When Caste Casts its Shadow on Land

(Some impromptu personal thoughts)

landless farmers

An interview of Gurmukh Singh, of Jamin Prapti Sanghash Samiti (जमीन प्राप्ति संघर्ष समिति) published in Forward Press recently has again brought a fresh fragrance in this ‘Kingdom of Denmark’ where so many things are rotting. The question of Dalits in this land, their right on this land was again brought to forefront. And why not. Omprakash Valmiki of Muzaffar Nagar, yes, that Muzaffar Nagar where the Mahapanchayat took place last September 5, 2021, forty years back in 1981 asked loudly
कुआँ ठाकुर का
पानी ठाकुर का
खेत-खलिहान ठाकुर के
गली-मुहल्‍ले ठाकुर के
फिर अपना क्‍या ?
गाँव ?
शहर ?
देश ? The Well belongs to Thakur, Water belongs to Thakur, Fields belong to Thakur, Streets and Neighbourhoods too, Then, what do We have? Village? Town? Country? This cruel country where a Muslim peasant (in Bengal) did not find a place for grazing, for some water to drink for his very dear cow that he had refused to sell to the butcher (Mahesh of Sarat Chandra Chattapadhyay). Almost in similar vein a peasant turned soldier in Tsar’s Russia asked, in the beginning of twentieth century, while going to war with Turkey, ‘so that land belong to Count … this to Landlord … and that one belongs to Landlord … where is MY country (for which I am called to perform military service)?’

Sadly, Bengal and Panjab, two of the biggest ‘nations’ (if defined as a community with common language, territory, economic life, and psychological make-up manifested in a common culture) had the maximum number of ‘untouchables’, Dalit people, known as Scheduled Caste people in ‘legal’ term, had Muslim majority in their population, suffered most cruelly due to the partition of the country. Both places where the downtrodden were also attracted to Bhakti Dharma, pioneered by Guru Nanak and cultured in Bengal by Chaitanya Dev and the Bauls and Fakirs, that Bhakti Dharma which rebelled against the caste system, tried their utmost to cast out casteism, जात पात, by so simple and so eloquent a means like the Langar Seva, Pankti Bhojan, etc, boycotting Brahminical interference in every sphere of life in the form of rituals, and so on.

After the end of turbulent 1970s, in the early 1980s, a change in the Kisan Andolan caught attention: Peasant movement for land and towards revolution waning and from Nasik strong voices were coming: demand of ‘remunerative prices of agricultural products’, demand of equalisation of profit in all sectors as much possible, demand to live and grow in this market-economy. In the twenty-first century that was the only rural voice that did spread via media: demands of Minimum Support price, Loan Waiver, Input Subsidies … Agriculture, to the, is a business, where investments must get ‘due’ returns. Yogendra Yadav and his friends (the Communist Parties are in this fray/fold too) forcefully expressed this: two key demands were (i) remunerative price of crops, (ii) loan waiver.

We were on the ‘watching end’ (something worse than receiving end, say). Farmers from Tamil Nadu came to Delhi to stage their show or movement – they were showing that they were so so poor so as to feed on rats – and this photo circulated everywhere – only we felt the shock as we saw they were just lightly holding those rats by their teeth, lest their tongue or lips do not touch much, they were so careful – and that was so cruel for us, they were mimicking us, our Musahari brothers and sisters whom those rich babus hate. Incidentally, this was one of the compulsions behind a piece by us against that Tamil Nadu farmers movement. (See Frontier Weekly Vol. 49, No. 45, May 14 – 20, 2017).

Dalits and many other fighters again brought to the forefront the question of land, question of oppression and rule, that was also voiced by the Dalit Panthers of Bombay in 1972-73. Incidentally, look at who were the first martyrs of the so-called Naxalbari uprising – Dhaneshwari Devi, Seemaswari Mallick, Nayaneswari Mallick, Surubala Burman, Sonamati Singh, Phoolmati Devi, Samsari Saibani, Gaudrau Saibani, Kharsingh Mallick, “and two children”. Look at the names of those Tevaga Martyrs led in their fight by martyr Chiar Sai Sheikh against British military, for example on February 1947 in Khanpur, West Dinajpur. Look at the names of the first two student martyrs of great food movement of 1966 – Nurul Islam and Ananda Hait.

