THE illusory tranquility in Sonebhadra, a far flung district in eastern Uttar Pradesh was shattered by a massacre on 17 July this year in which 11 tribals lost their lives while trying to protect the land they had been tilling for decades, from passing into the hands of land mafia. The fault lines of rural India were exposed and the question of land and livelihood, so craftily camouflaged by the BJP under the garb of nationalism and communalism, seemed momentarily to come to the centre stage of state politics.
The tribals of Umbha gram Panchayat had been tilling the land since the 1950s and earlier used to pay a rent to the erstwhile king. After the implementation of the UP Zamindari Abolition and Land Reforms Act, 1950, about 600 bighas of land was registered in the name of Gram Sabha. The tribals continued to farm on that land. However, in 1955, this land was transferred to Adarsh Sahkari Samiti, a charitable society by manipulating the land records and keeping the tillers of that land in dark. The tillers then started paying rent to the society. The land got passed into the hands of one P.K.Mishra, an Indian Adminstrative Officer in 1989. In 2017, during the period of demonetization, the Gram Pradhan of Umbha, Yagyadutt bought 144 bighas of land from the daughter of P.K.Mishra. The tribals complained to the revenue authorities and approached the court against what they termed was an illegal sale. Yagyadutt, meanwhile, lodged first information reports (FIRs) against the tribals describing them as encroachers on his land. On the fateful day on 17th July, Yagyadutt along with a 200 strong armed contingent landed on the disputed land to take possession and evict the tribals from it. This happened with the full information of the local police as a meeting between Yagyadutt and the tribals a day earlier in police presence had failed to resolve the matter. The police reached hours after the incident was reported to it while the distance from the site of massacre is a bare 35 km from the nearest police station. What stands out in bold relief in this short history of the disputed land is the following-
(i) The zamindari abolition act was manipulated by the rich and powerful while the actual tillers were not granted land rights. (ii) Charitable societies took possession of the land meant for the tillers. (iii) Be it the Congress regime in post independence decades or the present BJP in power, both sided with the land mafia while paying lip service to the land rights of the tillers and tribals. (iv) All talk of the present Yogi government of making Uttar Pradesh free of crime is humbug.
As soon as the CPI(ML) leaders got the news of the massacre, they reached the village next day. They demanded that the bodies of the dead would be cremated only after the DM came to the site and promise that all land would be taken away from the possession of the society and distributed to the tillers, strict action be taken against the local police and a martyrs memorial be erected. The state administration literally cordoned off the area and did not allow leaders of political parties to visit the village.
This incident brought to the forefront the simmering land question in the tribal dominated regions in the districts of Sonebhadra, Mirzapur and Chandauli. This issue has the potential to pry open the seam of the social engineering network that the BJP has been assiduously trying to stitch between the various backward castes, dalits and tribals. It was decided to raise the land question more forcefully, by organizing an Adivasi Adhikar and Nyay Yatra (Tribals Rights and Justice March) from 9th August in these three districts. The Yatra was flagged off from Umbha village and was led by the party state secretary Com.Sudhaker Yadav. It passed through 85 villages in 3 distrocts. During the Yatra, the rural poor and tribals came with graphic accounts of how the Forests Right Act was being misused to displace them. Many such disputed lands were identified where the land mafia was illegally controlling government lands.
The Yatra culminated in a Conference on these issues on 7th September at Robertsganj District Administration Complex in Sonebhadra. Party General Secretary Dipankar Bhattacharya was the main speaker. In solidarity, some intellectuals from Varanasi also attended the Conference. Addressing the conference, Comrade Dipankar Bhattacharya said that the BJP is trying to snatch away the adivasis’ ancestral rights over ‘jal-jangal-jameen’ (water, forests, and land). He said that this government is bent on hushing up the Sonbhadra massacre and protecting the perpetrators but our fight is for justice for the victims and will continue till the perpetrators are punished and the land of the adivasis and the poor is returned to them.
Comrade Dipankar said that the arrest of the journalist who exposed the salt-and-roti scam in Mirzapur, the defence of rapists by the BJP, the repression of the protest against the breaking of the Ravidas temple in Delhi, and the snatching away of adivasis’ lands epitomize the anti-people face of the BJP and the Modi-Yogi governments. Comrade Dipankar said that a new era in workers’ struggle has begun and we will stand with the people and hold aloft the red flag on the path shown by Ambedkar, Bhagat Singh and Birsa Munda. The conference was also addressed by Sajeev Singh of Lokmanch, trade union activist Shri Prakash Rai, Mohd. Arif, AIPWA state secretary Kusum Verma, CC member Ishwari Prasad Kushwaha, state committee member Shri Ram Choudhary. A large number of rural poor from the area, including those from Umbha attended the conference. The next day, Com. Dipanker visited Umbha village where he garlanded the photographs of the deceased. It was demanded that a martyrs tomb be erected there in memory of those who laid down their lives.
The following resolutions were passed in the Conference:
- We demand that all lands taken over by Societies and Trusts through manipulation of records be taken over by the government and distributed among the poor.
- We strongly condemn the increasing incidents of violence against women, dalits, and minorities and the protection given by the government to rapists, killers and other criminals. We demand the immediate end of such protection and guarantee of safety and dignity to women, dalits and minorities.
- This conference expresses grave concern over the increasing incidents of violence and repression and false cases against intellectuals, writers and cultural activists and demands that such incidents should immediately be put to an end.
- This conference demands cancellation of the bail to the killers of the Bulandshahr Police Inspecter and fresh action against the Muzaffarpur riot-accused.
- We demand unconditional withdrawal of the case against the journalist who exposed the corruption rampant in the mid-day meal scheme.
- We demand the guarantee of full citizens’ rights to all those left out of the NRC in Assam and revoking of communally based amendments to the Citizenship Bill.
- We consider the abrogation of 370 and 35A, the division of J&K and the changing of Statehood to Union Territory as an attack on the Constitution and the federalism of the country, and demands restoration of status quo.
- We demand an end to the repression against the people of Kashmir and demands reinstatement of communication, internet and phones in Kashmir.
- We express outrage against the spiraling electricity rates in Uttar Pradesh and demands that they should be withdrawn immediately.
- We stand in solidarity with the struggle for District status to Dudhi and demands District-hood for Dudhi keeping in mind its geographical circumstances.