Land is our Right

 

The sky opened up and let out a huge cry of joy. People ran for shelter laughing as if it were a wild dance party. This was how our big gathering of 7000 people ended on 04 September. The wild cry pierced through the dark rain clouds and they burst forth in an orchestra of thunder and lightning accompanied by the sweet sound of the much-awaited rain. Twin blessing. The function was a huge success by many standards and the rain was the icing on top. Expected 5000 people. Arrived 7000 people. All paying their own bus fare, train fare from as far as 700 kilometers. Wow, Wow! REDS and Dalit Panchayat Movement in Karnataka. Jyothi the indomitable woman scooper! She invariably comes out with a multi color ice cream box for the Dalit people.

Never before! We never started any of our procession at 10 in the morning. People have to arrive from far off places and it used to be when the sun began to stoop down on us straight through the top of our skull. He was merciful this time. He called for a thick draping of his naked body. The rain clouds hovered over us. “Our function will be spoiled today.” Prophets of doom let out an irritating bugle. “NO. Our functions have never been disrupted by rain.” A Strong assertion of hope from an age-old freak! Who else? The diehard M C Raj who keeps hoping against hope and Jyothi keeps hopping from program to program synchronized into a melodious flow of success stories.

As if to vie with the heavenly beings the Coordinators of Dalit Panchayat Movement suddenly went into a wild dance on the main roads of Tumkur. They had every right to do that. They mobilized all the people that day from different villages of Karnataka. Supporting them was the police force. The Siren! Minister has arrived at the IB. Sampath screamed from his mobile. Jyothi split through the procession to take her car to the IB. Raj was left alone. The crazy man is bound to be left alone for all the mischief he plays in Karnataka.

It is a good thing to happen. Normally it does not happen among human beings unless there is a serious crisis. But at Tumkur, the spontaneous gathering of 7000 Dalits and other poor was not a manifestation of any crisis. It speaks for the way REDS and Booshakthi Kendra have gradually transformed the Dalits over the past three decades. We have had a history of mobilizing large gatherings. But this procession was wagging its tail from afar. The head was in the bus stand and the tail was still in the Collector’s office from where the procession started. Times have changed. Gone are the days when our processions used to start from Town Hall and end at the Collector’s office. Nowadays our processions start at the Collector’s office and end at the ground near the Town Hall. The officers and this time two Ministers of the Government of Karnataka came to spend a neat three hours with the people in a public meeting. Times have not changed Appajee and Ammajee. A village lad tells in the ears of Raj and Jyothi. Our people have changed. Their power equation has changed.

Land has been the lifeline of Dalits from ages. A people, a life, a culture, a history! Like all indigenous peoples of the world, Dalit people come from a history of worshipping Earth as Mother. But our land was taken away from them violently by killing 14,000 of their ancestral kings and queens, according to Valmiki Ramayana. Till today Dalits have remained landless. The Law Minister who attended the function announced that there are 6 million landless people in Karnataka. We are sure most of them or almost all of them are Dalits. Fruit of our labor! A sense of fulfillment that the Movement will go on when we finally disappear from the scene! No NGO type withdrawal! No belief in withdrawals! But we have to disappear one day. Order of nature!

 

The Revenue Minister of Karnataka came on time and waited for the procession to be over. The Law Minister came even earlier and waited for Revenue Minister. Dalit people waited for both of them with bated breath. Nidumamidi Swamiji came with much enthusiasm. The MLC Dr. Hulinayakar, The Zilla Panchayat President Ms. Prema Mahalingappa, The District Collector Mr. Satyamurthy IAS and a host of bureaucrats and special invitees adorned the dais. Beautiful indeed was the shamiana sheltering all the 7000 people. Jyothi set the tone with her organized planning of presenting fresh Ragi sprouts in a cool mud pot to all the VIPs on stage.

The Swamiji who inaugurated the function never clutters. If he makes noise it is always a thunder. He mesmerized the crowd with his well-prepared speech for the occasion. The Law Minister said that this Swamiji is one of the rare Swamiji who is defiling the ‘Kavi’, his saffron tradition by sustaining his radical thrust to the issues of social justice. For someone from the saffron tradition to sustain this type of radicalism for such a long time is a symbol of an amazing character. He is associated with us for 20 years now.

The Revenue Minister spoke for a long time. His coming to Tumkur on our invitation itself made a lot of news in Karnataka, as he is a very powerful personality. We were very happy that he stuck to his initial promise of coming for the function. He made a strong assertion that he would stand by the Dalit people till the end.

