People's Democracy(Weekly Organ of the Communist Party of India (Marxist)
January 21, 2007
TRIBAL FOREST RIGHTS ACT
Massive Victory Rallies In Maharashtra
A section of the crowd at the AIKS rally at Kalwan tehsil, Nashik district
ON January 12, 2007, at Talasari in Thane district, more than 10,000 women, an overwhelming majority of them tribals, attended the huge rally organised by the AIDWA Thane district committee to celebrate the adoption of the Tribal Forest Rights Act by parliament. The rally also celebrated the silver jubilee year of the AIDWA and marked the culmination of the very well-attended AIDWA state committee meeting held at Talasari on January 11-12. The Talasari womens’ rally was by far the largest rally independently organised by the AIDWA in Maharashtra so far, and the main speaker was AIDWA vice president and CPI(M) Polit Bureau member Brinda Karat, MP.
On January 13, 2007, at Kalwan in Nashik district, more than 25,000 peasants, most of them tribals, participated in another massive victory rally organised by the AIKS Nashik district council, again to celebrate the enactment of the Tribal Forest Rights Act. This district-wide rally was the culmination of a concerted campaign on the same issue by the AIKS, during which 11 tehsil rallies were held throughout Nashik district from December 26 to January 6. The total attendance of peasants in all these 11 rallies exceeded 50,000. Brinda Karat was again the main speaker at the Kalwan rally.
The statewide CPI(M) campaign on this issue began on December 22, less than a week after the passing of the Forest Rights Act, with a huge 20,000-strong rally organised by the CPI(M) Thane district committee at Vikramgad with just four days of preparation. The main speaker at this rally was CPI(M) Polit Bureau member Sitaram Yechury, MP (covered in People’s Democracy, December 25-31, 2006 issue).
A similar campaign is in progress in Nandurbar district, where a dozen rallies with a total mobilisation of over 10,000 have been held under the banner of the CPI(M), AIAWU and AIKS. Similar rallies have been held in Yavatmal, Amravati, Nanded and Ahmednagar districts. This campaign is an integral part of the CPI(M)’s preparation for the statewide Zilla Parishad and Panchayat Samiti elections that are due on February 11 and 14.
For the last several decades, the CPI(M) in Maharashtra has been waging intense struggles to get the land vested in the names of the landless tribals and non-tribals who have been cultivating their forest plots for generations. 59 comrades in Thane district and 3 comrades in Nashik district have been martyred in struggles for land over the years. Hundreds more have been jailed. Yet every central government so far, whether led by the Congress or by the BJP, has issued orders from time to time for the eviction of Adivasis from their forest lands. And every time, the Adivasis under the leadership of the Red Flag, have resisted all attempts to evict them.
Militant battles have been waged by the Adivasis against the forest rangers and the police. Women, who are involved in all the agricultural activities, have also been in the forefront of these struggles. In 2002, in response to the eviction orders issued by the BJP-led central government, over 1.5 lakh people in the state courted arrest and resisted any attempt at eviction, under the leadership of the CPI(M). It was through such struggles over the years that thousands of tribals succeeded in keeping the land in their possession.
AIDWA RALLY AT TALASARI
January 12, the day of the Talasari AIDWA rally, was historically significant for two reasons. It was on this day in 1945 that, under the leadership of Comrades Shamrao Parulekar and Godavari Parulekar, the Maharashtra Rajya Kisan Sabha was formed at its foundation conference at Titwala in Thane district. The day also marked the birth anniversary of another veteran, Comrade Narendra Malusare, who along with Godavari Parulekar, pioneered the building of the CPI(M) and the AIKS in Nashik district.
Attired in attractive and colourful sarees, thousands of women poured into Talasari that day from all directions. Young and old, they came in trucks, tempos, jeeps, buses and rickshaws. Thousands more came walking from the neighbouring villages, with children in hand. Women came from the ravines, mountains and forests of Jawhar, Vikramgad, Mokhada, Dahanu, Palghar, Wada and Talasari tehsils of Thane district. There was an infectious mood of jubilation in the air. It was indeed a joyous occasion for all. With the passage of the Tribal Forest Rights Act, the dream of getting the forest plot lands vested in their names was now a reality. Their decades-long struggle had finally borne fruit.
A concerted fortnight-long campaign of village-level meetings and the distribution of 10,000 leaflets had been undertaken by AIDWA activists in Thane district to ensure the success of this rally. Activists of the other mass organisations in Thane district, like the AIKS, AIAWU and DYFI, had also helped the AIDWA in its efforts.
When Brinda Karat entered Talasari, she along with all the members of the AIDWA Maharashtra state committee, were greeted by a band of the Katkari tribe playing their traditional instrument called the ‘sangda’. Women dancing to the tune of the ‘sangda’ led the procession. Students of the Comrade Godavari Shamrao Parulekar College in Talasari, most of them belonging to the Warli tribe, performed the ‘lejhim’ and ‘gauri’ dance. The students of the Sunil Kom secondary school performed the traditional tribal ‘tarpa’ dance. An effective play against superstition was also presented by the students. Women spontaneously responded to the play and enjoyed the cultural programme.
AIDWA CEC member and Thane district secretary Hemlata Kom, in her introductory speech, welcomed all the leaders and congratulated the women for making this rally an unprecedented success. The grounds of the Talasari Party office, called the Comrade B T Ranadive Bhavan, were literally overflowing with the tribal women.
