Explained: A Background To What’s Happening In Sonbhadra

The state of Uttar Pradesh is currently seeing one of the worst repercussions of misuse of bureaucratic power in the country’s history. On July 17, in the Ghorawal area in UP’s Sonbhadra district, the Gram Pradhan, Yagyadutt Bhurtiya, resorted to open-shooting on the area’s tribal population because of a land dispute. The villagers, who belonged to the Gond community, had been cultivating and tilling the land, with some farming on the land for more than three generations and had previously been urged to illegally vacate the plot, reported the Economic Times.

To untangle this mess that left 10 villagers dead and injured around 20 people, we need to go back to a particular plot of land in 1952. This parcel, that spanned more than 600 bigha (around 97.2 hectares), was declared barren in the official records and was registered as a property under the Gram Sabha. Since then, the local villagers had farmed on the area and had reaped the benefits of the produce, published the Times of India.

According to the same report, this all changed when, in 1952, an IAS officer by the name of Prabhat Kumar Mishra, set up the Adarsh Cooperative Society Ltd, and managed to allot about 81 hectares of that land to this entity. Apparently, the trend to award one’s own relatives with perks was still in place then, as Mishra’s own father-in-law, Maheshwari Prasad Sinha, was named the president of the society, and Mishra’s wife, Asha Mishra, was made an office-bearer. Additionally, his daughter, Vinita Mishra, was also appointed as the manager of the society. The Pioneer reported that the society’s registration had officially expired in 1978, but the land was continued to be owned by the Mishra family.

Cut to Sinha’s death in 1989, when around 32.4 hectares of the disputed land was given to Asha and Vinita. According to Nityanand Dwivedi, the villagers’ advocate, around 23.3 hectares of this land was then sold by them to the village head Bhurtiya for almost ₹2 crore, although there has been no official confirmation of the figure.

Following this, in 2017, the villagers of the area moved an application with Amit Kumar Singh, the area’s then-District Magistrate, who ordered to probe into this matter of land ownership. After Singh’s transfer earlier this year, Bhurtiya went ahead and registered the land in his name.

This brings us to a few days ago, when Bhurtiya, along with 24 others, was arrested by the UP police, who also lodged FIRs against more than 61 people. On the other hand, the villagers had been in a tussle with the local administration to bury the dead in the same plot of land, whereas the authorities wanted them to practice the last rites at the tribe’s traditional place. The officials managed to persuade the villagers in the end.

As I went through the details of this elaborate incident, I felt a range of emotions and encountered a range of opinions. From the obvious rage against another incident of persecution of the poor to the empathy for the mourning families to the disdain for our elected representatives, who diminished the entire incident to nothing but political theatrics.

Most of all, what I feel is a sense of shame to be somehow associated with our democracy’s “fourth pillar” that chose to ignore the plights of the tribal community and the bureaucratic greed that still pervades our systems, but instead, gave the entire incident a BJP-Congress spin. While some of the major outlets chose to talk about the inability of Priyanka Gandhi to meet the victim’s families, others went on to describe the BSP-SP angle to the issue.

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