centuries. Who has given the government a right to take over the public land and distribute it to the people it want’.

Yesterday, the Delhi government started its much publicized programme of handing over ‘land certificates’ to resettlement colony people. Congress President Sonia Gandhi handed over these certificates but the farmers there created ruckus and the congress party and media blamed them for being BJP’s agent. However, at the moment, the farmers are worried about their own future and not interested in politicking the issue except that Congress party has become highly unpopular among them and it will have to pay a price for its misadventure.

The refreshing point of the entire protest is the participation of women and elderly people. The spirit that they have reflect that they are ready for a do or die battle. Chaudhury Bhim Singh Krantikari, 78 participated in the freedom movement and went to Jail on Gandhi’s call for Do or Die. They are five brothers. He has three sons and two daughters. ‘ How are we going to live without our land which is so fertile. We are farmers and are not interested in selling our mother. I fought for the country against the British but today our politicians and political class has let us down. I never thought that I would see this day when I will have to fight for my own land and sit on Dharana’, says Bhim Singh sipping his Hukka. ‘ I have deep faith in Subhash Chandra Bose and I believe time has come for us to follow his path and teach the exploiters a lesson.’

According to farmers, the current rates are enormously high in the market but the government does not want to share it with them. Moreover, once the shopping malls and industrial area becomes a reality, they would not be able to procure land and build houses for their living in the same area as the market prices would be too high. Says an activist, ‘ Can we really buy house on developed plots once it is sold given the prices that are being offered to us. We need our land back. It is reported that for one acre the market prices exorbitantly beyond reach while government gave just Rs 15 lakh per acre which has now being promised for three time more.

Western Uttar-Pradesh and Haryana have been notorious for suppression of Dalits and women. Farmers living there have more feudal in nature and there have been persistent conflict between various Dalit communities and farmers. Arya Samaj made its dent among the Jaats in this region. Today, the farmers are under the threat and are realizing the importance of realignment with the Dalits and understanding the neo liberal policies of the government which make farmers an unwanted element. Bharatiya Kisan Union of Mahendra Singh Tikait was once upon a time a strong movement but it later on became ‘guardian’ of Jats in their social-cultural programmes and lost its track. Moreover, without an effective alliance, it could not update itself to various threats that farmers are facing all over the country and became an organization confined to sugarcane and fertilizer prices. It became apathetic to demand for land reform and in fact was never ever interested in the issue of the landless agricultural workers. But over the years BKU seems to have learnt a lot and now making alliance with other movements all over the country, which are fighting for farmer’s right. Ofcourse, the Dalits will still have the problem unless the BKU and farmers reach them out. However, that is just a reflection that if this battle has to give signal to India that it is not just a battle of the elitist farmers which refuses to acknowledge the issue of the agricultural workers, then the battle would be difficult to win. Today, the capital and religion are playing lead role in India and further marginalizing the communities. Hence, a complete understanding of current crisis is necessary.

Therefore, women’s participation in the Dharana is a reminder that they are ready to take on, as Kalawati spoke passionately that we will not allow our land to be mortgaged to big companies. We will not accept less than denotification of the entire proceeding otherwise there will only be a blood bath. Initially, many friends were afraid that women’s participation would be dangerous for the unity of the community but that is an entirely defeating argument as most of the women there want to not only participate but even go beyond where their male counterparts have failed. So, the protest has in another way brought more changes in the community where the women were always in Purdah and inside their houses. Today, seeing the crisis before the community, they are ready to die on the street. Hence, the women have won their first battle in the community though one might say it is a long way to go as even coming in the street they are following the tradition with great zeal but the day is not far when they will lead the movement. When the community is in the crisis, it is time that the women folks show their strength. And here we say the fully covered women (from head to toe) were singing powerful song of going to the battle field along with male folks and will now allow their mother to be sold. Such was the passion that they asked every one to not to bend. Some of them were not really happy with their male folks. They are shouting slogan ‘ Jameen hamare aap ki, nahi kisi ke baap ki ( land belong to us and not of any body) and Land is mother for us like country and religion. Their songs run passion when they say that we will let down our male folks in their war against this illegal acquisition. ‘ We will follow them and will not lag behind in any front even if we have to remain hungry and go to Jail, whether there is blood bath or not, we will not allow the government and contractors to take over our land, which is the hard work of our ancestors and given us identity’, says a woman leader in Purdah who did not want to ‘lead’ but was ready to fight her battle with other sisters and male members of the community. We need participation in the power structure said some of them as the entire committee struggling for their rights does not have women members. It seems that elderly folks have now realized that it is important that women be given representation in the committee.