Before her speech, Brinda Karat garlanded the photograph of the stalwart of the Warli Adivasi Revolt, Godavari Parulekar. She congratulated the AIDWA leadership of Thane district for organising this remarkable rally and the women participants for their brave struggles against police repression during the land agitations. Since independence, the Congress and BJP-led governments have been in power at the centre. None of them ever wanted to give land to the tribals. But it was because of the mass struggles of tribals led by the CPI(M) and the pressure of the Left MPs in parliament, especially those of the CPI(M), that the UPA government was forced to pass the Forest Rights Act.
But, she said, the Congress and NCP tried to create obstacles in actually giving this right to tribals. The initial Bill placed by the government proposed 1980 as the cut-off year; it proposed giving an upper limit of only 2.5 hectares of forest land per family; and it refused to recognise the rights of the traditional non-tribal forest-dwellers. We opposed all these stipulations tooth and nail and the Joint Select Committee made unanimous recommendations which forced the government to change them. Now all tribals tilling forest land up to December 2005 will become its owners; upto a maximum of 4 hectares, per family; and the rights of traditional non-tribal forest-dwellers will also be protected, although some improvements in this have yet to be made.
This Act, Brinda Karat said, is a historic piece of legislation in our struggle for the right to land, although there are still loopholes and weakness. She also stressed the fact that forests have been saved wherever tribals have been involved in forest management. Tribals depend on the forests for their living and hence the preservation of the forests is vital to them. It is actually the jungle mafia along with contractors, forest officials, the police, the bureaucracy and corrupt bourgeois politicians who have been responsible for denuding the forest cover. She stressed that at the time of framing rules also a big struggle will have to be launched as also for its implementation.
Speaking of the larger struggle going on in the country, she referred to the alarming incidence of suicides of indebted peasants, the growing malnutrition-related deaths of tribal children, the breakdown of the public distribution system, the sky-rocketing price rise of essential commodities, the serious question of unemployment and the need to stringently implement and expand the scope of the NREGA, the necessity of a law providing social security to agricultural labourers and unorganised workers, the importance of adopting the Womens’ Reservation Bill and the urgent necessity of combating all forms of communalism, casteism and social oppression. For all this, she said, our struggles must vastly increase in scope and intensity. Finally, she called upon the women to take active part in the coming election battle for the Zilla Parishads and Panchayat Samitis, to defeat the BJP-SS combine as well as the INC-NCP alliance, and to ensure the resounding victory of the CPI(M) in these elections.
One of the highlights of this rally was the felicitation at the hands of Brinda Karat of 10 senior AIDWA tribal women leaders of Thane district, who are now in their seventies and eighties. Rupli Ozare, Halu Dumada, Walhi Dadoda, Kashibai Chavan, Mahi Barga, Gangu Merya, Jamni Kathya, Ratni Satvi, Khati Kharpade and Jamni Kurhada had all moved with great dedication from hamlet to hamlet to build the AIDWA in Thane district when it was re-started in 1994. The AIDWA in Thane district has now crossed a membership of 16,000 and has set a target of 20,000 for the year 2007.
The rally was also addressed by CPI(M) Thane district secretary Raja Ozare, MLA, AIDWA vice-president Kalindi Deshpande, state president Kiran Moghe, state general secretary Mariam Dhawale and state committee members from Thane district Rasila Dhodi, Sangeeta Ozare and Vatsala Bhoye. It was presided over by Thane district president Santi Malavkar. The rally greatly enthused all those who participated in it and it also had a great political impact on the eve of the Zilla Parishad elections.
AIKS RALLY AT KALWAN
The AIKS rally at Kalwan was also a massive spectacle and it overflowed with enthusiasm. It began with a huge procession through the streets of Kalwan, a tehsil centre in Nashik district where the AIKS work is still at a primary stage. But as a result of a concerted campaign launched by activists of the stronghold of Surgana, who moved from village to village, thousands of peasants had come from Kalwan tehsil. They were joined by several thousand peasants from all over Nashik district. The Kalwan market yard ground was overflowing with people and they included a good proportion of women.
The rally was addressed by Brinda Karat, who gave the details of the struggle for the enactment of the Tribal Forest Rights Act and also spoke on the current political challenges before the country today. Here also, she concluded by calling on the peasantry to defeat the BJP-SS and INC-NCP and to ensure the victory of CPI(M) candidates in the coming Zilla Parishad and Panchayat Samiti elections.
The rally was presided over by AIKS state president J P Gavit, MLA, and was addressed by AIKS state general secretary Dr Ashok Dhawale, AIKS state vice-president Krishna Khopkar, CITU state general secretary Dr D L Karad, AIDWA state general secretary Mariam Dhawale, AIKS district secretary Kisan Gujar, AIKS district president Bhika Raut, AIAWU leader from Nandurbar district Ishwar Patil and other AIKS leaders in Nashik district like Gunaji Gavit, Savliram Pawar, Raosaheb Lande, Irfan Sheikh, Shivaji Valinkar, Jijabai Ushir and Sindhubai Gaikwad.
Coming as a culmination of the 11 tehsil-level victory rallies that had been organised by the AIKS in Nashik district over the last few days, this massive district-wide rally had a great political impact all over Nashik district.