A HISTORIC CALL FOR UTTARAKHAND
By: Vidya Bhushan Rawat
Fifteen years ago when Uttarakhand came into being, I had my fears of the state turning into another laboratory of caste Hindus. I had opposed the creation of the state that time, feeling that the condition of Dalits and Aadivasis might further deteriorate with highly prejudiced caste society prevalent in the state. When the state movement grew with active participation of Dalits, Aadivasis, and other communities, despite the fact the leadership of all the major political parties in the state remained concentrated in the hands of upper caste Hindus. It was felt that after the creation of the new state, the leadership will focus on the plight of Dalits and Aadivasis living there.
When the state was being created, another hurdle came in the form of opposition from feudal landlords migrating from Punjab. The entire Terai region has a changed demography today, with migrants from Punjab dominating in the region and illegally acquiring the land meant for Aadivasis. Shahid Udham Singh Nagar is considered to be one of the most fertile regions of the state. The big farmers from Punjab have established themselves here as big businessmen and most of them have got huge agricultural farms, not really used for agrarian purposes. Two big Aadivasi communities of the region – Tharus and Boksas – are totally marginalized in their own land. Uttarakhand's political leadership rarely bothered about their problems. Instead, it encouraged the illegal land-grabbers to acquire more land at the cost of the indigenous people of the area.
So, Uttarakhand developed a peculiar prejudice towards the Dalits – one, by the caste Hindus, and other by the Sikh landlords situated in Terai region. The schemes meant for Dalits and tribals are rarely implemented in the state. Rather than reducing the disparity and caste discrimination, state leadership patronized the Brahminical caste forces. This is not an allegation against the ruling party right now, but against all the political parties of the state.
Today, there is a historic occasion for the government of Uttarakhand, to undo the past wrong against the Dalits and Aadivasis of the state. In an Order delivered on December 22, 2014 on a petition filed by Social Development Foundation. This is a case going on in various courts of India since 1992 in which the writer has been personally involved, and in which despite positive judgments from Supreme Court as well as later from Uttarakhand High Court and the Lokayukta, we have not been able to get the Court Order implemented, because it has already been violated by the state government authorities, and they are misinterpreting the law and using the power of law to delay justice. This case involved 1,167 Acres of land, which was declared surplus and was supposed to be redistributed among the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes living in the region. Rather than distributing it to the genuine people, the corrupt leadership of the state connived with the Sikh landlords and distributed it to them. A large part of the land was given to SIDCUL, IIM, and other industries in the name of 'National Interest'. The Lokayukta of the state Justice S.M. Raza (2007) found our allegations correct and directed the state government to punish the guilty officials and distribute the land to SC/ST marginal farmers working in the region. Instead of honouring the Lokayukta directive, the state bureaucracy challenged it and suggested that the state has "unfettered power" to use ceiling surplus land according to its own discretion. It was challenged by us in the Uttarakhand High Court, where Chief Justice Barin Ghosh agreed that government has to follow the directives of Zamindari Abolition Act of Uttar Pradesh and Land Ceiling Act, where there is a Priority List meant for redistribution of ceiling land. The government was trapped in its own web and could not provide the documentary evidence. To get the judgment implemented, we approached the Court again and the government showed deep apathy towards it. The state filed its rejoinder through the Tehsildar of Kashipur, which was rejected by the Court earlier, as it wanted a senior official to file the rejoinder. In the next hearing, the government rejoinder came in the form of a Secretary, but did not differ even a single line from what had been filed by the Tehsildar. It showed how serious the government was with regards to the case and it angered the judges.
Finally, the Honorable judges wanted to hear from the government as to what they have done in this regard. The Order of Justice Sudhanshu Dhulia and Justice U.C. Dhyani says, "Let the Collector/District Magistrate, Udham Singh Nagar, file his personal affidavit before this Court, giving details as to the land which has been given to the landless agriculturists or marginalized farmers belonging to Scheduled Caste or Scheduled Tribe families in the State of Uttarakhand since 9th November, 2000."
This Order can be historical if the state government is keen to the welfare of the Dalits and Aadivasis. We know it would have been difficult for us to get the details even through Right to Information, but hopefully, the government will have to answer a much bigger question in the court of law. It was delaying a local issue, but now it has to respond about the condition of Dalits and tribals in the entire state, particularly in terms of land redistribution. The judges have warned the state government that if they fail to respond with in eight weeks the district collector of Shahid Udham Singh Nagar will have to be present with all the details to explain it in person.
In the entire Terai region, the powerful landlords are resisting any government attempt for land management and land mapping because they fear they might lose their illegally grabbed land. These landlords have political protection and patronage from all the parties in the state. If the state government takes an initiative and decides to act bona fide, there are hundreds of big farmhouses in Terai region which are illegal and actually belong to Tharus and Boksas, who are tribals. Ironically, the tribal land cannot be sold and purchased, but, with the active connivance and 'guidance' of the local revenue officials, most of the tribals have lost their land, and have no hope of getting it back. There is a danger of violence if the issue is not resolved, as the area is bordering with Nepal, and injustice anywhere can turn even a peaceful community into a highly violent one.
It is hoped that the state government of Uttarakhand will provide necessary details to the Court and show its inclination in distributing surplus land to Dalits and Aadivasis of the region. For us, it's a struggle for more than 20 years, where we realize how difficult and frustrating is having faith in the rule of law and Constitution. If the Constitution fails here, it means people who are picking up arms to save their land and natural resources which their forefathers nurtured for years, are justified