The following decisions and promises have emerged according to media reports

  1. He clearly stated that the government has given orders to the Forest and Revenue departments to examine jointly all land records and decide which is revenue land and which is forest land.
  2. Subsequent to the public meeting both ministers had a meeting with bureaucrats of the District and passed orders that each village in Tumkur District should have at least 2 acres of land for the burial ground.
  3. The officers should identify enough land for housing sites and make a list of all families without housing sites and give a report to the Law Minister.
  4. The Revenue Minister promised to revive the Land Grant Committee (Bager Hukum) at the earliest in order to make it easily possible for people to get land grants.
  5. If caste people are willing to sell their land to the government such land will be bought for a price and be distributed to the Dalits at the rate of 5 acres to each family (this is a very significant assertion taken from our memorandum)
  6. He agreed that there is a serious responsibility on the government to consider granting land to the Dalits in the State
  7. In rural areas of Karnataka 1.2 million acres of land have been encroached upon. The government will forcefully take all this land back from encroachers and distribute them to landless poor. The Government is ready to do this at all costs.
  8. He concluded his speech by saying that the way REDS is working not only for Dalits but also for all the poor of all castes is a self-sacrificing example and deserves appreciation from all corners. He promised to bring to the notice of the Government all the demands of the Organization in the memorandum that they submitted.

(Most of these are elements taken from the earlier agreement between Janasatyagraha and the Rural Development Ministry of Central Government)

The Law Minister spoke very strong but for a short time, as most of the people sitting on the dais were diabetics. Sweet people facing bitter truths of life! They sat in our public meeting for three hours. People too sat without any commotion. A highly disciplined crowd of 7000, a mark of the transformation that they have brought about in their lives! The discipline of the crowd in the long procession and in the public meeting is the talk of the town always. Parched land! Waiting even for a few drops from above! Nothing else matters! They got more than what they bargained for already on the day they submitted a memorandum of our ten demands. Their cup of joy was full. Forget the fact that they started their dance in fine anticipation. ‘Ammaji and Appaji would never fail us’ reverberated in the air in Tumkur.

The presentation of the 45 huge books of 500,000 signatures was the biggest show of the event. One man was not surprised. He was the Revenue Minister. He is the one who released M C Raj’s Dalitology in Bangalore in 2002. But he did not expect that he would have to receive 45 volumes. No one expected this. We could see it on the face of all VIPs sitting on the dais. ‘Monumental work madam! How did you manage to do this? This was the Zilla Panchayat President to Jyothi sitting next to her. No words could explain this. Jyothi only smiled. “How silently you achieve these things madam!’ Unlimited admiration. Woman to woman! Men were seeing stars despite the cover over their head and the dark rain clouds that waited till the end of the meeting to burst forth with their loud cry of joy. They saw that all signatures were tabulated systematically with the address of the people who have signed. All in original! We told the Revenue Minister that we would send the books to the Collector who in turn would send it to the Minister. The Revenue Minister intervened and asked us to send the signature books directly to his official residence. Wow, Minister! That is why you are a Minister. You know how the government functions. Thank you for your sensitivity.

The Release of the characteristically ‘Jyothi edited’ Kannada book “Bhoomi Namma Hakku” Land is our Right made a big show to the media. All of them lined up to take photographs of the release and grab a copy each. An attractive cover page by Preetam induces the reader to open the many pages inside. A book that caters to different tastes of all types of people interested in the land. Jyothi became a member of the National Task Force of Land Reforms under the Rural Development Ministry of the Central Government.

The sangama, union of two ever flowing streams becoming a large river! REDS started it in 2000 with its demand for 5 acres of land to each Dalit family in the declaration of Ambedkar Yuga. Ekta Parishad started a similar demand in North India for Adivasi people. It was only a question of time. They are not railway tracks, never able to meet. They are two living streams. The first touch! An electrifying one! The merger resulted in an ignition. Jyothi and Ekta Parishad have developed a special bond as children of Mother Earth and share their commitment to Dalit, Adivasi, and poor people. No ego on the stage! Dalits and Adivasis to the fore! An unprecedented blending!

 

Land Reforms Law, however, is largely a state subject. Realizing this Jyothi has begun to shake the citadels of the State Government and has increased the responsibility of REDS, Dalit Panchayat Movement, and Booshakthi Kendra to sustain the intensity of our endeavor till we achieve our objective. Yes, we shall. We live to die in the path of the holistic development of our people.

We had set up a special desk to receive people’s applications to the Revenue Minister. This was something new we did in order to avoid people getting disappointed at not being able to give their application to a Minister. A mind blowing 20,000 applications came from a crowd of 7000 for different needs.

No vote of thanks for a change. Jyothi and Raj sang the Movement song as a sign of their gratitude to all the VIPs, guests and people. A fitting finale! Deep inside it was a dedication song also to the background supporter and our brother Mr. D Thangaraj IAS.

Epilog: Even as I am writing this there was a call from one of the Tahsildars who said that both Jyothi and I should go to his house to have a cup of coffee with his family. He made a strong assertion that it would bring blessing to his family. We think we have been catalysts in transforming the people. But ultimately people are transforming us in umpteen numbers of ways, as the Tahsildar bears witness.

 

 

 

 

Published by M C Raj