Friday, October 6, 2017

India - Land Struggle and Dalit Question from Sangrur Convention

Paper presented at Sangrur convention

Land struggle and Dalit question

Division of society on the basis of castes is a distinct and an inseparable part of the Indian society. It began in the age of slavery. So many changes occurred, the era changed but the caste system did not vanish. This system has been providing the ruling classes with cheaper and surplus labour in every age and the exploiting classes has been maintaining it for their selfish interests. The reasons of persistence and stability of this obnoxious system is that it is a hierarchical system.

Specific castes are lower than others or higher than others in the caste hierarchy. The feeling of some dalit castes that they are superior to their brothers of other castes weakens their resolve to smash the caste system and this gives life to this system.

With the development of society at a specific stage of social development, the social division of labour emerged. This social division of labour contributed in the development of productive forces substantially. But the Braminism linked it tightly to the birth of the man and through hierarchical order developed it into a rigid and tight noose casteist system.

Based on this the division of labour helped in the development of productive forces at a specific stage of social progress when it was still occupation based. But when the very same turned into the caste system it became a stumbling block in the further development of productive forces and it has been one of the reasons of persistence backwardness of the Indian society.

Undoubtedly the caste system emerged in the age of slavery but it took its present form in the age of feudalism. The Caste system is extremely oppressive, suffocating and undemocratic. This system forces upon human an inhuman life. The fight against caste system is deeply linked to the struggle for democratization of our society. It is inseparable part of struggle for democratization of society and it is part and parcel of Indian New Democratic Revolution.

Without smashing this undemocratic system the real democratization of society is not possible.

Many movements and people came forward to challenge the inhuman caste system and for social reforms. The most important among those was the Bhakti movement. Bhakat Kabir challenged the Brahmins that if you are so distinct from other humans why did not you born differently. Bhakat Ravidas also said to have a society where equality is observed, “I want a regime where everyone gets food; the downtrodden and high caste people have equality, only then I will be happy”. Even Guru Nanak on one hand spread the message of equality when he said “Nanak seeks the company of the lowest of the low class, the very lowest of the low. Why should he try to compete with the great?” On the other, he stressed that God is creator of all and loves in the heart of every human.” He made it clear by saying that he is always with the downtrodden people.

During colonial India, one can see revolts against colonialism as well as for social reforms. Jyoti Bai Phulle and Savitri bai Phulle initiated a powerful movement to educate and literate Dalits. Dr. Bhim Rao Ambedkar focused caste question on the centre stage of political agenda. Ambedkar believed that the caste and creed are inseparable parts of Hindu traditions. (This was a presentation sent to Jat-Torak Mandal Lahor which later was printed as a book named ‘Annhilation of caste’). He raised this point in that book.

He opined that Dalits cannot be freed from caste system as long as they follow the Hindu religion. For the emancipation they will have to come out of this slavery. Following this belief he along with his supporters adopted Buddhism en mass but it is apparent it didn’t succeed in abolishing the very caste system. Dalits adopted Sikhism, Christianity and Buddhism but they remained dalits in these religions as well.

In colonial era there were two trends. One who believed that raising an issue such as caste system is detrimental for the unity of people and it weakens the struggle against colonialism. The main representative of this trend i.e. Gandhi was in favour of Varna system but was sending appeals to upper castes against untouchability. 

In essence, these people were in favour of Brahminism and caste system. On the other hand, there was another trend, who believed that it is proper time now to solve the problem of casteism.

Ambedkar said that, India (upper castes) had been slave since last 200 years but Dalits has been always slave. What is primary for Dalits is their fight for emancipation. Both these trends remained in conflict but Dr. Ambedkar was forced to yield to Gandhi’s views on critical juncture. He had to give up his demand of separate electorates for dalits and he accepted constitutional guarantee of reservation for the dalits.

Ultimately, both trends failed. India got formal independence but its colonial character turned in semi-colony. The caste oppression relaxed to some extent but the system persisted.

Reservation provided few benefits to Dalits. A section of society got education and employment rights. All democratic forces should support this system. As a result of reservation a middle class section emerged among Dalits. This category is aware of the sub-human conditions of dalits and raise voice for their rights. They provide social basis for Ambedkarite organizations. But this is such a privileged layer among dalits that all most all the benefits of reservation are soaked into it. But the broad masses of dalits are still living in sub-inhuman life as semi-slaves.

Ambedkarite organisations raise their voice against caste oppression and for dalit rights. But they insist that only those who born in dalit familes could be pro-dalit and they deserve exclusive right to raise voice for dalit. This approach is in itself casteist.

They think that the communists did nothing against casteism, this reflects their lack of knowledge of history. 

By this they negate whole democratic movement from the struggle against casteism. Ultimately, this approach goes against struggles of dalits. The Ambedkarite organizations and all the other democratic forces will have to unite in this fight. The danger of communal fascism is lurking over our heads today so the unity of all the democratic forces has become the immediate and more burning necessity of our times. We must realize this.

