Whenever Chandrababu Naidu comes to power, it seems that he comes with a lot of cheerleaders. The corporate Mughals to some of the media houses cheers him for his visionary proposals. For them, Chandrababu Naidu is a rare breed of politician who has the true vision to make his state the most developed. So, when the Chief Minister announces his decision to have world class capital for the bifurcated state, they cheer it as another great vision capable of making Andhra Pradesh as a truly developed state. Those who questions land acquisition and forced evacuation or cast doubts about the inclusive nature of his developmental projects, are labelled irritants who tries to wreck his project. This was the way he ruled Andhra Pradesh during early years of this century.
There were stories of his making Hyderabad a manufacturing hub of the country and the positive stories of IT industries flourishing in Secunderabad. The reports about large-scale migration from rural areas because of distress and increasing numbers of farmer suicides were ignored. But when the people voted in 2004, he was forced to bite a humble pie. After 10 years, when he returned to power, history seems to be repeating the same way as it unfolded earlier. The cheerleaders have already started extolling him and the Chief Minister is busy implementing his kind of development projects.
But, when Dalits are being evicted and their land being grabbed away, the Chief Minister and his administration are unmoved. Over 200 Dalits of Ilaparru village of Nandivada Mandal of Krishna District, who have been struggling to protect the land assigned to them in 1921, have decided to fight despite the insensitive approach of the government.
The residents of Ilaparru had been on a relay hunger strike for more than 140 days till last week, but “no one from the authorities had paid any heed to their demands.
Miffed with the indifference of officials towards their ordeal, “ even after scores of petitions, memorandums and dharnas”, nearly 250 Dalits, including women, took to the street on 6 February, but met with sheer police atrocities as around 100 people were arrested including the stir leaders. Section 144 has been on for more than 3 months in Ilaparru and Section 145 was enforced on 6 February.
The Dalits’ protest is spearheaded by CPI(M), All India Agricultural Workers Union (AIAWU), and Kula Vivaksha Porata Samithi (KVPS).
According to the struggle leaders, over 160 acres of land, which was allocated to Dalits in 1921, has been “illegally” taken over by some landlords and turned it into commercial fish ponds. In addition, the landlords are allegedly threatening the inhabitants to vacate the area.
The landlords have illegally encroached into the area. In the record, nobody is denying the fact that the land belongs to Dalits, ever since pre-independence. The police and revenue department, siding with the landlords, is acting against Dalits.Penumalli Madhu, CPI (M), Andhra Pradesh state secretary
As much as 165 acres of land was assigned to 138 Dalit families by forming a Field labour Cooperative Society with the registration number 412/1921, as early as 1921 by the colonial British Government. They have been cultivating the land since then until the early 1990’s “when the lands were either occupied or taken for lease using the thumb impressions of the illiterate Dalits.”
“Thus, new names of uppercaste men were added to the existing society and an alternative group Agriculture labour Cooperative Society was formed to facilitate the transfer of lands from the Dalits to the dominant caste landlords. However, this namesake society was not even audited once while the original one has documented audit records every year since 1921,” Rahul Maganti, a local activist says.
They used all methods - from forcibly acquiring fingerprints of the illiterate Dalits on a blank paper to threatening them to part away with their lands at a throwaway price. While most people relented, some of them still held on to their lands. These people were tamed with the help of revenue and police officials, who were hand in glove with the landlords, considering their caste and political cloutRahul Maganti
The Dalits had been cultivating paddy in these lands from 1921 to 1995. However, the agricultural return out of these lands was minimal as the Kolleru flood water used to inundate these lands. In 1982, the SC Corporation and Indian Overseas Bank gave a loan of 1.6 lakh to buy 16 oil engines to remove the flood water. The loan is still not repaid and the society still gets notices for the same, Maganti adds.
“There are enough records and documents supporting this claim,” Maganti claims.
The villagers have already approached higher authorities and court too but the case has been delayed indefinitely. Some of the landlords too approached the high court and the matter is now sub judice.
Incidentally, some of the Dalits have sold the land to the upper-caste out of destitute.
However, according to the act, even if the Dalits sell his allocated land, nobody can buy it. If somebody buys it, the government must take over the land and hand over it to the original assigneePenumalli Madhu, CPI (M) Andhra Pradesh state secretary
Today, there is hardly any agricultural land left in the village. Almost all of them are converted into fish tanks with the rise of aquaculture in the area in the 1990’s. Over the years, several people have been migrated to other areas from Ilaparru, owing to the dismal living conditions.
“100 acres of agricultural land gives 5500 work days per crop while 100 acres of fish tanks need only 4-5 people across the year. This led to a serious work crunch in the village which led to migration despite the high returns on the fish tanks,”
Since landlords dug up the fields for fish ponds, it adversely affected the groundwater reserve and has contaminated the water bodies around, the protesters allege.
“The people in the village have been buying drinking water bottles and packets as the water being supplied from the Panchayat tap reminds you of the colour of sugarcane juice,” a local activist Rajesh M says.
29-year-old Ravi Kumar running his business in Hyderabad left his village 17 years ago. “Close all the fish tanks and I promise to come back to my village,” he says.
Nandivada mandal, under which Ilaparru falls, has the second largest per capita income in Andhra Pradesh while it is the only mandal across the state where the population has been decreasing every year continuously since the early 2000’s, local activists argue.
Besides, the non-Dalit landlords, the protesters also allege, Thota Seetarmahalakshmi, Rajya Sabha MP from TDP, belonging to the Kapu community, has also occupied 27 acres amongst these 165 acres of assigned land.
After the Dalits started protesting against the encroachment, the MP has reportedly sent emissaries to the village offering them to develop their village and lay cement roads if the Dalits agree to forego the land and stop the movement.
We have walked on mud roads all of our lives. We don’t mind walking on them in the future. But, we want out lands. How can rich upper caste politicans like her grab away the land which the Government has given to the poorSundar Rao, A Dalit protestor
Sundar Rao has been part of the agitation since 2007.
If the MLA was offering cement roads to woo them, the revenue officials allegedly asked the landlords to ‘give crackers’ for Diwali and build a temple for the Dalits.
What will we do with a temple and crackers? We are neither Hindus nor we celebrate Diwali. Instead of giving our land to us, they are also imposing their Brahminical culture on usA young Dalit who requested anonymity
The protesters demand that since the land have been transferred after 1954 and there are enough proofs of the same, including the loan from Indian Overseas Bank, according to the A.P. Assigned Lands (Prohibition of Transfers) Act 1977, the government should take all the necessary steps to handover the land to the Dalits.
The Colelctors, the Joint Collector and even the new RDO has ruled that the land belongs to the Dalits. However, none of them is handing over the land to the Dalits. This is the reason we tried to reclaim the land and hand it over to the DalitsKrishna district secretary of the All India Agricultural Workers Association (AIAWU)
Chief Minister Chandrababu Naidu, who regularly boasts of development and growth at every opportunity he gets, has not bothered to react to the struggle of the Dalits. But the marginalised has vowed to fight till justice is delivered.