By Abhishek Jha:
Sometime around the second week of May, 45 Madiga families in Pathapally village of Telangana were driven out of the land that had been allotted to them by the government, by members of the Boya (upper caste) community. This was allegedly a reaction to an earlier incident, where Raghuram, a Dalit, had tried to access the village temple. After driving the Dalit families out, “members of the Boya community then proceeded to bury their dead in this land to ensure that the displaced families cannot return,” The Hindu reported. The report also says that the Revenue Divisional Officer and the DSP pulled down the huts and a shop owned by Dalits, alleging that they are encroachment, although they have documents to prove otherwise. They have also been denied water from a reservoir.
Land As A Tool For Empowerment Of Dalits
Land is often recognised as a tool of socio-economic empowerment. In a publication titled ‘Strategies Towards Combating Dalit Marginalisation‘, which documents the proceedings of a national symposium held on 11th and 12th July, 2014 in Hyderabad, a number of strategies are listed. One such suggestions says, “The distribution of land to Dalit and other marginalised communities remains largely unfulfilled agenda. Special effort should be made to provide land to Dalit households.” Another asks for “special assistance to Dalit women” in terms of “provision of land, housing and credit.”
That land plays an important part in empowerment of Dalits and that the symposium’s strategies were founded in reason is seconded by a report published by NIDR in 2013 that studies land distribution and land purchase programmes of Andhra Pradesh. Mahabubnagar district (now in Telangana), in which Pathapally is located, comes first under land purchase programme of APSCCFC (Andhra Pradesh Scheduled Castes Cooperative Finance Corporation) and second under land purchase programme of SERP (Society for Elimination of Rural Poverty). “Five out of 27 beneficiaries (18.5 per cent) have started sending their children to private schools nearby the village (Table 16). The change in percentage towards education was 85… There is an increase in expenditure towards health also…a change was observed in expenditure towards food items like milk, eggs, vegetables and non-vegetarian dishes (72 per cent),” the report states citing the change in socio-economic status of the beneficiaries of APSCCFC who got land because of the programme.
What The Disputes And Violence Over Land Says
The attack on the Madiga families and their land then not only exposes casteist hatred present within the dominant caste but also speaks of a structured manner in which caste hierarchy is maintained. In an inversion of the case of Pathapally, in 2006, Surekha Bhotmange and three of her family members from Khairlanji village of Maharashtra were murdered because they resisted gradual occupation of their land by members of the upper caste. The aforementioned Symposium concurs with this observation. It says that, “In early 1990s, the National Commission on Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes identified factors such as land disputes and nonpayment of minimum wages to be the main cause of atrocities” on Dalits.
The structure of this violence can be understood from the observations stated above. Once Dalits own land, they become financially independent and are able to educate themselves. Clearly these factors make them more likely to ask for their rights, resist the upper-caste oppression, and so on. This landlessness forced by violence pushes them back again into the position of dependence on the upper-castes and subsequent oppression by them. A. Ramaiah, professor at TISS, wrote a paper using NCRB data on crimes against Dalits, where he cites the following reason too for Dalits not being able to use the The Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act: “most of the Dalits are landless and depend on the very castes that violate their rights and dignity to earn their living. So, though there are laws to their support, they would not dare using them to protect their source of living.” It is no surprise to know then that Surekha Bhotmange, who was an educated Dalit woman, had to be eliminated by upper-caste men. It also tells us that the problems that the Dalits of Pathapally are facing is part of a larger problem. It needs systemic changes.