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.

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