Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Support to Ashoka fellow John in Maharastra

Dear Lenin,
I hope the following note will satisfy you.It is 12 .20 midnight.I have 12 cases tomorrow.All attrocity cases.Very crucial decisions.I have to prepare for it.

Requesting support for the land rights of indigenous people and dalits (people from lower-castes) in Puntamba, Maharashtra, India

I would like to have your kind attention to the ongoing atrocities against 200 landless families of indigenous people and dalits in Puntamba, Maharshtra , India perpetrated by the local landlords and the police officials. In 1994, these families came together under the banner of Bhumi Hukka Andolan (BHA, meaning ‘land rights movement’) and are demanding the Government of Maharashtra to regularize their land which they have been cultivating for the last three decades.

The Indegenous Tribal and dalit communities are facing various abuses by the local landlords. In 2001, when BHA led a peaceful rally to protest against police inaction in a case of molestation of a indigenous girl by a local landlord, the police indiscriminately fired at the tribals and dalits. 2 leaders of BHA were shot dead in that police firing and many others were seriously injured.

The officials of Maharashtra Government are repeatedly destroying the huts and crops of the indigenous people and dalits, that too without prior notice. In 2003 alone around 200 huts were destroyed.When the affected tribals and dalits approached the local police station, they refused to register the complaint.

The indigenous people and dalits in this area have been cultivating the land for more than 30 years. The land is officially under the custody of the Maharashtra State Farming Corporation (MSFC).This land was given to MSFC on lease by the Government of Maharashtra. This land was acquired by the Government of Maharashtra as surplus land under land ceiling laws. MSFC could not cultivate the land and was left fallow for almost three decades. Neither was the land distributed to the landless people as per the objectives of the Ceiling Act which was passed in 1961

In 1994, the Government of Maharashtra decided to dissolve MSFC and give part of the land to the former owners of the land and the rest to multinational seed companies. BHA started the struggle against this move as indigenous people and dalits are entitled to the regularization of the land under the Maharashtra Government resolution of 1990, which allows for the regularization of encroachments made on a fallow land. As the land occupied by indigenous people and dalits is government fallow land as per government records, its occupants are entitled to obtain regularization under this resolution of 1990.

In 2001, the Bombay High Court gave an order in a writ petition filed by BHA directing the government authorities to expedite the inquiry regarding the encroachments made by the indigenous people and dalits on government waste land and that the present occupants of the land not be relocated till the case is finally disposed off. The government authorities are very slow in implementing the court order and this is a deliberate act to harass the poor indigenous people and dalits.

Now there are a large number of land-related cases pending in various courts and most indigenous people and dalits have to visit the courts on a regular basis. There are cases against indigenous and dalits and there are also cases filed by them against the MSFC officials for committing atrocities on them. The burden on tribals and dalits has increased enormously due to these prolonged cases. This has resulted in huge burden on indigenous people and dalits in terms of terms of financial, social and psychological costs

An additional problem faced by the landless tribals is the frequent demolition of their crops and huts.This makes them highly insecure.Loose their livelihood because if they manage to cultivate the crops they will not starve.Moreover,if their huts and crops are destroyed they are forced to migrate to brick kilns and for sugar cane cutting.This affects the education of their children. There are around 500 families who have occupied such lands though now only around 200 families are actively involved in the struggle

In light of all these, we earnestly request you to report these incidents and to demand the Maharashtra government to take following steps immediately:

1) To order an independent and impartial inquiry about the violence against tribals and dalits and take appropriate action to punish the guilty.

2) To take immediate steps to resolve the land disputes by regularizing the land of tribals and dalits as per the Maharashtra Agricultural Land (Ceiling of Holdings) Act 1961.

3) To stop all the demolitions unless the tribals who have settled possession of the government waste lands are resettled as per the international standards on eviction.

We sincerely request your support for this struggle by the landless tribals and dalits for their land rights.


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