In this century when Yogendra Yadav and his friends were leading struggle with two key demands of remunerative Price & Loan Waiver demand of land again resurfaced:

  1. In July 2007 in Nellore district of Andhra Pradesh we saw “If the police brutally throw them out of occupied lands, they are returning back with greater determination the next day. In Nellore, where there has been a most atrocious attack on women, children and old by the police, the people refused to vacate the lands despite our people trying to persuade them to retreat temporarily. CPIM and other ‘opposition’ parties quickly called a state wide general strike for a day and withdrew the movement for land.
  2. In 2008-09 in Malwa region of Punjab we found Dalit peasants capturing govt. owned lands. We hear story of a woman peasant who was undaunted in her fight even after being in jail twice for the fight.
  3. “Holding banners and flags and raising slogans, nearly a thousand landless farmers who arrived from different parts of the district marched from Ambedkar Circle to the office of Deputy Commissioner here on Wednesday demanding cultivable lands for landless and residential plots for homeless.” And this was from Raichur, Karnataka, in July 2016.
  4. Shortly after that we hear slogans in Gujarat— તમે તમારું ગાયનું પૂંછડું રાખો અને અમને અમારી જમીન આપો (you keep your cow’s tail, and give us our land). That was when thousands of Dalits marched from Ahmedabad to Una, Gujarat, in August 2016.

If there are seeds at least a few trees will appear however much harsh the environment is, this fact led Masanobu Fukuoka to develop or discover in nature his theory of Natural farming. And in the Malwa and adjoining regions from the discontents and fights germinated a tree, this Jamin Prapti Sanghash Samiti (जमीन प्राप्ति संघर्ष समिति) is no accident or something built up ‘from above’, ‘from without’.

Nonetheless, one thing we must keep in mind: If demands and fights cannot develop or do not develop in the arena of class struggle then the seeds of discontent do not die, do not sit idle either. Then we see ‘distorted’ movements, movements in the garb of some identities whatever ‘unpleasant’ those may seem. Oppressed masses may go for some suicidal move, or may unknowingly become canon fodders of some powers. While ‘opposing’ those seemingly unpleasant and unwanted movements we must realise the objective and justified demands or aspirations or even hatred of the oppressed masses. In Punjab history also we saw such, historical upheaval, and one such ‘movement’ where the sigh of oppressed masses turned into fire against the other working people too. What else we saw in Dera Sacha episodes in 2009! Ratan Saldi in his ended his article “Caste Systems among Sikhs in Punjab” (Asian Tribune, 06.06.2009) saying: “If the spirit of the institution of the Gurudwaras as propounded by Guru Gobind Singh is truly upheld, Punjab’s growing divide on caste lines will end. It is not a tall order for the Punjabis. Because, despite visible divisions, Punjab never witnessed violence on caste lines till very recently.” (That article is no more available in the internet.)

