New Phase of Land Struggle in Bihar

“The land where we are settled is our land; government land is our land” are the slogans which echo everywhere in Bihar today.

According to the report of the Bandopadhyay Land Reforms Commission appointed by the Nitish Government, over 21 lakh acres of delimited land in the State have been illegally captured by zamindars, land-thieves, newly rich and land mafia. More than half the agriculture in the State is done on the basis of sharecropping. According to a survey by an NGO, there are 50 lakh families in the State who have no homestead land and about 18 lakh families who have been settled on raiyyati and government lands for decades but have not been given occupation papers for those plots of land.

The Bandopadhyay Commission broadly made three recommendations to the government which were very general and very far from radical land reforms: land ceiling to be fixed at 15 acres and government to take control over all ceiling surplus, bhoodan and government lands; sharecroppers to be given identity cards and government and bank facilities; all landless to be allotted 1 acre to 10 katthas of land and land records updated accordingly, and all landless families to be provided 10 decimals of homestead land.

Under pressure from the zamindar lobby not only did the government put these recommendations in cold storage, it also totally denied the need for land reform, which was a stance not even the Congress Government had had the temerity to take. This decision by the government considerably boosted the morale of the feudal powers and large scale eviction of poor people started taking place. Land was snatched from sikmi sharecroppers and the poor people who had tilled and nurtured the land for years became the target of escalated attacks by the nexus of old the feudal powers, the new rich, the police and the administration. By getting order upon order passed by the High Court, a State wide drive was initiated to displace the poor people. During this period the government allotted 3885.75 acres of BIADA land at throwaway prices to people with political clout and sold thousands of acres of sugar-jute bazaar samiti lands to the nexus of political leaders, traders and bureaucrats. Several thousands of acres of government land were given away to powerful persons in the name of tea industry. In the 8 years of Nitish rule, more than 1 lakh acres have either been acquired or given away to rich and powerful people, resulting in tens of thousands of families having to suffer the sting of displacement. The government started proclaiming that they would give land to the landless and to parcha holders not on the basis of occupation, but through satellite surveys and land banks. However, the much touted proposal to give 3 decimals land to mahadalits was never put into action as these lands also ended up in the kitty of the old zamindars, the new rich, brokers, middlemen and the whole “corrupt-ocracy”.

Mahadalits did not get any land but several scams came to light in Patna, Nalanda, Arariya, Muzaffarpur, Bhojpur and other districts.Nitish Kumar went through the motions of giving parchas for lands for which parchas had already been given by the Lalu-Rabdi government but those who have long occupied lands were not recognised. In connivance with the administration the zamindar lobby has made this project a means of extracting money from benami lands. Not even 50% of the mahadalit families in the State could get any benefit from this scheme. The number of families to whom the government has given homestead parchas is not even equal to the number of families displaced and rendered homeless in the State.

The mahadalits and very backward castes that were so effectively mobilized in favour of Nitish in the last elections are today filled with a pervasive anger. The rural landless, dalits, mahadalits, very backward classes, and sharecroppers are seething with anger at the pro-zamindar policies of the government. The sustained movement organized by the CPI(ML) in the recent past has helped to give this anger a sense of direction.

Lakhs of homestead allotment applications have been submitted in the districts through the AIALA but the efforts of the government have been negligible. In this context the CPI(ML) called for an acceleration of the Zameen-do-Parcha-do-Garib Basao (Allot Land-Give Parcha-Settle the Poor) movement. Under this drive, preparations at the grassroots level have suffused new energy into the land struggle movement.

Purnea, which had witnessed the first bloody massacre of independent India when dozens of adivasis were burnt to death in Rupaspur Chandwa and the voice of adivasi protest was sought to be silenced, is ironically where, recently, adivasi women vented their rage on a land grabbing mukhiyapati (husband of the mukhiya) and he was burnt alive. The more the feudal and the administration try to suppress this protest, the greater the intensity of the flames of protest. The administration thought to suppress the protests by putting hundreds of adivasis and musahars of Purnea into jail but on the contrary the protests are spreading throughout the Seemanchal area. Besides Purnea, in recent days new centres of land struggle are emerging in Katihar, Kishanganj, Arariya and other districts.

