ON THE

Tehelka - - MARCH OF THE LANDLESS -

evening of 9 Oc­to­ber, the Min­istry of Ru­ral De­vel­op­ment reached a 10-point agree­ment with the Jan Satya­graha, the March of the Land­less led by the NGO Ekta Par­ishad. There would be a new law, the gov­ern­ment promised, guar­an­tee­ing 10 cents (a unit of area) of homestead land to ev­ery land­less and shel­ter­less poor fam­ily.

Agri­cul­tural land would be trans­ferred to land­less peo­ple in eco­nom­i­cally back­ward dis­tricts. Rig­or­ous im­ple­men­ta­tion of PESA — the Pan­chayat (Ex­ten­sion to Sched­uled Ar­eas) Act — was com­mit­ted to, with the min­istry agree­ing to em­power gram sab­has as per the author­ity given to them un­der the law. A task force on land re­forms will soon be con­sti­tuted — a part­ner­ship of gov­ern­ment of­fi­cials and civil so­ci­ety ac­tivists — headed by Min­is­ter of Ru­ral De­vel­op­ment Jairam Ramesh.

Pro­tec­tion and as­sign­ing of land be­long­ing to the land­less poor and spe­cific groups of de­prived peo­ple — Dal­its, trib­als and no­mads, for in­stance — is part of the agree­ment. So is the guar­an­tee that vul­ner­a­ble abo­rig­i­nal groups, with­out proof of com­mence­ment of oc­cu­pancy of a par­tic­u­lar tract of land, will be ex­empted from fur­nish­ing such doc­u­men­tary ev­i­dence. The For­est Rights Act will be amended for this pur­pose.

That agree­ment brought to res­o­lu­tion the de­mands, pain and an­guish of a year-long march that both crossed and shook the heart of In­dia. It was one year; by an­other reck­on­ing though, it had been 61 years. The roots of Jan Satya­graha go back to an early sum­mer day in Andhra Pradesh on 18 April 1951. Acharya Vi­noba Bhave, devo­tee of the Ma­hatma, was on a visit to the then (as now) strife-torn Te­lan­gana re­gion. Vis­it­ing Pocham­palli vil­lage, he asked lo­cal Dal­its (or Har­i­jans as they were then called) why they had taken to bru­tal vi­o­lence. He in­ter­acted with 40 Dalit fam­i­lies, try­ing to un­der­stand their mo­ti­va­tion. They told him of their pain. They had been promised land; if the gov­ern­ment de­liv­ered on its prom­ise, they would re­nounce vi­o­lence.

Vi­noba asked them how much land they re­quired. The fam­i­lies asked for 80 acres: two acres per house­hold, just enough for a home and a small farm. A rich landowner who was part of the crowd sud­denly got up and agreed to do­nate 100 acres. This was the start of the Bhoodan (Gift of Land) Move­ment. Vi­noba trav­elled across In­dia, seek­ing Gand­hian-style re­nun­ci­a­tion and parcels of land that the tra­di­tional rich would do­nate and trans­fer to the his­tor­i­cally de­prived. It be­came the largest such ef­fort in his­tory. What hap­pened to that land? How did the story end? Sixty-one years later, on 2 Oc­to­ber 2012, birthday of the Ma­hatma, Sar­gun Ma­so­mait, a 35-year-old tribal woman from Jhark­hand, be­gan march­ing to­wards New Delhi from Gwalior. She was part of a group of 40,000 peo­ple — trib­als, Dal­its, no­mads, nowhere peo­ple with no land of their own, the wretched of the In­dian earth, out to claim their dig­nity; or to re­claim it. Sar­gun’s fam­ily re­ceived 95 dec­i­mals of land ( just short of one acre) as part of the Bhoodan Move­ment — but she doesn’t know where it is.

“I have 95 dec­i­mals of land in my fam­ily’s name,” says Sar­gun, “but I don’t know where it is. I have the pa­pers. I have ap­proached the dis­trict col­lec­tor, the SP and they as­sure help but do lit­tle. For the past five years, I am even pay­ing rev­enue and get­ting a re­ceipt for that. When I go to the col­lec­tor, he says if the re­ceipt is there then the land must also be there. He says he will help, but noth­ing has hap­pened.”

A mother of two, Sar­gun is gritty and de­ter­mined. This is her sec­ond march; she was part

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