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ASSOCIATES OF MAHATMA GANDHI > VINOBA BHAVE > ANASAKTI DARSHAN - BHOODAN SPECIAL ISSUE > Sabai Bhoomi Gopal Ki

 

Sabai Bhoomi Gopal Ki

Prabhat Kumar

For a variety of reasons, the issue of land reforms is very important in India. Vinoba Bhave said: all land belongs to Gopal. Land has been given by nature and the livelihood of each and every person depends on it. Nature has given us water, forest, land, air – all of which is interlinked – and if some people have ownership of these natural resources then it will lead to discord in society and creation of various classes. The new policies of liberalisation, privatisation and globalisation have changed nature’s inter-dependent development. Inter-dependent development means independence of the community, while liberalisation/privatisation means being subservient to capital. The way there is competition and a race to get the biggest share of the pie—, human values, cooperative spirit, brotherhood, sacrifice, peace, respect and peaceful coexistence are being lost.

In the present capitalist set up, financial capital is invisible. No one has any faith in its commitment, it can move from one area to another, wherever it gets better returns. Under these circumstances there is ‘‘rush to get possession of something concrete and physical like land, which is an excellent medium. Therefore, any project that needs five hectares of land demands 50 to 100 hectares. To get hold of this land, the government uses the Land Acquisition Act. And farmers’ movements that are rising against such acquisitions are being ruthlessly put down. This is an anti-people action. Tribals, farmers, landless and labourers are the worst sufferers of this land acquisition and increasingly resorting to violence as no one listens to them. As a result, their un-channelled anger erupts from time to time in various parts of the country.

This will ultimately only help the Maoists, who believe in the politics of organised violence. In Gandhi’s country, where the village is supposed to be self-reliant, we have a situation where people are being displaced from
their land in the villages and are being forced to live in intolerable conditions. The people who are victims of such a situation have a fundamental right to rebel and fight for their rights.

After independence, there has been decline of two to three per cent only in the number of people dependent on agriculture, but agriculture’s share in the national income is going down. This is a grave problem. Under
these circumstances there is a need to think deeply and act on the issue of land reforms.

Land has been one of the biggest assets of the country, but this asset has been used only by a handful of people. That is why inequality has increased in society. Before the British rule, the land was under the community or clan, which could be seen in later years in the ownership patterns among the tribals also. In 1793, the British introduced the Land Management Act and fixed land revenue. From here the zamindari system started. A feudal agrarian economy took shape. The land ownership went into the hands of a few British supplicants. The land owners and the cultivators got divided into two different classes, and rural India was transformed into a new exploitative social structure. The only aim of the zamindar was to extract the maximum amount of land tax as possible. Under such conditions, the actual cultivators did not have any desire to increase production. Their capacity to put back money into the land got increasingly reduced due to excessive land tax they had to pay. Slowly the independent economic system of the rural areas disintegrated. Due to non-payment of land tax the land was taken away from genuine farmers, and the ranks of the landless kept on increasing. Land went into the hands of people who were not cultivators. The livelihood of the landless and the share-croppers became the victim of the zamindars’ whim. Voices of dissent started being heard against the adverse land management system which was not beneficial for majority of the people. For this reason, debate on land reforms started during the period of Second World War before the country’s independence. But in India, the land owners and other rich class had so much control over the bureaucracy and political field that this debate was effectively stifled. Land owners were entrenched in the power structure and they were against any land reforms.

But Mahatma Gandhi always wanted villages to be economically independent. He was always with the common farmer. He protested against the zamindari system imposed by the British and protested against the atrocities committed against the farmers. In 1917, he led the Champaran Satyagraha in Bihar. This was the country’s first non-violent land reform movement. Due to Mahatma Gandhi, the credit for the movement went to the Congress party. And due to the success of the Champaran movement, the Congress party got a lot of support from the farmers. But the Congress party never carried out any other movement similar to the Champaran movement. Before independence, the Congress formed the government. In 1937, the Bihar government was formed under the leadership of Srikrishan Singh. The socialist segment within the Congress started raising its voice for land reforms. Socialist leaders, Jaiprakash Narayan, Swami Sahajanand Saraswati, and Pandit Yadunandan Sharma were prominent among them. It was due to pressure from these leaders that in 1946 the Indian National Congress declared in its election manifesto that land reforms were the need of the hour for the country. For this, there should be direct relation between the farmers and the State. The middle-men had to be removed.

