The Land Rights Protection Committee is an initiative of several political agents. The Committee is a union of several groups like Bahujans, Dalits and Adivasis who have come there to protest the murder of Jisha.
Today is the conclusion of a very important two-day congregation, conducted in the city of Thrissur. Yesterday, the movement name Chalo Thiruvananthapuram ( #ChaloTVM) was declared under the aegis of Jignesh Mevani and with the raising of slogans to liberate the Dalits and Adivasis from their ghettos, for the abolition of Caste Colonies, and to demand the distribution of over 5 lakh acres of land that is the under control of the government among Dalits, Adivasis and Bahujans.
Over the past 20 years, Kerala has seen a great tradition for land rights movement. From around the 1990s till 2016, Kerala witnessed many agitations and resistance struggles of the Bahujans, Dalits and Adivasis in around 100 sectors. We estimate that around 50,000 people had participated in these agitations. Majority of them were women, many among the participants have been arrested, many were killed by policing firing, even children have been arrested in Muthanga and other such agitations. Muthanga, Arippa and Chengara are milestones in the history of land rights movement in Kerala. Even there have been tremendous Bahujan support to these movements, including the Nilppu Samaram of 2014, they have never been described as a resistance movement against the caste order of Kerala or even as anti-caste struggles. Such a description was not even given by those who participated in the movement or those who supported it. Instead, the spark that was ignited with the agitation in Una is fast spreading like a wildfire across India. And with that it is our stand that the clarion call of “Chalo Una” and the ultimatum raised by Mevani, “Gai ki Poonch tum rakho hume humari zameen do” (Give us our land and you keep the cow’s tail) is a departure from Dr. Ambedkar’s call for social progress to a more political yet integrated struggle. The movement spread to Udupi, with Chalo Udupi, against the fascist and authoritarian politics of the Sangh Parivar. And it is the continuation of the very same land rights struggle that Chalo Thirvuananthapuram, beginning on the 26th of January 2017, is all about.
It is not only a continuation of other similar struggles for land that have happened in Kerala over the past 20 years, but also a struggle to free Dalits and Adivasis who are gentrified into caste colonies. It is also not just an anti-caste struggle, but also an attempt to deconstruct the much-touted Kerala Model. We argue that the Kerala Model created these caste colonies and prevented agricultural land to reach the hands of the tillers, and this in turn has led to deforestation, environmental and habitat degradation; where even the coastal areas are being destroyed. The fundamental reason for all of this is the control and ownership of land by corporations like Harrisons & Crosfield, Tata, etc., and the dominant neo-colonial discourse, which led to land coming under the control of local mafias. The movement is to bring about changes to the status quo, and will be participated by not just Dalits and Adivasis, but also those from other oppressed groups of the working class – fisherfolks, estate workers, agricultural workers, activists of the left, the progressive struggle, revolutionary movements, the feminist movement, the transgendered community, and many other such groups and movements. Moreover, apart from being part of the larger land rights struggle, the movement would seek to democratize and rejuvenate the sociopolitical landscape of Kerala, while initiating a dialogue between political fronts, Bahujans and civil society groups. Jignesh Mewani would be present in the 26th January event and foot march spanning a month or two will also be initiated in Kerala, as part of Chalo Thiruvananthapuram.
What I am presenting right now are the estimates that the Kerala government has put up regarding the Dalit colonies in Kerala. According to these estimates, the state only has 26,188 such colonies. But we need to get to the real figures. Kerala has around half a lakh Dalit colonies in existence. Apart from that there are colonies on Poramboke land and acquisitioned land, that people still inhabit. What needs to be said is that whenever we talk about the politics of land in Kerala, every political party ends up talking about this issue. We need to understand why the case is so. Land is not merely a resource, but a politics in every sense of the term. Land rights is a matter of human rights, a matter of livelihood and sustenance. Land is not simply a matter of housing, it is a resource that not only sustains our livelihoods but also that of the coming generation and we need to seriously consider the question of how we are to take care of this resource.
Land rights is a matter of human rights, a matter of livelihood and sustenance.
As part of my research, I have been to several caste colonies in Kerala. I must mention is the case of one such colony in my home town, Ambedkar Colony in Fathimapuram in Changanasseri. When one enters the colony, the sight is that of the city’s waste and pollution among a cluster of homes. Right opposite this sight we can also see a working crematorium. This not a crematorium just for the inhabitants of a colony, but a public crematorium for the entire town of Changanasseri, where even those who are abandoned and without any family are cremated. What we need to understand is the injustice meted out by the society on a people, who are not only to take the waste of the town but also deal with its dead. And this is a common issue in every other Dalit colony across Kerala. Even in the case of Jisha, what is apparent is that if she and her family were to have lived in a better house and environment, she probably would not have had end up the way she did. The condition of every Dalit and Adivasi living in a Poramboke land is the same.
