60 yrs on, Guj Dalit’s wait for land is over

But it came at a price which ac­tivist Bhanub­hai paid with his life de­mand­ing ti­tle own­er­ship in Hemaben’s name

Hindustan Times (Gurgaon) - - Nation - Hi­ral Dave hi­ral.dave@htlive.com

AHMED­ABAD: In the sec­ond week of Fe­bru­ary, Gu­jarat’s Dudhka vil­lage res­i­dent Hemaben Vankar’s nine-year-long strug­gle to get own­er­ship of eight hectares of land that her fam­ily had been till­ing for sev­eral years came to an end. But it came at a price Dalit ac­tivist Bhanub­hai Vankar paid with his life when he set him­self on fire de­mand­ing ti­tle own­er­ship in Hemaben’s name.

Hav­ing served as ta­lati (vil­lage level rev­enue of­fi­cer), 61-year-old Bhanub­hai was well versed in land re­forms rules. To get the land ti­tle, Hemaben had paid the req­ui­site ₹23,000 in 2013. But her quest for own­er­ship con­tin­ued for five years.

Frus­trated by the de­lay, Bhanub­hai im­mo­lated him­self at the Patan dis­trict col­lec­tor’s of­fice on Fe­bru­ary 15. He suc­cumbed to the in­juries the fol­low­ing day.

“I have for­got­ten the num­ber of times I vis­ited Gand­hi­na­gar and the Patan col­lec­tor of­fice (to get the file cleared). At every stage, I faced a new and dif­fer­ent kind of strug­gle. It is sad that I got the land ti­tle only af­ter los­ing Bhanub­hai,” said Hemaben.

The dis­trict col­lec­tor, how­ever, said the land in ques­tion was gifted and did not come un­der the Gu­jarat Agri­cul­tural Land Ceil­ing Act. “The rev­enue depart­ment in­quiry re­vealed that she did not live at the given ad­dress,” said Patan col­lec­tor Anand Pa­tel, adding that the land has been given to her as a “spe­cial case”.


The process to al­lot land rights be­gan soon af­ter Gu­jarat was formed in 1960 af­ter sep­a­rat­ing from Ma­ha­rash­tra.

Two leg­is­la­tions gov­ern land re­dis­tri­bu­tion: The Land Ten­ancy Act (1948) and the Gu­jarat Agri­cul­tural Land Ceil­ing Act (1961).

How­ever, the net ef­fect of the ten­ancy law was that ‘sur­plus’ land hold­ings be­long­ing to Brah­mins and other up­per castes de­volved prin­ci­pally to mid­dle castes, but not to lower castes and Dal­its. “In Gu­jarat, this process led to eco­nomic dom­i­nance of Pa­tels that con­tin­ues to this day,” says To­pher L Dau­gal, in his the­sis sub­mit­ted to the Univer­sity of Mex­ico in 2003.

Af­ter its for­ma­tion as a sep­a­rate state, Gu­jarat en­acted the ceil­ing Act of 1961 that capped agri­cul­tural land own­er­ship at 16 acres and de­clared rest of the land as sur­plus. The ex­cess land was kept for re­dis­tri­bu­tion to de­prived com­mu­ni­ties, in­clud­ing Dal­its. “Im­ple­men­ta­tion of the Act has not been up to the mark for var­i­ous rea­sons. Each dis­trict (Gu­jarat has 33) has its own set of chal­lenges as some were part of the Saurash­tra prov­ince and oth­ers were un­der the Bri­tish rule,” said Man­jula Pradeep of the Navsar­jan Trust, which has been work­ing for land rights of Dal­its.


Ac­tivists Pradeep, late lawyer Mukul Sinha and Rashtriya Dalit Ad­hikar Manch con­vener and MLA Jig­nesh Me­vani have filed PILs in the HC and RTIs to know how much land was de­clared “sur­plus”, how much was al­lot­ted and how much has been al­lot­ted with ti­tle rights pend­ing.

Ac­cord­ing to Navsar­jan, only 101,700 acres (7.5%) of the 1.35 mil­lion acres orig­i­nally es­ti­mated as el­i­gi­ble for re­dis­tri­bu­tion in Gu­jarat were de­clared “sur­plus” till 2000. In 2012, the rev­enue depart­ment replied to a PIL claim­ing that 163,880 acres of land had been al­lot­ted to 37,198 fam­i­lies, in­clud­ing 17,163 be­long­ing to sched­uled castes and sched­uled tribes.

When asked about the to­tal size of the land to be al­lot­ted, com­mis­sioner (land re­forms) Ha­reet Shukla ex­pressed his in­abil­ity to com­ment cit­ing busy sched­ule.

Deputy CM Nitin Pa­tel on Mon­day dur­ing the on­go­ing bud­get ses­sion of the assem­bly said, “The re­dis­tri­bu­tion work will be done prop­erly.” He was re­spond­ing to Me­vani’s al­le­ga­tion that even af­ter is­su­ing a cir­cu­lar, noth­ing con­crete has been done.


Vankar’s self-im­mo­la­tion reignited the de­mand for al­lot­ting land rights to Dal­its.

The BJP gov­ern­ment — on the back foot af­ter the party’s re­duced tally in the De­cem­ber elec­tions — on Fe­bru­ary 19 is­sued a cir­cu­lar to all dis­trict col­lec­tors for al­lo­ca­tion of plots ren­dered sur­plus to SC/ST/OBC ben­e­fi­cia­ries within six months af­ter Me­vani asked for five acres of land for every Dalit fam­ily.

Ru­pani’s as­sur­ance is not easy to im­ple­ment as there are around five mil­lion Dal­its in Gu­jarat (8% of its over 60 mil­lion pop­u­la­tion) and as many as 60% of them are land­less (ac­cord­ing to Ishant Anand’s re­search based on Na­tional Sur­vey Sam­ple 2013).

“It is a daunt­ing task,” an of­fi­cial, who was not will­ing to be named, ad­mit­ted.


Hemaben Vankar re­ceived the land ti­tle for an eight hectare patch of land in Dudhka vil­lage on Fe­bru­ary 20, af­ter ac­tivist Bhanub­hai Vankar set him­self on fire in protest against de­lays.

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