Chaudhury Harish Chandra is leader of 17 Gram Panchayats of his community. He feels that the government wants to grab our land in the name of ‘national interest’. ‘ What is national interest’. Does uprooting farmers from their habitat is national interest. Is inviting the capitalist to loot the poor innocent farmers who feed the country in the national interest?’. ‘ Both the farmers and soldiers who serve the nation are son of the soil and destroying the farming means destruction of not only farmers but soldiers also, says Harish Chandra.

On a visit to nearby Karala, another farmer who served the Indian army in various battles since 1962, 1966, and 1971, now feel betrayed by the government action. This is what we got for serving in the armed forces for the country. This government is neither for the farmers nor for the soldiers. Both are dying because of the illogical policies of the government. Chaudhury said that his green land was being termed as wasteland. ‘ We get three crop a year. Please see how green it is. I have this ‘Bhindi’ vegetable which would fetch me about a lakh rupees. Then we have the guava trees here and rice crop at the moment, how can government and these officials be so insensitive that they are unable to see our crop growing. Should we give this land. When we have not purchased this land which came to us because of the sacrifices of our ancestors what right do we have to sale. And did the government ask us as whether we are interested in selling it or not’.

Chaudhury Harish Chandra is happy with the outcome of Singur. The Singur farmers have shown that despite their poverty they fought consistently and persistently and taught TATA a lesson. We are strong community. We have fought for the country and for our community too. We will not let this battle grow. Nothing more than denotifying the entire old order. We warn the government that we are prepared for any eventuality. We are ready to face the bullets if the government want to answer us with that but we will not allow government to function. We will not allow our land to go to these mercenaries.

According to Bhupendra Rawat, Jan Sangharsh Vahini, the Delhi’s farmer struggle would go a long way to redefine the entire issue of acquisition and rehabilitation. He says let the government first denotify the entire area and then allow the farmers to have a Farmer- private partnership. He adds that with this the farmers will be able to develop industries themselves. The third alternative, according to Rawat is, that the government if it wants to take land must develop the land and give 50% of the land to the farmers and rest 50% allows them to finalise rates with the industries. Government has no business to behave like a middlemen, he argues. He also scoffed of the propaganda of the government that this land is being acquired to give land to urban poor. If government is so concerned about them, let them acquire land from the big farm houses, and posh areas like Greater Kailash, Hauz Khas and Golf Link and build houses for poor there. These farmers are not big farmers and you have no right to uproot them from their history and habitat, question Rawat.

Till date the battle has entered in the 24th day. It is a rare case where the farmers in the capital of the country have seized the office of the commissioner. It is a signal to authorities not to interfere in farmer’s matter. The government of the day understand it if they take action they will face severe reprimand from the people. With general elections round the corner, Congress and any other political party can ill afford to lose farmer’s vote. Yet, the politics and corruption goes hand in hand. And the farmers have smelt it very well that there is huge bungling in the entire affair. The government also knows it well that the Jats is a strong community and will respond in their own language and there might be blood bath in Delhi and elsewhere if the government use force. Already the Delhi police was replaced by the CRPF and RAF perhaps with a feeling that a majority of the police men in Delhi belong to either Jats or Gujjars. The government has seen messing up with Gujjar case in Rajsthan. If they mess up here, the repercussion will be far reaching for the farmers movement in the country. After the defeat of Singur, the governments of the day can ill afford to do so in Delhi. It would be good for the government to heed to the demands of the farmers and return their land. Initially, the farmers seems to have been divided between compensation package but now it look clear that they have understood the plan of the government and more delays has only added fuel to the fire. Now, it is clear that the farmers are not going to accept anything less than denotification of the government order as this is not just a battle for farmers but to save the rural character of Delhi also which these governments are out to destroy. The government must honor court’s earlier verdict to maintain the rural character of Delhi and this acquisition goes against that spirit which government promised in the court. Coming days are crucial for the farming community in India. A battle won in Delhi will revitalize the entire community all over the country and force the government and political parties to think of their stand on economic policies as whether the country can afford to marginalize the farmers further? One can only hope that we will learn from history and will not add to the already lengthy list of hunger and malnourished people all over the country. India can not suffocate on the curse of greedy private corporations bungling people’s land and livelihood. Farmers’ unrest can unleash a new wave of instability in the country which would be very difficult to handle by any government in Delhi.