[Security] Rural Unrest: An Outcome of Unmet Dues

Rural Unrest: An Outcome of Unmet Dues

Peasants did not disappear. Tribals could not be assimilated with the mainstream populace. Dalits continue to be the landless hewers of wood and drawers of water for the upper classes and castes. The projected trajectories of the development paradigm of large scale withdrawal of surplus labour from
the rural areas to be absorbed in the massive development of the secondary and tertiary sectors had gone awry.

Fifty eight per cent of the Indian labour force is still engaged in agriculture and allied occupations. Tribals are being pushed up the hills because of illegal incursion of outsiders in their traditional domain. Dalits continue to swell the ranks of agricultural proletariat which is increasing in an alarming way. Neo-liberal development process totally by-passed them. Not only that the invasion of the corporate sector into agriculture and forestry and enhancement of ceiling limits on land in some states has exacerbated the incidence of landlessness with the consequential rise in the free floating mass of rural poor moving around in search of employment. This has depressing effect on rural wages and has aggravated casualisation of labour on terms grossly unfavourable to them. This is supported by different rounds of NSSO data on agricultural wage from 1983 to 2000.

Victims of development - the project affected people (PAP) - add another unpleasant dimension to the scenario of rural alienation and turmoil. There is no firm official figure regarding the total number of PAP rendered landless due to coercive acquisition of land by the State for "Development Purposes”. Scholars have made various estimates. The generally accepted figure (calculated by Walter Fernandez) is that between 1951 and 2005, 50 to 60 million persons were forcefully evicted from their hearth and home. It is a colossal figure. Among the PAPs tribals constitute 40 per Cent. The absolute figure would be more than what is estimated.

It appears that the main brunt of the adverse effects of development had to be borne by the tribals who had the least sustaining power. Thus a vast number of displaced, homeless, landless and jobless tribals are roaming about as flotsam and jetsam of the cruel development process. They are depressed and dejected, irritated and angry Tribals did not have any concept of "exclusive title or possession within community. Ownership was best understood as mutual respect and recognition of access of an individualor family to a separate plot of land to be used for special requirement of the family
Extension of general laws and their accompanying institutions to the Scheduled Tribal areas created a hiatus between the "modem" laws and their agencies and the traditional mode of tribal life and living style. This resulted in a conflict between the traditional systems and the formal institutions, especially with regard to the rights of tribal people over land and resources on which they had subsisted for centuries without formal ownership deed or title.

Beginning with the colonial time and continuing in the post colonial era, the intrusion of formal economy with privileged individual rights and individual or corporate profit motive has systematically undermined or subverted. The informal. Communitarian system of the tribals and their livelihood. This crisis has been further aggravated by the recent influx of individuals and corporate bodies into the tribal domain and their takeover of tribal lands and other natural resourceswhich traditionally gave sustenance to the tribals.

Tribals lost their control of traditional livelihood resources through several state actions.
  • First is “Forest Reservation Policy” which declared forests, degradedforests, wastelands on the periphery and even partly arable ands as “Reserved Forests” where human habitation was prohibited. These, Reserved Areas sometimes included villages which were allowed to continue without any right or title and which supplied free or cheap labour to Forest Department and ) to forest personnel.
  • Second means of alienation was the leasing of forest lands to the corporate sector for mining, processing industries, agro or forest based business, logging and timber felling or for tourism ventures. Tribals were denied access to pasture lands and forests which had been providing them means of livelihood.
  • Thirdly there were the draconian laws related to Wildlife Protection and National Parks and Sanctuaries which forcefully excluded all habitations from vast areas notified under these laws.
By a sly of hand of the forest authorities’ local rightful residents became interlopers or encroachers on their own lands. The traumatic reversal of the position from rightful owner occupiers to illegal          encroachers pushed the affected people to desperation to use any means to vent their resentment. In some places this deep human tragedy was compounded by the extinction of the species for which such cruel methods were used.     

  • Lastly, as already noted the coercive acquisition of land for "development" purposes has already displaced about 80 to 90 million tribals turning them into Homeless, Landless, Resource less and Jobless. It is not surprising; therefore, that Social Unrest has emerged in the affected areas. It manifests itself in defiance of the authority from simple form of demanding right of community management of forests to militancy.

The State cannot avoid the responsibility of creating conditions in which in sheer desperation and rage, tribals resorted to violence.

