Monday, November 6, 2017
Green shoots of dignity sprout in Dalits’ fields
BEED: Struggle has forever been a constant in Kantabai Ichake's life. The septuagenarian Dalit farmer from the Marathwada region in Maharashtra is from one of the most disadvantaged and oppressed communities in the country. And a chronic drought makes living that much harder. So, when Dalit women across Marathwada staked their claim to the 'gairan' land (common grazing land in a village) for cultivation, others in the village ridiculed them. "You will bang your heads on the rocky land and die," they said.
But with no other option left, these women put their heads down and got to work.
Within a few years, they turned barren patches into lush green fields.
And that's when the problems started. Women claiming ownership to land and successfully growing crops predictably riled upper-caste villagers. Mobs destroyed crops, burnt Dalit hamlets and attacked women and children. Still, they were unable to stop the Dalits from tilling the 'gairan' soil.
Kantabai, a prominent face in the land rights movement in Marathwada (comprising of eight districts: Jalna, Aurangabad, Parbhani, Hingoli, Nanded, Latur, Osmanabad and Beed) that was started by late Eknath Awad, recalls the horrors — humiliation, physical violence and exploitation.
"What people do not realise is that it is not just about our livelihood, it is also about our rights and dignity. We will continue our fight. We are not scared of the struggle. We will continue to demand that the government transfer land titles to our names. The government says 'gairan' land belongs to the village, and it must be kept for grazing cattle.
Is the government more worried about cattle than people like us?" Kantabai asks.
The ownership of 'gairan' land has become a contentious issue in the Marathwada region. According to the Jamin Adhikar Andolan (JAA), a land rights movement, 'gairan' land belonged to the Dalits in pre-independence India. Activists claim that even in Marathwada, then a part of the Nizam's Hyderabad, 'gairan' lands had been conferred to the Dalits.
They substantiate their claim with the Nizam's order from old archives. The lands were brought under the gram panchayat's management in 1956. In the 1990s, the JAA was set up to seek legalization of the Dalit title over 'gairan' land.
The JAA wants the land title to be made jointly in the names of husband and wife.