There had been two wrong trends among the followers of scientific ideology. One trend is of the opinion that castes are a phenomenon of super structure only. It means that first of all complete political system would be changed i.e. the revolution accomplished, only then the question of castes should be addressed.

The other deviation has been that the castes exist only in structure. When the class struggle will change the political system, then the problem of casteism will solve automatically. Both these wrong trends lead to the same result i.e they ignore the necessity of struggle against casteism or at least under-estimate its significance.

The roots of caste system are in economic structure and its expansion is in the super structure. The question is “Where do the roots of it lie?” The answer lies here: the dalits are deprived of means of production. They were not provided their due share in the means of production. In villages the main resource of livelihood is land.

That is why, the land question has central question of dalit emancipation. 

Its expansion is in super structure. The casteism is entrenched among the minds of society. Its main point is inter-caste marriages. This should be propagated widely. Inter-caste marriages should be encouraged. But the main fight after revolution will be in cultural sphere on this issue.

The show-up of casteism is based on two pillars. These are: Deprivation of dalits from the means of production and inner-caste marriages. The struggle for the share of means of production is main struggle before revolution. But the struggle against the system of inner-caste marriages and other cultural spheres would be the main struggle after revolution.

The struggle of dalit for land had started in the British period. It was initiated by a Ghadarite revolutionary Baba ManguRam Mugowalia. When the Republican Party was founded it raised the issue of land as a prominent issue. The Republican Party organized a march from Phagwara to Delhi. A sit-in was held in front of Prime minister’s residence.

Today, the Zameen Prapti Sanghrash Committee has been fighting for the share of land for the Dalits in Distt. Sangrur and in some parts of Distt. Patiala also. The struggle started from village Sekha, Distt. Barnala to occupy the common (Nazool) land of the village. The struggle has been expanded to more than hundred villages. The struggle is focused on the right of share of dalits in the land of Panchayat these days.

The struggle for the right of 1/3rd share of Panchayat land is a struggle to execute and enjoy constitutional right. This struggle is not for ownership now but to get the right to utilise the land. The question of Nazool land comes under this category. The Nazool land is offered to a society (cooperative organization). No rent is charged from this land but its ownership rights are limited. This land cannot be sold at the time of urgency. What is real issue? It is lowering the land ceiling to 10 acres and distribute the surplus land among landless people (Dalits) and poor peasantry. The struggle of Zameen Prapti Sanghrash Committee in still at initial stage. It still has to reach the stage of real ownership.

Uptill now the struggle is being kept within available legal precincts. Though the issue of distribution of surplus land has not been taken up so far but even at this stage of the agitation, the big landlords, wealthy village heads and feudal bigwigs had bullied, suppressed and opposed the agitators tooth and nail. Murderous attacks were executed, grievous injuries inflicted on dalits and one very old dalit lady Mata Gurdev kaur was martyred even.

Dalit leaders and activists in large numbers were put behind bars under serious criminal penal sections such as of attempt to murder etc. Police lathi-charged the dalits indiscriminately to the extent of breaking bones of many of them. Such a cruel and inhuman reaction of the village’s ruling establishment to the dalit agitation is indicative of the importance of land ownership in rural life.

All this shows in very clear terms that ruling classes are not present in cities like Delhi, Mumbai or Chandigarh only but are very much present in every village also. Ruling classes at lower rung provide support base to ruling classes wielding power at higher levels which in return protect this lower village level ruling dispensation. It is not without any rhyme and reason that the hordes of police personnel attack the people just for raising their rightful demands. If struggle is not waged against ruling classes working at local levels, all loud talks of waging class struggle are simply hollow slogans.

When the dalits as of now are not raising any demand of taking possession of surplus land of any individual big landlord, then why they are so strongly and brutally opposed by local and state establishment just for asking their share of common village lands to which they are legally entitled ? Because the issue of land ownership is just not an economic issue, it is basis of political power at village level. The ruling class is well aware of the fact that demand for land share by dalits is a challenge to their political base at village level. The hue and cry raised by the sarpanches ( panchayat heads) and panches in presence of Sukhbir Singh, deputy chief minister and Shiromani Akali Dal chief, was manifestation of such a lurking danger. The agitation for share of village common lands is directed against the local level political base of ruling classes.

Land is not just an economic issue, it is a political (challenge to the political power) as well as a social issue also. The life of every villager is deeply attached to the land. For animal fodder and vegetables such as ‘sarson da saag’ everyone is dependent on land. When the dalits, non-owners of land, go to fields to fetch such things they face humiliation. The dalit women are front bearers of such humiliation. Sometimes they are abused sexually also. Own farming (even done on leased in land) ensures them dignity and they can lead lives while keeping their heads high. That is the reason why the dalit women participate in large numbers in this agitation for land share.

