The struggle for land recognition is still on with tribals denied rights to own and cultivate even ancestral lands
In January this year the Madhya Pradesh government conferred habitat rights upon the Baigas, a primitive tribe, to right the wrong meted out to them for centuries.
When it comes to land rights, many tribals in Madhya Pradesh got it years ago. But they failed to get real ownership as they are not allowed to cultivate their own lands. The struggle for land recognition is still on with tribals denied rights to own and cultivate even ancestral lands.
In Chhatarpur district’s Nandora village, Rama Kaundar failed to get control over the piece of land he owned in his lifetime. The deceased’s wife, Shahodara Kaundar, told Down To Earth that members of the Patel Community had grabbed her late husband’s land.
Her pleas have fallen on deaf ears. When Shahodara approached the patwari, she was told that the piece of land came under the forest land category.
Shahodara’s case is not the only instance of land grabbing by powerful upper classes and even by the forest department. In every district across the length and breadth of Madhya Pradesh, one can find at least 10 to 15 tribes whose lands have been captured.
In Chhatarpur district’s Singaro village, seven villagers got patta (land ownership) rights way back in 1997. Even after 19 years, they are still fighting to get control over their lands. Whenever they raise the issue, pat comes the stock reply: the lands have come under the forest department. The irony is that the rightful owners find others cultivating their lands.
Ratanlal, a resident of Saur-dominated Mannaur village in Panna district, had the same tale to tell. He said powerful people are changing their names to purchase lands belonging to tribals. The village has lost 25 per cent of its lands in the past 20-30 years to outsiders.
The forest department also acts as the enemy of the tribals by denying them the right to cultivate their lands. In Panna district’s Dhauguan village, Bhaia Lal (55) owns five acres of ancestral land, but the forest department does not let him carry out cultivation. According to Lal, the forest department has taken lands belonging to at least 50 to 60 villagers.
Denied land rights, tribals are either migrating to other places in search of jobs or are becoming daily wage labourers. During drought, searching for work is a huge problem, many admit.
When villagers complain, forest officials assure them of adequate compensation in case of displacement. But Lal asks till then what tribals are supposed to do.
Data from the rural development ministry and the Planning Commission reveal that large chunks of lands continue to be alienated from tribals in Andhra Pradesh (2.79 lakh acres), Madhya Pradesh (1.58 lakh acres), Karnataka (1.3 lakh acre) and Gujarat (1.16 lakh acres).
Over 20 lakh people living in forest areas for generations have been deprived of their ancestral lands.
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