Half way across the globe in the Chiapas region of southern Mexico indigenous people declared in 1980---

  • "We demand absolute respect for our communitarian self-determination over our lands, over all our natural resources and over the forms of organization that we wish to give ourselves We are opposed to have our natural resources plundered in the name of a supposed national development".
 The demands of the Chiapas indigenous people in Mexico fully represent the aspiration and demands of 80 million tribals of our country as well.

Our old national leadership was well aware of it. Way back in 1942 Mahatma Gandhi wrote in his news journal Harijan (18-01-1942) ---

  • "The Adivasis are the original inhabitants whose material position is perhaps; do better than that of Harijans and who have been victims of neglect on the part of so called high classes. The Adivasis should have found a special  place in the constructive programme" (Gandhi, M.K. - India of my Dreams, Navjivan Trust, 1947).

Only Mahatma could have the moral courage during the freedom struggle to own up that the society had neglected the Adivasis. It is not therefore strange to find in the Party Programme of Central Committee (P) of CPI (Maoist) - dated 21.092004, the observation that---

  • "The State will ensure various forms of autonomy to all Adivasi communities for their full fledged development and execute special policies accordingly".

Common Property Resources (CPR) where every member of the community had easy access and usage facility used to be an integral part of the social and economic life of the village poor, particularly for the landless and land poor households. Among the landless vast majority belonged to Dalit groups. Some scholarly studies have pointed out that Dalits are concentrated among the landless agricultural labourers because under the traditional caste system they were excluded from ownership of land. Consequently for sheer survival they had to depend heavily on the CPR.

A study of seven states in semi-arid areas indicated that CPR accounted for 9 to 26 per cent of household income of landless and marginal farmers, 91 to 100 per cent of their fuel wood requirements and 69 to 89 per cent of their grazing needs.

However, this CPR is getting increasingly scarce through state possession or privatization including corporatization. In different states corporatizations are being given huge tracts of so called Wasteland, Degraded forest land and Semi-arable lands which constituted CPR for the Dalits and the village poor.

This has badly affected the economic positions of these people.
Neo-liberalism has put the Dalit and agricultural workers under Triple Jeopardy of Social, Economic and Political exclusion.

Exasperated and desperate Dalit groups constitute the tinder dry flammable substance awaiting a spark to ignite.

The overall employment situation in the rural areas is rather bleak. The primary sector employed roughly 58 per cent of the total labour force. Development of secondary and tertiary sectors could not absorb the surplus labour from the primary sector. It is now recognized that in the era of "Jobless Growth" the organised sector's capacity to absorb surplus labour would remain minimal to nil. As a result under compulsion of circumstances the vast majority of additional labour force will have to be absorbed both in the farm and non-farm segments of the rural economy and in the unorganised segment in the urban areas.

It would have several adverse consequences.
  • This large army of landless workers would tend to depress rural wage rates thereby accentuating poverty as already mentioned. It would also increase the number tenancies with harsh and extortionate conditions and terms. Extremely severe forms of exploitation are noticed in respect of these "invisible" tenancies.
Expropriation of CPR for handing over the land to corporate sector for agri-business or industry has caused depeasantization among the farming communities and accentuated immiserisation of already poor landless and marginal farmers most of whom belongs to dalit groups.

  • Depeasantisation directly increases Landlessness and acute poverty coupled with Assetlessness results in debt bondage.
Active encouragement of the state for "contract farming" is putting, self employed autonomous peasants under harsh and often disadvantageous contracts. Incidentally, the protagonists of this move in the State machinery should do well to remember that about 90 years ago in 1917, Mahatma Gandhi's first public action in India after coming from South Africa was to , fight for the cause of peasants of Champaran in Bihar against unfair terms of contract imposed on them by the European Indigo planters.

Advocates of this system should also appreciate that between two unequal partners there cannot he any fair contract in favour of the weak. Land ceiling laws have been implemented in a tardy and improper manner in our country. Even distribution was not done, correctly. In many cases beneficiaries with "patta" in land did not get physical possession of the land allotted to them. Old owners continued to possess and enjoy the usufruct of these lands. Worse still are the cases of the same vested land being distributed to different sets of beneficiaries at different points of time, of course, giving no physical possession to anyone of them. It only made the poor to fight the poor so that the erstwhile landlords could lord over their former estates.

Land holdings after several decades of implementation of ceiling laws still remain highly skewed. In 1995 tiny holdings constituted 78 per cent of the total operational holding and commanded 32 per cent of the area.Thus 22 per cent of operational holding controlled 68 per cent of the arable land. While figures clearly justify further reduction of land ceiling and rationalization of various categories of land for ceiling purposes.

