May 10, 2015

Historic Solidarity Action to Protect Land Rights & Resist Land Grab

Vijoo Krishnan

THOUSANDS of peasants and agricultural workers converged in Bangalore on April 28, 2015 in an unprecedented solidarity action to convey a resounding “No” to the draconian Land Acquisition Ordinance brought by the Narendra Modi-led BJP government and assert their rights over land and water. A unique issue-based unity comprising of 12 organisations of peasants, agricultural workers, devadasi women, dalits, adivasis and small planters was built, described by some as a trend-setter for future politics in Karnataka. The Bhoo Adhikar Rally as it was called was inaugurated by the CPI(M) general secretary, Sitaram Yechury by beating the drum, a traditional sign of conveying loud and clear to the people’s enemy that the people are ready for a struggle until victory. The struggle for land rights has been a long drawn one and there had been a massive mobilisation in October last to ensure that over 20 lakh “Bagair Hukum” cultivators cultivating government land and forest land will be given land rights and are not forcibly evicted. The Congress government has gone back on assurances given then and equates these poor peasants with land grabbers. Eviction processes were carried out in districts like Hassan which was heroically resisted by the peasantry under the KPRS/AIKS banner. The BJP government’s latest ordinance to facilitate land grab also inserted a clause for survey of wasteland including arid land and maintaining a record containing details of such land. This also opens up scope for legal sanction for eviction of these poor peasants cultivating small pieces of land for generations from their main source of livelihood. The massive mobilisation at the Bhoo Adhikar Rally was a resounding rebuff of the landless, poor peasants, agricultural workers, devadasi women and adivasis to the Congress and BJP attack. Anger against the BJP government’s Land Acquisition Ordinance was visible across the state. People resolved that they will build the broadest possible unity and resist forced acquisition of their land. A massive signature campaign is also going on against the ordinance in the state. The unprecedented unity witnessed wherein over a dozen organisations came together was primarily the manifestation of the opposition to this pro-corporate Land Acquisition Ordinance. STRUGGLE FOR WATER RIGHTS Large parts of Karnataka are in a situation of perennial drought or fall under arid zones with the fastest rates of desertification. Almost seven districts are in this state and the problem is acute in Kolar, Chikkaballapur, Tumkur, Bangalore Rural and other districts. The marchers also demanded water rights and implementation of Paramashivaiah Committee Report which proposed solutions for the perennial water problem. These areas had severe drinking water problem and depleting ground water table leading to problem of scarcity of water for irrigation. The Congress and the BJP at various times had been promising to Kolar, Chikkaballapur, Bangalore Rural, Tumkur and other districts saying they would get water from the Yettinaholey Project despite knowing fully well that there is not enough water in it. Of the over 4200 water bodies like lakes, tanks and ponds in undivided Kolar not even 10 percent can be filled by this Project. The government is now talking of filling treated sewage water in the tanks and lakes although there are no purification plants and the concerns of consequences to health are not addressed. Entire families from Kolar, Chikkaballapur and Bangalore Rural marched against this insensitive attitude of the government. A group of children led by 10 year old Akshaya, Aboobacker Siddiqui and Bhanuprakash marched the entire 100 km from Bagepalli. They claimed to have convinced their friends and families to join as the water scarcity was so acute that they had to walk long distances to get drinking water. Venkataramanappa in his seventies led all the way in the march from Bagepalli. Lakshminarayana who was fully blind also marched the entire distance. Charan, also 10 year old marched the entire distance from Sreenivasapura. Malamma and Ratnamma landless agricultural workers marched the entire 465 km from Naragunda despite families requesting them to return. Hanif, an auto driver marched 200 km from Chitradurga being inspired by the cause although he has no organisational background. Timmarayappa aged 80 years marched all the way from Sreenivasapura to Bangalore. Moasunep Jamir from Nagaland also joined in solidarity and marched 26 km from Bagepalli. Their determination and energy was infectious. BUILD UP TO THE BHOO ADHIKAR RALLY As a precursor to the massive rally there had been padayatras from eight different locations where thousands marched over a thousand kilometres before merging with the massive mobilisation in Bangalore. The first of the March started on April 8, from the legendary site of Naragunda in Dharwar district known for the historic peasants’ struggle which changed the course of the state’s politics in the 1980’s. It traversed eight districts and covered over 465 kilometres taking the message of struggle to the people. Karnataka Prantha Raitha Sangha (affiliated to All India Kisan Sabha) leader Channarayappa led this determined team