People's Democracy

(Weekly Organ of the Communist Party of India (Marxist)


No. 40

October 02, 2011


Forest Dwellers & Landless Labour

Stage 48 Hour Dharna


Subhashini Ali


HUNDREDS of poor forest dwellers and landless labourers collected in front of the Railway Station, Mirzapur at noon.  Nearly 150 among them were women.  They had come from different villages in remote corners of the district – Baghauda, Pachhokara, Rajapur, Sateshgarh, Nanauti, Birlipur, Golanpur, Dhauhan, Kumarthala, Raikal, Kanhaipur, Jungalmahal Karmanpur, Agawa, Bikana, Banjari-Pawari, Sikta, Padariya, Bamuni, etc.  About 250 came from the neighbouring district of Sonbhadra.  From the Railway Station, a procession was taken out through the streets and bazaars of the town.  Scores of people collected on the road and on the rooftops to see this unusual sight of poor people marching with red flags in their hands, shouting slogans like – “Van Adhikar Kanoon lagoo karo, Varna kursi khaali karo”.  The procession, led by national and state leaders of the All India Agricultural Workers’ Union - Suneet Chopra, Ambika Misra, Brijlal Bharti, Ram Kripal, Subhashini Ali and others, ended at the District Collectorate where the 48-hour dharna started on September 21-22.


Mirzapur and Sonbhadra are two of the most backward and poorest districts of Uttar Pradesh.  They have a large population of landless workers and forest dwellers but the number of pattas issued under the Forest Rights Act is practically nil.  One important reason for this is the fact that the Kols – recognised as STs in neighbouring MP and other States – are not recognised as STs in UP but as SCs.  As a result, all forest-dwellers are expected to provide documentation proving residence for more than 70 years which they simply do not have and cannot access.  At the same time, they have absolutely no other alternative but to live in the forests, gather forest-produce and also cultivate fields as they have done for generations.


The participants of the dharna had assembled at the Collectorate precisely to press their demands for recognition as forest-dwellers.  In the last year or so they have been facing the wrath of the authorities who have used the police and the forest guards to try and evict them.  They have responded in many villages by hoisting red flags on their meager huts and organising to face the authorities courageously and successfully.  Now some NGOs have also entered the fray.  The government is giving them the right to large tracts of land in the name of ‘forestation’ and they have also joined in the eviction battle.  What is most reprehensible is the fact that the administration and the ruling party are actively encouraging large-scale cutting down of trees and smuggling of timber and turning a blind eye to the grabbing of hundreds of acres of forest land by feudal elements, mafia gangs and a variety of ‘Sadhus’ and ‘Babas’ who are clearing the forests and building elaborate ashrams.  In one case, Swami Agrahananda, tried to forcibly evict poor forest-dwellers and occupy their land but had to retreat in the face of their unity and militant opposition. 


The dharna continued into the night and till the late afternoon the next day.  There were songs and also dances.  And many spoke about their problems, their demands and their determination to cultivate their land at all costs.  District leaders Ram Asrey, Suresh, Mithai lal, Shiv Kumar, Chinta and Shyam Devi (AIDWA) and others also addressed the participants.


On the 22nd, a delegation of the AIAWU met the deputy commissioner and handed over the individual applications for pattas of hundreds of forest dwellers.  Memoranda regarding MGNREGA, police atrocities and the activities of land-grabbers were also given.  A detailed discussion on all these issues was held and the commissioner was also approached.  He assured the delegation that he would do whatever was possible to help the poor access their rights.


These assurances were conveyed to those who had gathered.  It was decided by all who had gathered there that they would give some time to the administration to accede to their demands but if this did not happen, then they would come in much greater numbers, bringing their animals with them and they would not leave until their right to live in the forests and enjoy its fruits was established.




DESPITE the heavy rain that had started the previous night and continued through the day, more than 1000 women and about 200 men belonging to the poorest rural strata gathered in Selimpur (Tehsil) in Deoria from more than 50 villages of the area.  Most of the women belonged to dalit and OBC sections of society and were working as mid-day meal cooks in primary schools, as MGNREGA workers, as agricultural labourers.  They are desperately poor and willing to do back-breaking work for a pittance, payment of which is often delayed.  Most of them have recently been organised by the AIAWU in the district and their determination to access any kind of work at all was only too apparent in the large numbers in which they collected in front of the PWD Guest House where a pandal had been erected for their meeting and their refusal to budge from there despite the constant and heavy rain.


A very large number of women were widows.  Most of them had received widow –pensions (Rs 300 a month) for only a few months before it was cancelled usually because it was proved that they had adult sons.  This is a tragic situation in which destitute women are deprived of a pittance on the grounds that they have sons when, in most cases, the sons are either not in a position to or are not interested in looking after their old parents or parent.  The real reason for this administrative heartlessness is the fact that there are fixed ‘quotas’ for each block and since the number of widows exceeds these quotas, a sort of musical chairs is initiated in which widows receive the pension for a few months at a time. 


The women employed as mid-day meal cooks – many of whom are also widows had not received any payment for months together.  While they had to carry headloads of bags of rice and firewood to the schools as well as cook and serve the meals to at least 70 children each, they were often forced to do this without any remuneration at all.  What is even worse is that, after the recent panchayat elections, the new pradhans removed the cooks and appointed new ones in their place.  Not only is this a grave injustice but it has resulted in poor women treating each other as enemies. 


MGNREGA women workers complained that they were not being given any work at most of the work-sites.  When they did get some work, they had to work as hard as the men but only received half the wage.  Very often the wages were not paid for months and, in one case, have not been paid for more than a year.


The number of women who had BPL or Antyodaya cards was about a dozen.  Even they did not get rations every month and when they did, they got only 20 kgs when the quota has been increased, this year, to 48 kgs.  Many of them said that, often, they only got kerosene and no ration at all.


Women like Anjula, Geeta, Asha, Usha, Chandrapati, Nanki Devi and Ramdani addressed the rally – all of them speaking on a microphone for the first time in their lives – and raised all these issues. 


Brijlal Bharti, Satish and Hariband Prasad (secretary and president of district AIAWU), Prem and Subhashini Ali also spoke.  At the end of the rally, it was decided that all the women, and many more, would come with written memoranda to the tehsil headquarter soon after Dussehra and participate in a dharna the likes of which have certainly never been witnessed there before.