Under the pressure of neoliberal economic policies different states are doing the opposite by enhancing the ceiling limits in the name of commercialization and modernization of agriculture. Thus the possibility of getting a parcel of land by the landless for minimal livelihood and household food security is becoming dimmer by the day.

Apparently, in different' parts of the country' in different depressed and oppressed groups, there are kegs of dry powder waiting for fire to set in. But the flaming bush fire is not taking place as there is a lack of country-wide political mobilization among the landless and the deprived. Instead of being united on the .basis of class, the poor are fragmented along caste, ethnic, religious and other divisive lines. Moreover, land struggle tend to differ for different interest groups. Landless strive for land ownership. Tribals and indigenous groups strive for the protection of their traditional righfs on forest and other livelihood resources. Marginal and small farmers strive not only to retain their land but also to make it more productive and to acquire and, or, to enhance their political power and influence.

Thus with disaffection all around there being no coalescing of interests and objectives, no combined determined movement was possible to seriously threaten the establishment. In an agrarian economy like India land confers personality to all individual or a group. It endows social respectability. It is a means of political empowerment. It is the basic ingredient of a dignified life and living. Hence a just and fair distribution of land resources is of utmost importance for building n egalitarian and strife - free society. It is for the state to arrange for equitable redistribution of hind and water resources and to restore the traditional livelihood rights of the tribals in the forest areas. Unmet just demands may provoke the sufferers to use force whether for occupation of land or for exercising rights over forestry resources. The ruling establishment cannot avoid taking responsibility for its failure to read the writing on the wall.

Another major cause of rural discontent is the trident of malicious governance by the Forest, Revenue and the Police administration. Rajiv Gandhi pithily described the situation---

  • He observed "the experience of the vast majority of our people at the grassroots have been that, at the interface between the people and the administration, the administration is unresponsive, inefficient, unsympathetic, often callous, sometimes even cruel to those whom they meant to serve".

The situation is far worse in the tribal areas what we are witnessing in India and some Latin American countries in the form of rural land movement of violent nature is basically the "third wave" or left politics. When the agrarian crisis is becoming more acute, there is a deepening of political vacuum in the country side.

Traditional parties of the left which had a rather nebulous relationship with the dispossessed in the countryside have, by and large, succumbed to the logic of capital either to obtain power or after obtaining power, eschewing Marxian Left policies, though many of them still carry the name of Marx in their breast plates. They are openly and unashamedly promoting neo-liberalism in its crude form discarding even the fig leaf of egalitarianism not to speak of socialism. The "third wave" of virulent left politics is the direct result of the traditional left's subservience to the needs of capital exhibited through their adherence to the neo-liberal economic reform policies.

The social base or this new movement which includes the Maoists of India, is the masses of rural poor fallen by the wayside because of relentless pursuit of, neo-liberal economic policies. Its leadership is largely confined among the Peasant intellectuals who have disassociated themselves from the established political parties and their university based intellectuals. Their tactic is, predominantly direct action centering round direct physical occupation of land and other natural resources. Some of them have opted for armed struggle like the CPI (Maoist) in India, Zapatistas in Mexico and the FARC in Colombia.

Their strategy is autonomy from the established political parties and the state. This line is being followed by the rural movement in the Philippines, India (CPI-Maoist), South Africa, the Zapatistas in Mexico and MST in Brazil. Their ideology tends to fuse Marxism with the local brand of ethnic or racial discourses. They are quite sensitive to gender and ecological issues. In fact there is a conscious effort to indigenize the Marxian theory to the specific local situation.

Long ago Mao Zedong propounded' the 'thesis of "Fish in Water".
"Fish" were rural militants. Disgruntled disaffected and resentful poor peasantry, agricultural workers, forest dwellers, displaced persons and the like constituted the "Water". If their disaffection could be removed or substantially reduced water would evaporate and the fish would be left high and dry and they would cease to exist eventually. Since almost all the demands and grievances of the tribals, Dalits, landless agricultural workers and the like could be met and resolved' within the parameters of the Constitution and existing legal and policy frame, a responsive and sympathetic political leadership at different levels can solve the issue of rural unrest if they had the will and if they could transcend their proximate class interests. The smouldering ember of rural unrest in India can be doused by proper action undertaken with understanding and sympathy, dialogue and reasoning. Harsh counter violence might not be the correct response as it had failed so far during the last four decades since The Spring of Thunder in 1967.

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