of about 15 marchers who marched the entire stretch for 20 days. They were joined at different points by hundreds of peasants and agricultural workers. There were six other marches from Gudibande, Bagepalli and Gauribidanur in Chikkaballapur district and Sreenivasapura, Siddalaghatta and Chintamani in Kolar district each covering more than 100 kilometres to Bangalore in four days. These six marches saw few thousands marching in the sweltering heat with entire families including children, women and the aged taking part. Public meetings were held at different points and villagers as well as workers under the CITU banner received the marchers at different venues. The entire expenditure for the food, refreshments and stay of the marchers were borne by the people of different villages and the workers who came out in a great show of solidarity. Maruti Manpade, president and U Basavaraja, secretary of Karnataka Prantha Raitha Sangha joined the marchers from Naragunda at different points. GN Nagaraj, vice-president of Karnataka Prantha Krishi Koolikarara Sangha (affiliated to AIAWU) attended the inauguration of the padayatra at Naragunda. The padayatra was inaugurated by GV Sriram Reddy, vice-president, KPRS and state secretary, CPI(M). He also marched the entire stretch from Bagepalli for four days in addition to inaugurating and addressing the marches from different parts. GC Byyareddy, Venkatachalaiah, vice-presidents, KPRS, BS Soppin, KPRS leader and others also joined at different points. Separate jeep jathas were held for campaign in different taluks across the state for taking the message to the people. AIKS joint secretary Vijoo Krishnan joined in solidarity on behalf of the AIKS and covered nearly 100 kilometres marching with the different teams for four days. Thousands of pamphlets were distributed all through the way explaining the issues involved. THE HISTORIC RALLY HERALDS NEW HOPE The marchers from across the state converged on the Freedom Park which was filled to capacity and overflowing on to the roads. The meeting began with a minute’s silence in memory of those killed in the earthquake that hit Nepal and Bihar as well as in memory of Gajendra Singh and other farmers who committed suicide. U Basavaraju, secretary, KPRS welcomed the gathering. Maruti Manpade, president of KPRS presided over the proceedings. Sitaram Yechury, general secretary, CPI(M) and MP, Rajya Sabha inaugurated the massive Rally. In his inaugural address he said that the Modi government has brought back the draconian provisions of the 1894 Colonial Land Acquisition Act and was paying back the corporates who funded his election campaign. He said that the Left had problems with the Land Acquisition Act of 2013 and pressed for amendments. He said the Land Acquisition Bill will be stalled in the Rajya Sabha. He pointed out to the CAG Report that had found that land acquired for SEZs in most parts of India were lying unutilised and it is only promoting real estate speculation. He warned that if the BJP government and other state governments disregard the massive public opinion and go against the interests of farmers and agricultural workers, massive united struggles will be built to resist forcible acquisition at every such space. The red flag will rise against unjust land acquisition and unite broadest sections in this struggle, he said. Hannan Mollah, general secretary of All India Kisan Sabha and Polit Bureau member, CPI(M) explained the efforts made by AIKS to build the broadest possible unity. He said that across the country the AIKS and other organisations will collect over five crore signatures against the Land Acquisition Ordinance. He said the provisions in the Land Grab Ordinance will lead to large scale evictions of genuine cultivators and also lead to large take-over of fertile land threatening food security of the nation. The Modi government has removed whatever progressive content was included in the Act like the principle of consent and Social Impact Assessment as well as some safeguards for food security, he said. Medha Patkar, convenor of NAPM stressed that the unprecedented unity that is built will defeat the BJP government’s anti-farmer, anti-people ordinance. She called upon the peasantry and agricultural workers, dalits and adivasis to strengthen the unity and protect their land. GV Sriram Reddy attacked the BJP and the Congress governments as well as JD-S for misleading people and not doing anything to address the irrigation and drinking water problems of the state. Irrigation minister M B Patil came and assured that the issues raised will be brought to the notice of the chief minister and a meeting will be held soon with the different organisations. Noted writer Devanur Mahadevappa, KS Puttannaiah, MLA and leader of Karnataka Rajya Raitha Sangha, Chamarasa Patil, president KRRS, Mavalli Shankar, Dalit Sangharsh Samiti (Ambedkarvadi), Yogendra Yadaw, Swaraj Abhiyan and others spoke on the occasion. Vijoo Krishnan, joint secretary, AIKS, GN Nagaraj, vice-president, Karnataka Prantha Krishikoolikarara Sangha, Chukki Nanjundaswamy, KRRS leader and others were present on the occasion. The unprecedented unity and solidarity represented by the tricolour of Red, Blue and Green heralds a new beginning in the struggle against neo-liberal policies.