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Published today in Merinews

Radical Views

M C Raj

06 September, 2013

It is a good thing to happen. Normally it does not happen among human beings unless there is a serious crisis. But in Tumkur, Karnataka the spontaneous gathering of 7000 Dalits and other poors was not a manifestation of any crisis. It speaks for the way our people have transformed themselves together with REDS and Booshakthi Kendra over the past three decades.
We have had history of mobilizing large gathering, 45000, 20,000, 10,000 and so on. But this one was exceptional. Some people who come to see our work in villages call it a miracle. Now we are beginning to believe it after seeing such spontaneous rise of our people who only some years ago were bonded laborers, free caste laborers, working for very low wages.

Land has been the lifeline of Dalits from ages. A people, a life, a culture, a history! Like all indigenous peoples of the world, Dalit people come from a history of worshiping Earth as Mother. But land was taken away from them violently by killing 14,000 of their ancestral kings and queens, according to Valmiki Ramayana. Till today Dalits have remained landless in glorious India.

Karnataka’s law minister who attended the function announced that there are 6 million landless people in Karnataka. We are sure most of them or almost all of them are Dalits.

We took a risk. We decided that if our people own up the movement they must be ready to spend their money and come for the function. We were ready to go ahead with the function even if only 1000 turns up. But then our staff and leaders rose up to the challenge and motivated the people. We had organized food and chairs for only 4000 people.

A day before the event in the planning meeting there was a strong assessment that 6000 people might turn up. We were skeptic. We decided to prepare food for 5000. At the function the count said that there were more than 6500 people. Finally it turned out to be more than 7000.
Wow! Fruit of our labor! A sense of fulfillment that the movement will go on when we finally disappear from the scene! No NGO type withdrawal! No belief in withdrawals! But we have to disappear one day. Order of nature!

The Revenue Minister of Karnataka came on time and waited for the procession to be over. The Law Minister came even earlier and waited for Revenue Minister. Nidumamidi Swamiji came with much enthusiasm. The Law Minister said that this Swamiji is one of the rare Swamijis who is defiling the ‘Kavi’, his saffron tradition by sustaining his radical thrust to the issues of social justice.
For someone from the saffron tradition to keep up to this type of radicalism for such a long time is a symbol of an amazing character. He is associated with us for 20 years now.

The Revenue Minister spoke for a long time. His coming to Tumkur on our invitation itself made a lot of news in Karnataka, as he is a very powerful personality. We were very happy that he stuck to his initial promise of coming for the function. He made a strong assertion that he would stand by the Dalit people till the end.

The following decisions and promises have emerged according to media reports:

1. He clearly stated that the government has given orders to the Forest and Revenue departments to examine jointly all land records and decide which is revenue land and which is forest land.
2. Subsequent to the public meeting both ministers had a meeting with bureaucrats of the District and passed orders that each village in Tumkur District should have at least 2 acres of land for burial ground.
3. The officers should identify enough land for housing sites and make a list of all families without housing sites and give a report to the Law Minister.
4. The Revenue Minister promised to revive the Land Grant Committee (Bager Hukum) at the earliest in order to make it easily possible for people to get land grants.
5. If caste people are willing to sell their land to the government such land will be bought for a price and be distributed to the Dalits at the rate of 5 acres to each family (this is a very significant assertion taken from our memorandum)
6. He agreed that there is a serious responsibility on the government to consider granting land to the Dalits in the State
7. In rural areas of Karnataka 1.2 million acres of land have been encroached upon. The government will forcefully take all this land back from encroachers and distribute them to landless poor. The Government is ready to do this at all costs.
8. He concluded his speech by saying that the way REDS is working not only for Dalits but also for all the poor of all castes is a self-sacrificing example and deserves appreciation from all corners. He promised to bring to the notice of the Government all the demands of the Organization in the memorandum that they submitted.

(Most of these are elements taken from the earlier agreement between Janasatyagraha and the Rural Development Ministry of Central Government)

The Law Minister spoke very strong but for a short time, as most of the people sitting on the dais were diabetics. Sweet people facing bitter truths of life! They sat in our public meeting for three hours. People too sat without any commotion. A highly disciplined crowd of 7000, a mark of the transformation that we have brought about! The discipline of the crowd in the long procession and in the public meeting is the talk of the town always.

The presentation of the 45 huge books of 500,000 signatures was the biggest show of the event. No one expected this. We could see it on the face of all VIPs sitting on the dais that included the Collector, MLCs, Zilla Panchayat President etc.

They were seeing stars despite the cover over their head and the dark rain clouds that waited till the end of the meeting to burst forth with a loud cry of joy. They saw that all signatures were tabulated systematically with the address of the people who have singed. We told the Revenue Minister that we would send the books to the Collector who in turn would send it to the Minister.

The Revenue Minister intervened and asked us to send the signature books directly to his official residence. Wow Minister! That is why you are a Minister. You know how the government functions. Thank you for your sensitivity.

The Release of the characteristically ‘Jyothi edited’ Kannada book “Bhoomi Namma Hakku” Land is our Right made a big show to the media. All of them lined up to take photographs of the release and grab a copy each. An attractive cover page by Preetam induces the reader to open the many pages inside.

A book that caters to different tastes of all types of people interested in land. Jyothi became a member of the National Task Force of Land Reforms under the Rural Development Ministry of the Central Government. Jyothi and Ekta Parishad have developed a special bond as children of Mother Earth and share their commitment to Dalit, Adivasi and poor people.

Land Reforms Law however is largely a state subject. Realizing this Jyothi has begun to shake the citadels of the State Government and has increased the responsibility of REDS, Dalit Panchayat Movement and Booshakthi Kendra to sustain the intensity of our endeavor till we achieve our objective. Yes we shall. We live to die in the path of the holistic development of our people.

We had set up a special desk to receive people’s applications to the Revenue Minister. This was something new we did in order to avoid people getting disappointed at not being able to give their application to a Minister. A mind blowing 20,000 applications came from a crowd of 7000 for different needs.

Epilogue: Even as I am writing this there was a call from one of the Tahsildars who said that both Jyothi and I should go to his house to have a cup of coffee with his family. He made a strong assertion that it would bring blessing to his family. We think we have been catalysts in transforming the people. But ultimately people are transforming us in umpteen numbers of ways, as the Tahsildar bears witness.
– See more at: http://www.merinews.com/article/land-a-dalits-right–a-loud-cry/15889884.shtml#comment