Monday, October 21, 2002

Dalits defy upper caste wrath, harvest first crop

Sandeep Bhushan

Monday, October 21, 2002 (Sehore District, Bhopal):

Across Madhya Pradesh, lakhs of Dalits who were allotted land by the state government have harvested their first-ever crop.

For the people here, who had worked as landless labourers for years, harvesting their own land is a completely different experience.

Santosh Malviya, a local villager, described it as: "We are feeling very happy. It's the first time we have been able to harvest our own crops and it feels great."

Police intervenes

Of a total of 36 Dalit families in village Satpipaliya, 30 have harvested their crop. Yet there's a feeling of fear and apprehension among them.

Just last week, a group of upper caste farmers had tried to destroy their soyabean crop. The police were called in and the harvesting was done under police protection.

Harvesting under fear

Lakshmi, who proudly displays her stock of soyabean, says she fears they may be prevented from harvesting their standing bajra crop. "I think they are not going to let us harvest the next crop. They will feed it to the cattle but not let us harvest it," she said.

The Madhya Pradesh government's land redistribution scheme was announced four years ago, but large-scale opposition and practical difficulties of allocating nearly 2.5 lakh hectares of land to nearly 3.5 lakh people meant actual distribution took place only a year ago.

Even then, there have been killings and violence. In Chief Minister Digvijay Singh's Rajgarh constituency alone, 56 cases have been filed by the district police.

The government, however, maintains it is determined to meet its targets by the end of this year. A V Singh, Chief Secretary, Madhya Pradesh, said, "The task would be approximately 70,000 to one lakh hectares of land more to be distributed. That is what remains on our minds."

With the BJP openly opposing land redistribution, the political fallout of this decision can only be gauged in elections next year.

Source: NDTV, October 21, 2002


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