But there was a lot of difference between what the government said and what it did. The government took support of the farmers by saying that they would be given land from the zamindars without any fighting. The laws of land reforms made by the government were not honest efforts. To save the zamindars, a number of loopholes were left in the laws. The government went on making claims under the land reform programme that this much land had been distributed to the landless this year. There were political debates over the claims made by the government. The idea that the land would belong to the farmers proved elusive. But, after independence the socialists carried out a big movement for land. Ram Manohar Lohia introduced the concept of ‘Jati’ (caste) and ‘Jamin’ (land) into agrarian problem. He said that the exploitation of one caste by another that was inbuilt in the society, was largely rooted in the economic structure in which there was large scale unequal distribution of land among the people. He made a call for ending the caste system and asked the exploited castes to organise themselves and carry out peaceful agitation. In the Bhoomi Harpo (grab the land) Satyagraha lakhs of middle castes took part, and their awareness increased greatly.

The middle castes benefitted from this movement. But the caste consciousness did not get converted into class consciousness and the Dalits could not get involved in this movement. Their efforts for class struggle proved incomplete. Their agitation was always against the government and the bureaucracy and it was never against the big landowners. But the failure of the socialists to be united with society at large prevented their aggressive movement from turning into a class struggle. The Communists of India had the Dalits with them in their land agitations, but the leadership was always in the hands of the upper castes. Many of these upper caste people were very big zamindars also. After independence the power unleashed due to the land agitations was channelled to get a share of the power at the Centre. From time to time, the Communists made compromises with the Congress and ended the land agitations. These compromises prevented the Dalits from developing into an independent political force which would be able to free the land for the landless. In 1974, the Communists opposed the Bihar movement and supported the emergency. Jayaprakash Narayan was called a fascist. As a result, the image of the Communists who were fighting for land rights got sullied.

In Telangana region of Andhra Pradesh, the Bhoodan movement started after the violent agitation for land led by the Communists. This movement was led by Acharya Vinoba Bhave. He asked for land for the landless. He said that the exploitation by the rich segment in society is responsible for the birth of Communists. Therefore, it is necessary that the inequitable distribution of land be rectified peacefully. Vinoba Bhave stayed in Bihar from September 14, 1952 to December 31, 1954. The Bhoodan Yagna committee was formed. The Bhoodan Act was passed. The entire Bhoodan movement received 21,17,756 acres of land during the entire movement and of it around 50 per cent was received in Bihar. Of the land received, 13 lakh acres of land was either under river and nullahs or mountainous or barren. According to the Bandopadhyay report (2008) on Bhoodan in Bihar, nothing much could be achieved because of incompetence of the Bhoodan Yagna Committee and the government’s revenue department. According to records of the Bhoodan Yagna committee, they received 6,48,476 acres of land, of which they distributed 2,55,343 acres of land. In all 276,320 acres of land were not fit for distribution. The committee still has 1,14,408 acres of land with it.

The absence of landless Dalits directly in the Bhoodan movement meant that in more than half the cases, the landless Dalits could not take possession of the land that had been given to them. And in cases where they did get possession, they could not get the title deeds in their names. The administration did not help them. Due to lack of organisation of the Bhoodan movement, those who had been given land under the Bhoodan movement were dispossessed. In the end, the Sarvodayis who had dreamt of changing the society through Bhoodan movement became part of the establishment. Despite getting lakhs of acres of land for distribution, the Bhoodan movement could not bring about a major change in society. The main reason for this was the lack of organisation of the lower strata of society. The Sarvodayis laid great emphasis on the ‘generosity’ of the rich and influential class. To encourage this ‘generosity’ the Sarvodayis relied on non-violent activities. But the non-violent action did not have the philosophy of Satyagraha where the dispossessed, victimised and exploited people had an awakening about their rights. Even Jayaprakash Narayan who gave a new breath of life to Bhoodan movement after joining it had to admit later, ‘In the Sarvodaya movement we only paid attention to changing the powerful and rich. The poor and exploited had very little role to play in the Sarvodaya movement.’ Due to Naxalite movement in Bihar in 1970-71, there were protests against social injustice and demand for minimum wages, and it also turned to the question of land. There was leadership from the middle class and Dalits. But the inevitability of violence during class war led to conflicts between castes and it could not become a class war. In this violence the musclemen hired by the landowners and other inter-mediators were killed. Due to such violence the Naxalites did get publicity, but it was not a decisive fight that could change the system.

In 1974, the Bihar movement started under Jayaprakash Narayan. Independent organisations like the Chhatra Yuva Sangharsh Vahini were formed. The Sangharsh Vahini that believed in Jayaprakash Narayan’s concept
of ‘Total Revolution’ announced land movement in Bihar. In 1978, the Chatra Yuva Sangharsh Vahini organised the Dalits and the Backwards together for a peaceful agitation for the 12,000 acres of land belonging to Bodhgaya Math. This fight was fought under the leadership of Dalits and women. After 10 years of struggle the landless were able to get 10,000 acre of the land. For the first time in India, women got a right over land and this was also the first time that peaceful class-war took place in the country. The agitation succeeded in demolishing the feudal structure of Shankar Math in Bodhgaya. There is a need to study why the movement did not spread or whether it was successful or not. However, for the generation that was born after independence, the Bodhgaya land agitation could be an inspiration for those who believe in social justice and an equitable society.

