People's Democracy(Weekly Organ of the Communist Party of India (Marxist)
August 27, 2006
Land Question Comes To Centre Stage
A A Nainar
KAMARAJAR Arangam, the majestic auditorium in Chennai named after a simple Congressman who rose from the ranks to become the president of the All India Congress Committee, was bursting at its seams with thousands of landless labourers and Kisan Sabha members endlessly pouring into it. While the seating capacity of the auditorium was 1900, there was almost double that number of people who turned up on August 17, 2006 to reiterate their ‘right to land and livelihood’.
The occasion was a day long convention organised to highlight the demand of the rural poor for their land rights and also to demand the state government not to renege on its electoral promise of providing two acres of land to each landless family. Speaker after speaker advised the government not succumb to the pressures and pulls of those who want to perpetuate the existing inequitable land holding system.
During the last assembly elections, other than the Left parties which demanded radical land reforms, the DMK had promised in its manifesto that if elected their government would give two acres of land for each landless family in the state. AIADMK supreme Jayalalitha had ridiculed this promise throughout her election campaign and faced the wrath of the people at the hustings. But her broadside against this key issue continues even after the elections. The AIADMK MLAs in the newly constituted assembly continue to ridicule this proposal and ask wherefrom Karunanidhi will distribute 50 lakh acres to the landless.
The AIKS and AIAWU had jointly organised this convention not only to highlight the importance of the issue but also to expose the hidden landholdings of vested interests which refuse to part with this important factor of production that could emancipate the lives of lakhs of families if properly distributed. With the main opposition party in the assembly acting as an impediment to the implementation of the scheme of two acres to every landless farmer, it has become incumbent upon the AIKS and AIAWU to mount public pressure on the government. The convention, which kickstarts such a campaign, declared that the surplus lands for distribution among the landless would be identified by the organisations through holding of cycle jathas from September 11 to 17 through out the state. A list of such identified lands would be then submitted to every district collector on September 21 demanding distribution of lands without any delay.
The convention was chaired by G Veeraiyan, president of the AIAWU state unit and A Mohammed Ali, president of AIKS unit. CPI(M) state secretary N Varadarajan inaugurated the convention while AIKS state secretary K Balakrishnan proposed the resolution of the convention. P Shanumgam (AIKS), A Soundararajan (CITU), U Vasuki (AIDWA) S Kannan (DYFI) and C Govindasamy MLA, Leader of the CPI(M) in the state assembly greeted the convention and expressed their solidarity. Twelve representative delegates took part in the deliberations. CPI(M) Polit Bureau member and AIKS general secretary K Varadarajan delivered the special concluding address. Thirunavukkarasu of AIAWU proposed the vote of thanks. The convention ended with a clarion call to highlight the demand of right to land and to successfully implement the first phase of agitation in September.
HEROIC STRUGGLES FOR LAND
The question of land has now truly come to the centre stage of Tamilnadu politics thanks to the sustained campaign launched by the CPI(M), All India Kisan Sabha (AIKS) and All India Agricultural Workers Union (AIAWU). The farmers and landless agricultural labourers of the state have been conducting various movements, before Independence and after, to establish their right to land. The landholdings have been concentrated in few hands while the vast majority of the rural poor – comprising largely of dalits and economically and socially backward people – are left landless despite the fact that it is they who do the real work of producing on these lands. Of course, there are exceptions of some small and marginal farmers who own 10 to 20 acres of traditional family lands.
The land grab movements launched by the Kisan Sabha in the early sixties and seventies met with limited success for the movement. Successive governments in the state acted blatantly in favour of the landlords and suppressed such movements using force. Many early leaders of the kisan movement had sacrificed their lives in the struggle for the right to land and self-respect of the farming community. Not only the state administration but also the judiciary had been acting in a partisan manner favouring the landlords. In the case relating to the burning alive of 44 dalits in a locked house in Keela Venmani, the infamous judgement of the Madras High Court observed that it just could not accept the prosecution arguments and came to the conclusion that a landlord cannot act in such an inhuman manner. During eighties and nineties, the governments of the day tried to reverse the clock back by diluting land ceiling acts surreptitiously for sometime and then blatantly as a policy.
LAND SCAMS OF AIADMK GOVT
In Tamilnadu, the erstwhile government led by AIADMK chief Jayalalitha gave away hundreds of acres of fallow land to industrial houses at throwaway prices, which was opposed vehemently by the Left parties then. There was a virtual land scam everywhere. Jayalalitha with the help of her family associates registered hundreds of acres of land belonging to the dalit families to herself at Siruthavoor village in Chingleput district.
Many corporate houses with a promise of promoting industrial parks had curried favour with the Jayalalitha government and annexed thousands of acres of land at throwaway prices. Elsewhere in the hills of Nilgris, tea estates and forest lands were given on long term lease to Tatas and other big business houses. For a total of 42,000 acres of land given on lease, the government is earning a pittance of Rs 40,000 per annum as annual rent that works out less than a rupee a year.
In Sivagangai district alone, thousands of acres of land belonging to small and marginal farmers were taken over by supporters of Jayalalitha who got them registered in benami and were using the lands for farm estates and allied activities. The same was the case in Srivaikuntam in Tuticorin district where the beneficiary was none other than Jayalalitha’s close friend and confidant, Sasikala. In Krishnagiri district, AIAIDMK former MLA and the present functionaries of the party are occupying hundreds of acres of government land and even today refuse to part with. These people connived with a few land registration department officials and indulged in such a scam. The same set of people were transferred to various places to enable such bogus registrations.
FEUDAL OPPRESSION IN RURAL SIDE
With such a bad track record on land deals, it is not surprising that AIADMK is vehemently opposed to distribution of land for the landless. Already the irrigated lands are concentrated in the hands of a few landlord families and rich farmers. On top of this, the government lands and fallow lands are also enjoyed by these powerful groups. Thousands of acres of land are controlled by big and small temples. These temple lands are being tilled by the landless farmers with no rights of any sort except for the purpose of eking out a sub-human living.
The social impact of this concentrated landholdings is very negative with widespread prevalence of untouchability and caste oppression in their worst forms. For the past ten years running no panchayat election could be held in villages like Pappapatti. Keerippatti, Nattamangalam and Kottangachiendal in and around Madurai district. When media highlighted such a plight the upper caste Hindus in one election proposed their servants as contestants only to make them resign from the post after getting elected. Such fooling around has been going on for decades and the government and bourgeoisie parties refuse to intervene in favour of the dalits. The dalits are forced to fight for every small thing like taking potable water from common wells, participating in temple festivals, walking with chappals in upper caste Hindu areas or going on bicycles, drinking tea along with others at roadside tea shops (there is a two glass system - one for upper castes and the other for dalits – in shops), sporting towels on ones shoulders etc. Many a times the dalilts have sacrificed their lives in their fight for self respect. But today realisation has dawned on them that the only way out of this centuries-old discrimination and exploitation is by fighting for radical land reforms.
This change in perception could be effected largely due to the sustained movements and campaign launched by the CPI(M) with the backing of the people during the past decade. Especially for the past two years since the banner of revolt was raised for land, food and employment by the CPI(M) in a big way, hundreds and thousands of people came on to the streets and courted arrest in direct actions. Those who were ridiculing the demand of “land to the tiller” have come round to accept the necessity for radical land reforms. The ongoing August campaign has been used to highlight the fruits of such land reforms for dalits and other downtrodden sections of the society as seen in West Bengal and other Left-ruled states. There is growing pressure of masses on the state government to make good its promise of distribution of land and this successful convention will only further intensify their resolve to fight for their right to land.