January 16, 2022

Maha: Convention of Landless Agricultural Workers

Vinod Govindwar

A Two-Day, state-level convention of the landless and the homeless was held on December 29-30, 2021 in Jalna district of Maharashtra. It was organised by the Maharashtra Rajya Khet Mazdoor Union (Lal Bowta), the state unit of AIAWU. More than two hundred delegates attended the convention and resolved to launch a sustained struggle on the basic question of land and the right of home in rural India.

Before the convention, a public meeting of more than 2,000 agricultural workers was organised on December 29 at the multi-sports ground in Jalna.

Hannan Mollah, general secretary of AIKS, inaugurated the convention. During his inaugural address, he denounced the successive central governments for their failure to enact central legislation for agriculture workers. There is no central law that takes care of working conditions, wages, payment of wages and other issues related to agricultural workers. He called upon the agricultural workers to intensify their struggle to force the central government to enact comprehensive legislation for agricultural labour. He also slammed the successive governments for not accomplishing the task of land reforms seriously and betraying the landless working class of rural India.

Mollah said that millions of acres of land are captured by landlords of the country, but the landless people are waiting for their legitimate share of land. Even they don’t have land ownership to get a grant for the construction of a roof of their own. He further underlined the important role of women agricultural workers and the dual oppression faced by them in the hands of landlords. Women constitute a major section of agricultural workers as men migrate to cities and other distant places in search of work but women are staying back and working as agricultural workers. Normally they are not paid equal wages and gender oppression is common. He called upon the agricultural workers union to take up the issues related to the lives of women agricultural workers on priority.

Vikram Singh, joint secretary of the All India Agricultural Workers Union (AIAWU), was one of the speakers. He explained the abysmal distribution of land and highlighted the importance of land struggle to change the power equation in rural India. Adequate housing, considered a human right, is the responsibility of the government, but it is working against this principle and displacing millions of rural people, including tribals, from their houses. Criticising the BJP-led central government for its pro-corporate and anti-people policies, he called upon the rural masses for a decisive united struggle.

Sarita Khandare, Baliram Bhumbe and Anna Sawant also addressed the public meeting. The public meeting was presided over by Maroti Khandare, state president of the union. Women constituted more than 80 per cent of the total gathering. It is important to note that this number is motivating as a complete strike of public buses is going on in Maharashtra for the last few months demanding regularisation of staff. It means poor agricultural workers were forced to hire costly means of transportation. 

The delegate session of the convention started after the public meeting. Maroti Khandare, Vinod Govindwar, Swati, Sudam Shinde, Manjushri Khadare were elected as presidium of the convention. The main draft resolution was placed by state secretary Baliram Bhumbe. More than 20 delegates participated in the discussion. Most of them were landless labourers and they explained their stories of sorrow and pain. After detailed discussion and inclusion of suggestions of the delegates, the convention unanimously adopted the resolution and decided to identify the number of landless and homeless people in districts. Accordingly, a list will be prepared in the month of January and continuous and sustained struggle will be launched. 

The resolution adopted by the convention included the following demands:

•        Distribute surplus land among landless agricultural workers.
•        Families residing on government land should be given its ownership.
•        Implement the Forest Rights Act 2006. The claims of forest dwellers should be settled.
•        There are cases where land is in the name of a family but they have neither documents nor possession which deprives them of even government schemes. These families should be given documents and possession of the land.
•        Local people with muscle power and political influence have encroached on government land. Such land should be taken back and distributed among the landless.
•        People from dominant castes and money lenders have encroached on the land of rural poor, primarily Dalits and Adivasis. Such people should be punished and ownership and possession of land should be given to real owners of the land.
•        Required technical and financial assistance should be given to the beneficiaries of land distribution.
•        All land records should be updated.
•        Ensure homestead land, pucca house with toilets, kitchen gardens, cattle shed and ensuring dignified shelter for all homeless and landless households. Increase the existing grant of construction to Rs 5 lakh.
•        Vague conditions for the eligibility of homestead land and financial aid for construction should be removed.
•        The so-called unauthorised helmets of Adivasis, Dalits, nomads and other landless people who don’t have ownership of their homes should be regularised.
•        Revise the minimum wage of agricultural workers and link it to the inflation rate. Ensure equal wages for men and women. Fixation of agricultural wage in alignment with the latest pay commission report.