The other thing I wanted to say is that when one travels to colonies across the state, one would not find a single colony along the National Highways. The reason behind this is that a Savarna enters the society with a baggage full of capital, be it cultural, social or economic. While on the other hand a Dalit must face quite a lot of obstacles and problems to gain the same capital. For a Savarna, his caste, or even the caste tail after his name, is his capital, but for a Dalit it is impossible to have their name or their caste to become their capital; that’s the kind of society we are living in.
So, the programme that we have here for equality and justice in land and housing rights, conceptualised on the 15th and 16th, as far as I see it, the way forward would be to free us from caste colonies. Therefore, I look at the movement with much happiness. At the same time, I am anxious about how and where it will end up eventually, and also about how others might perceive the movement and the kind of engagement with the public at large. Either way, I strongly believe that our movement for land will emerge victorious.
I am Manikandan Kattampilly, General Secretary of Dalit Employees and Pensioners Association.
When we try to learn and understand the problems of the Dalits of Kerala, the most important issue to consider is that most of them inhabit in around 26,000 Dalit settlements. These settlements came into their hands after the series of land reforms that Kerala had earlier. So as far as Kerala is concerned, the fundamental problem of the Dalits is that they, who were earlier treated as bonded labour (akin to slavery) or landless farmers, were largely ignored when land redistribution was implemented because they were characterized as agricultural labourers and not as landless farmers with the very valid claim over the lands that they tilled. Here what we first need to address how Dalits are labelled as agricultural labourers and reverse the internalization of such labels by the Dalits themselves. This is the duty of everyone who is fighting for democratic rights in the state. Because, they are farmers, landless farmers. It should be incontrovertibly asserted that for the Dalits to enter the development agenda or for that matter enter the scene where they can secure their due democratic rights, the first step forward is to resolve the issue of agricultural land to be given to those who inhabit around 26,200 colonies in Kerala. It is that kind of change that we need in Kerala.
If these lands are to be distributed among Dalits, in proportion to their share of the population, they can produce enough to meet their basic needs, and I am of the position that this is the only way that real liberation of the community can be achieved.
When such a demand is raised, the first thing that come to the minds of many is whether there is enough land to be distributed. According to a study that I have personally conducted going through publicly available land records, around a third of land in Kerala is protected as agricultural land, but are owned or encroached upon by the local land mafias, corporates and big monopolistic companies. There are also lease expired land and even land that have been acquisitioned by the government or under the custody of banks. If these lands are to be distributed among Dalits, in proportion to their share of the population, they can produce enough to meet their basic needs, and I am of the position that this is the only way that real liberation of the community can be achieved.
The involvement of the government is necessary in such efforts, because these are essentially democratic rights. In such a situation, we have Dalits rising in a historic manner in Kerala, at par with movements that we see right now in Gujarat, Rajasthan and Uttar Pradesh. There needs to be a momentous change in the land ownership situation in the state, for which the lands of the middle classes and castes or the ordinary people living in Kerala or even the erstwhile landlords need not be used, but just the lands of the big land mafia and corporate need only be scientifically redistributed as a solution is what I believe. And for that, I strongly believe that the Dalits of Kerala need to come forward as a united political front and protest, to bring their problems to light.
The new mode of struggle for land housing rights and equality, perhaps connected to the struggle in Una or rather as its extension, we have in Kerala new forms of discourses, new movements, the congregation happening right now in Thrissur, and after that the launch of a very novel form of struggle with the Chalo Thiruvananthapuram on the 26th of January 2017, are not something that just happened right out of the blue. It is a part of a nation-wide struggle against caste or the Hindu caste order, happening in various places and separate times, auguring in different discourses. And we have a faith that this struggle will move forward from strength to strength. This conference in Thrissur, we believe will give more power and confidence to the anti-caste struggle all over the country.