Caste and class are deeply inter-connected. This inter-connection is dialectical in nature. Caste in its content is class also. But caste obfuscates and overlaps the class divisions. For example almost all the dalits are agricultural or rural labourers while almost all the jats are land owners. In this context it (dalit) is a class while all jats cannot be called a class in this sense. Among them there are landless farmers, marginal, poor, small, middle level, rich farmers and big land-lords. But caste covers and confuses these class divisions. That is the reason why big landlords, wealthy village heads and feudal bigwigs, in the name of caste, are able to organize all these classes of farmers behind them. During Jalloor agitation also, the village bigwigs organized majority of jat farmers on their side. After the Jalloor agitation we realized that the favoruable outcome of the agitation would not had been possible without the active support we got from farmers’ unions.

This agitation made us to realize the necessity of taking alongwith the lower layers of jat farmers such as landless, marginal and small farmers. It is now crystal clear that to take the struggle forward, we have to work in unison with lower layers of farmers. From all this we can easily conclude that question of caste also have to be addressed from class angle.

These days the reports of dalit agitations for acquiring land share are being reported from many parts of the country such as Punjab, Gujrat, Kerala, Karnatka, Tengana, Andhra Pardesh, Utter Pardesh etc. The slogan raised by dalits of Una (Gujrat) to “keep tail of cow with you and give our share of land” was a befitting reply to antics of the communal fascist forces. All these agitations are different forms of land agitation and are at different stages. But still one common thread is running between them that they all are dalit agitations and are regarding land issue. In Punjab while Zameen Prapti Sangharsh Committee (ZPSC) is fighting on issue on land share in common panchayat land, the Pendu Mazdoor Union (PMU) is continuing its struggle for residential plots, land for cattle sheds and wastage-disposal-sites in districts of Jalandhar, Kapurthala, Shaheed Bhagat Singh Nagar, Moga,Gurdaspur and Jagraon.

It is the utmost need of the hour that all the organizations spearheading the dalit land agitations in different parts of the country must form a common platform where they can extend help to each other during their agitations, exchange their experiences and in light of these experiences sort out their differences with open mind and discuss the matters with spirit of learning from each other’s experiences. In this way move forward step by step in direction of raising a country wide movement. In this movement all the leftist and Ambedkarite organizations should be partners of equal standings.

With the forming of Govt. at the centre by RSS at its own strength, the danger of communal fascism has become real and is increasing day by day. Sangh (RSS) is not satisfied only with political power, rather it is interested in monopoly over political power.

After getting majority numbers in Lok Sabha, it is even ‘purchasing’ M.Ps to achieve majority status in Rajya Sabha also. Sangh has been able to anoint its leaders for president and vice-president’s posts. It is appointing its men to various slots of governance starting from lowest level of municipal committees. RSS is trying to control the institutions of higher learning and where it is not possible to do so, it is making such institutions infructuous. Minorities, dalits and leftists are its special target for attacking. This attack against minorities and dalits is physical while it is ideological against the leftists. Communal Fascism is using different excuses to carry forward its nefarious campaign. Sometimes it is love-zihad, sometimes it is Ghar-Wapsi and these days it is so-called protection of cow. Dalits and minorities are main target under this cow protection movement.

Under such circumstances it is imperative on part of dalits, minorities, nationalities and leftists to unite at one platform against the danger of this communal fascism.

Some people are of the opinion the opposition political parties should also be roped in to fight against the communal fascism. Some are quoting Dimitrov to drive home their point but we suggest that they should read works of Dimitrov seriously. Against the danger of Fascism he has advocated for unity of labour class and when fascism establishes itself then he has advocated for organizing a common platform of all the forces opposing fascism including sections of ruling classes.

Some people who consider the Congress party secular in comparison to BJP are under illusion. The previous version of BJP i.e Jan-Sangh was at margins in Indian politics. The opposition parties provided recognition to it in mainstream by colluding with it. The congress enabled it to capture political power by adopting its political agenda of Hindu chauvinism. Congress fought 1983 elections in Jammu and Kashmir on its Hindu chauvinism agenda and got unprecedented victory. In Punjab also, Congress brought forward Bhindrawale, attacked Harmander Sahib, killed Bhindrawale and then got unprecedented victory by using its Hindu chauvinism card.

Rajiv Gandhi also played this Hindu card by encouraging communal attacks on Sikhs in aftermath of Indira’s murder. It was again Rajiv Gandhi in whose tenure as PM locks of Babri Musjid were opened and earth-warming ceremony was allowed to be performed. The then congress govt. at the centre let the babri musjid be demolished even without a murmur.

In this way the congress party, by using its Hindu chauvinism agenda, made way for a far right marginised communal party to monopolize the political power at centre. So to consider congress as secular is distortion of the facts. Other political parties, one by one, first Nitish, then ADMK has already surrendered before the communal fascism.

So under the present circumstances, only the common front of minorities especially of Muslims, dalits. nationalties and leftists is capable of fighting against the communal fascist forces.

From : Zameen prapti sangrash committee and pendu majdoor union, Punjab

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