We have full faith on the fighting women and men of Punjab that they will decide the best course to resolve contradictions, particularly when those are non-antagonistic, in the sense that fighting people must sit together and resolve, they should never fight among themselves, and also, they should have to undo the millennia old unjustified Caste System, must cast off castes lock, stock and barrel. And we were already witnessing co-operation developing among toilers against the cruel caste oppression as in an incident of Nov 13, 2016, (reported in the Hindustan times as) where, after “After 37 days of suffering injuries, Gurdev Kaur, 70, a Dalit woman from Jhalur village, died at the PGIMER in Chandigarh on Friday night around 10:45 pm.” we found “On Saturday, hundreds of activists of the Sangharsh committee, BKU (Ekta-Ugrahan), BKU (Ekta-Dakaunda), Krantikari Pendu Mazdoor Union and members of some other organisations gathered outside the DC office and raised slogans against the state government and the police.”  In this context we must re-examine all our formulations. In that interview mentioned at the very beginning we found: “अगर सामाजिक एकता एवं सामाजिक दूरी कम नहीं हुई तो इसकी वजह क्या है? किसान संयुक्त मोर्चा के केन्द्रीय शीर्ष नेतृत्व में दलित लीडरशिप की भागीदारी कितनी है? // जीरो है! संयुक्त किसान मोर्चा में दलित लीडरशिप है ही नहीं! वह उन किसानों का मोर्चा है जिनके पास जमीनें हैं, उनमें कोई भी दलित नहीं है। लोग ऐसा भी कहते हैं कि हम किसानों की हिमायत क्यों करें? पहले वे हमारी मांगें बीच में रखें। हमने कहा– ऐसा कैसे हो सकता है? मान लीजिए कोई आंदोलन चल रहा है तो हम यह कैसे कह सकते हैं कि हमारी मांगें मान लो तब हम सपोर्ट करेंगे। मान लीजिए, रेलवे वाला कोई आंदोलन कर रहा है तो क्या किसान आंदोलन वाला कह सकता है कि हमारी मांगें अपने बीच रखिए तो हम आपका सपोर्ट करेंगे? ऐसा नहीं चलता है। हमने उनके मुद्दों को सपोर्ट किया। आंदोलन के बेहतर परिणाम हासिल हुए हैं।” It is true that in the SKM there is no Dalit Leadership, no Dalit leader is there among the topmost echelon. As Dalits constitute a sizeable section of the oppressed masses, organisations of the oppressed masses, one day r other, will manifest this reality in the leadership too – but it may well be not a 1:1 correspondence. Simultaneously, a Dalit Leadership may not yield what the Dalit toiling masses aspire for in their mind; solely “a Dalit Leadership” may not mean Dalit liberation at all as was shown by Mayawati and her party, is it not? How quickly “Tilak Taraju aur Talwar, Sabko maro juta char” turned to “Tilak Taraju aur Talwar, sab ho gaya hati par sawar”?

Our brother Gurmukh Singh is aware of the fact. When asked, चूंकि किसान आंदोलन सफल हो गया है। क्या अब आपकी तरह के अन्य संगठन किसानों के साथ मिल-बैठकर खेत मजदूरों को उनको वाजिब मजदूरी दिलाने के लिए आगे आएंगे?  He answered, यह प्रेक्टिकल प्रश्न नहीं है, क्योंकि संयुक्त किसान मोर्चा एक विचारधारा पर आधारित संगठन नहीं है। उसमें अलग-अलग तरह के लोग हैं। And thus he brough forward the important question, the question of विचारधारा ideology, विचारधारा पर आधारित संगठन organisation based on certain ideology, not “any” ideology of course. He did not talk about some ‘apolitical’ organisation that does not bother about ideology, political line, aims and objectives.

Land question is very complex, almost “puzzling” to people who cannot get the touch of rural lives. Agriculture is not ‘viable’ to them; facts like ‘landless toilers have land-hunger’ perplex them. Secondly, there is a wide range of diversity, among states even among districts. Some examples (calculated) from Agriculture Census 2015-16:

Table – I    Landholding Caste State

States Dalits among Rural population % Dalits among cultivators % % of area hold by them % of Dalit cultivators who are Marginal farmers
 AP 19.2 8.54 6.17 78.85
 Bihar 16.6 11.67 8.92 95.19
Punjab 37.5 5.76 3.59 36.51
UP 23 16.95 11.04 89.18
WB 27.5 24.82 20.41 87.26

The above figures not only show “caste oppression/discrimination” but also show, among other things, equilibrium historically achieved by class struggle though different and various histories in each country, state, district, etc.

This impromptu essay is almost 2000 word long by now, so let us stop here. Please do not treat this as a political document of some person or organisation. Thanks.

The author is an activist who writes on political and socioeconomic issues and also on environmental issues. Some of his articles are published in Frontier Weekly. He lives in West Bengal, India.  Presently he is a research worker. He can be reached at [email protected]

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