In Bihar, land reform laws were made since 1949, but in most of the cases the laws were weak. In 1949 the Bihar Zamindari Act, in 1950 the Bihar Land Reforms Law and in 1961 the Hadbandi Kshetra Parisiman Aur Atirikta Bhoomi Adhigrahan Kanoon was made. But due to pressure from the land owners, the law could be implemented 10 years later on September 9, 1970. This means that after the passing of the Bihar Zamindari Act in 1950, the excess land was kept by the zamindars for 20 years and during this period they transferred land on a large scale in fake names. They created religious trusts, gardens etc. and in most cases managed to keep the land in their own possession.

By January 2001, 2.78 lakh acres of additional land was distributed among 3.53 lakh landless under the Bihar Bhoo-Hadbandi Kanoon. The land distributed among each family was not sufficient for profitable agriculture,
and also the quality of the land that had been given was also not good. Moreover, even though the landless had allotment letters with them, they were either unable to trace it, or they were in the possession of powerful people as a result of which thousands could not take possession of their land.

The Nitish Kumar government formed the Bhoomi Sudhar Sangathan on June 16, 2006. D Bandopadhyay, a retired civil servant from West Bengal was made its chairman. He had a great role in formulating and executing ‘Operation Barga’ in West Bengal. Bandopadhyay submitted his report to the government on June 11, 2008. There was great hue and cry in the political circle over the recommendations. Therefore, the Nitish government resolved that they would only implement the recommendations related to Bhoodan land. The Nitish government is also under the influence of big land owners. It is due to lack of resolve of the government that 107,677.25 acre of land involved in 1975 cases is pending in courts for decades. Apart from this 96,666 acres of land taken over under the Hadbandi Act could not be distributed. In 1962, the then revenue minister of Bihar, had said that 18 lakh acres of land had been identified under the provisions of the Act, but finally only 3,67,864.25 acres of land could be acquired. This means that in Bihar, be it the Congress or any other government, the influence of the land owners has always been there. There is dissatisfaction in society about the failure of the government to take land from people who are unable to use it for productive purposes and giving it to genuine cultivators. According to a latest report, of the 38 districts of Bihar, 35 are affected by Naxalism. The Maoists are gaining ground due to the dissatisfaction among the rural population. Due to lack of proper means of livelihood, the poor people are unable to live a life of dignity. Under these circumstances, it is but natural that the people would take to politics of extremes. If we take into account the Union Home Ministry’s report of 2006 on Naxalism, we find that in nine police stations of State, there are major reports on activities of the extremists. We will find that parallel governments are running in 20 to 25 per cent part of the country, and the writ of the administration does not run here. To run the administration, the officers, contractors, land owners and traders have to pay levy to the extremists. This system is what Mao Tse Tung used to call fishing in the troubled water syndrome, where the disaffected farmers and landless are the water and the Maoists are the fish who live in the water. Instead of solving the problem, the government tries to deal with the violent and non-violent movements in the same manner as a result of which the non-violent movements are becoming weak.

The Bandopadhyay Commission understood that since the time of independence there is a major connection between rural development and the way agrarian relations are structured. The old structure of agrarian relations was proving to be an obstacle in modernising agriculture. It was this same structure that was responsible for the unequal distribution of the benefits of development, which was resulting in huge disparities in the income and property of people. The upper castes took away the major chunk of the development pie and they increased their political power. So to make fundamental structural changes it was necessary to change the rural agrarian structure. For this, it is essential that States like Bihar implement the land reforms honestly. The Commission has said that the share cropper law of 1885 made by the British needs to be replaced by a new law. The Commission said that Bihar’s ‘Hadbandi’ law was flawed. There were several avenues in this law where excess land could be parked, thus making it ineffective. It also called for improvement in revenue administration and also in mutation process, contract farming among other things.

It is shameful that the State government is standing by the side of the people who are cornering land, water and even the environment. In a poor agriculture based country like India, there is a direct relation between hunger and land. In the International Convention on Hunger and Poverty in 1995 and the World Food Convention in 1996, the issues of cornering of resources by a handful, land relations etc. was discussed in detail. There is a traditional relation between food security and the livelihood of the poor. The agricultural labourers, fishermen, tribals and other marginalised communities have been forced to live a life without dignity since the time of British imperialism. It is necessary that correct land reforms be implemented and the actual agriculture workers are allowed a greater allocation of the resources. There should be a stop to all land acquisition and the entire policy should be reviewed. A white paper should be released on all the land that has been acquired so far. There should be a consensus on land acquisition. The land reform laws made by the States should be further strengthened and implemented.