The BJP’s equations of polarization of Hindus by pitting the adivasis and musahars against Muslims are beginning to fall apart. Shahnawaz Hussein of the BJP has been given the task of leading the plot to pit adivasis, musahars and the landless against Muslims. In order to break the increasing mobilization of the landless in Purnea and Arariya, members of the BJP have started selling benami, delimited, bhoodan, sikmi and parcha lands to Muslims.

In Chilmarwa village of Guthni block in Siwan, landless people posted the red flag on 12 bighas of gair mazarua land and put up huts on 1 bigha land. BJP members from all over the district were mobilized to crush this movement. Under the leadership of BJP MLA Ramayan Manjhi goons were assembled from neighbouring districts and even from UP. A dalit basti was attacked with the aim of perpetrating a massacre and two of these criminals were killed in the people’s protest against this attack. The attack took place in the presence of the police and the administration but a conspiracy was hatched to implicate CPI(ML) leaders. This gave rise to a district-wide polarization and in the face of widespread oppression, thousands of people held a protest meeting in front of the Collectorate. BJP State President Mangal Pandey himself took command and demanded the banning of the CPI(ML) protest meeting. In Mairwa people’s protests were held against the eviction of families settled on land for years. In this context a mass meeting was held in Guthni in which over 500 people took part.

During this period thousands of landless, with implements and arms, posted the red flag on hundreds of acres and put up huts in Tarari, Agiyanv, Sandesh, Jagdishpur, Piro and other places in Bhojpur. This included lands from which the Ranvir Sena had evicted the poor. Seeing the intensifying land struggles and mobilization of the poor, Indubhushan Singh, son of late Ranvir Sena patron Barmeshwar Singh, has called a Press conference and announced a drive to uproot the red flags.

An effective form of land struggle was also seen in Patna where thousands were mobilized and the landless put up their huts on hundreds of acres of land. The impetus was also seen in Hilsa and Karai blocks of Nalanda district. Feudal forces have also been pushed back by effective people’s protest at one or two places in Buxar. A new impetus can be seen in almost all districts and people’s protest and participation are coming to the fore.

In the village panchayats close to Madhubani town, the land struggle movement of the CPI(ML) has become a much discussed topic. In recent days the land struggles in Bahadurpur, Sadar, Biraul and Kusheshwarsthan in Darbhanga district have been much talked about. Foiling the plots of eviction and ensuring occupation, the struggles have compelled the administration to constitute sharecroppers’ boards. People’s protests have been organized in Samastipur against the forceful eviction of people settled next to embankments.

Seeing the new impetus created by the rising land movements organized by CPI(ML), the CPI has also announced a State-wide land struggle movement under which red flags have been posted on a large scale in Sitamarhi, Samastipur, and Begusarai. The CPIM has also made similar efforts in some places.

One reason for the new wave of energy in land struggle is that the large numbers of landless poor are beginning to realize that the government is a stooge of the rich and the powerful and is not going to lift a finger to secure land for the landless. Unless the landless poor take to the path of struggle, land hard won by them through occupation will also be snatched away. Moreover, the process of disillusionment of the mahadalits and very backward classes towards Nitish Kumar has also started. In totality, the government had bid goodbye to the agenda of land reforms but the recent spate of land struggles shows that it is still the top priority for the landless people of Bihar. Unless this question is addressed as a central issue, the slogan of agricultural development and development for Bihar is deceitful. The air in Bihar is rent with slogans of “The land where we are settled is our land; government land is our land” and this slogan has served to kindle the anger of the people. The sapling of ‘Balchanma’ (the title of Baba Nagarjun’s novel) is being nurtured which will yield the fruits of the third wave of land struggle.

Liberation Archive