The one thing that needs to be understood here is that when we talk about land right in Dalit political movement, or rather an anti-caste political movement, it becomes urgent to address very complex issues first. It cannot be discussed in a singular spectrum. We need address such varied issues as rights over land, livelihood from land, education from land, access to the society and the accompanying political life through land, how land is perceived by different sections of the society, and more importantly the right over land for Dalits in Kerala, or how Dalits and Adivasis will experience caste once they get their land, and so on. I also believe that more than just focusing on land, we also need to look at every sector that caste affects including social, political, cultural, including arts, history, etc. need to be accounted for and that is how we need to move forward. While such a discussion is happening in Kerala, we also need to see how the Savarna mainstream look at these discussions. Because, the Savarna mainstream social order have largely ignored a democratic movement of such a scale, which is a politics initiated by the Dalits as a continuation of what Ambedkar began or something that Jignesh Mevani has begun recently. And it is such a public conscience or rather a Savarna dominated or Brahmanical social order that we have today. We are living in a time where there is an urgent need to bring progress into such a Brahmanical society whereby they can understand that this movement is not seeking for their annihilation, instead they need to understand that this supposed to be a movement where everyone unites to form a democratic social order and with that they need to modernize themselves.
So, I am of the opinion that this movement for land and the conference here in Thrissur for land rights is definitely a major part of the anti-caste struggle or the struggle against Hindu Brahmanical caste order in India.
The demand that we are putting forwards is that the aided educational sector should be implementing the existence provisions of reservation for the SC/ST community and make over 20,000 job opportunities guaranteed to the community available with immediate effect.
In the Land Rights Declaration Convention (Bhu Adhikara Prakhyapana Convention) that was held in Kerala, on the 15th and 16th of October 2016, the politics of landlessness of the Scheduled Castes and Tribes and Other Backward Classes in the state was addressed. Through land reform legislations land rights of Dalits and Adivasis was limited to 3 cents in urban areas and 10 cents in rural areas. With that a significant percentage of the people were displaced into colonies and many others had to move to the road-side, estates (thodu) and Poramboke land. So, when Adivasis, Dalits and Backward Castes were moving into such limited expanses of land, other groups in comparison got the right to own limitlessly from 5 acres of land onwards, through such classifications as plantation land. The process of land reforms that began with the left government in 1957 sought to prevent the rights of Dalits and Adivasis from agricultural land. The turning point of this movement comes about 60 years later, today, when the matter of their right over land to cultivate and to self-respect has been raised. Dalits and Adivasis who are involved in the labour force outside of agriculture continue to suffer marginalization and discrimination in the government employment sector, which is a shocking reality that persists in Kerala.
The aided education sector accounts for around 78% of the educational institutions and employees in the state. A major portion of the aided sector is dominated by four major social groups in Kerala. There are over 180 arts and science colleges in the aided sector. There are a total of 232 arts and science colleges, including government-run ones, of which 180 colleges or around 78% are in the aided sector. Of these colleges, 46% are controlled by the Christian community, 19% are under Muslim-run managements, over 11% are under the S. N. (Sree Narayana) Trust, 10% are under the N.S.S. (Nair Service Society), 7 colleges which is around 3.88% are under the Devaswom Boards, and remaining 15 colleges are under single managements. In all these institutions, about 11,958 teachers and non-teaching staff are employed. Of these SCs and STs are only 64 of them, which means that they account for less than half a percentage. If there was a mandatory 10% reservation for around 12,000 of these aided posts, there would have been nearly 1,200 of them in various teaching and non-teaching positions, but we only have 65 of them. As far as laws regulating aided colleges are concerned, there is a law in existence, as given by the UGC, requiring these colleges to implement SC/ST reservations.
For the last 46 years in Kerala, since 1972 when the government enacted the Direct Payment Act, it is a fact that aided colleges have not been following the UGC-mandated reservations. It is a reality colleges in Kerala are run by ignoring the UGC-mandated regulations. On the other hand, of all the aided educational institutions in Kerala, from LP, UP, High School, the total number of schools and colleges, as mentioned earlier, there are more than three times the enrollment when compared to government-run schools and colleges. So around 2 lakhs of the teaching and non-teaching staff are working, while 584 people represent the SCs and STs in the labour force, which is less than 0.2 per cent, which mean less than 1% or less than 0.5% are labour party. The government spends over the 10,000 crore rupees per annum for the aided sector. So, when the government spends around 10,000 crores, at least around a 1,000 crores should have gone to the SCs and STs. But instead only around 24 crores go to these social groups. According to the very figures given to us by the state government, around 511,000 jobs have been created. Of these 511,000 around 200,000 are employed in the aided sector. Going by the regulations in place, instead of just 2%, the SC/ST community should have had around 20,000 workers in the sector. So, in this Bhu Avakasa Convention, the demand that we are putting forward is that the aided educational sector should be implementing the existence provisions of reservation for the SC/ST community and make over 20,000 job opportunities guaranteed to the community available with immediate effect.