On paper, tribal families in Guna dist have land pattas. In reality, they remain landless and impoverished. A Gaon Connection ground report
After a 22-year long struggle for patta land, Rampyari Bai from Dhanoriya village got her 1.35 hectare land but had to pay a heavy price. She was set alight on July 2 and died on July 8. Gaon Connection travelled to her village in Guna district of Madhya Pradesh and found that there are several tribal families who have got land patta in their name but have no access to that land, which is still controlled by the mighty landlords.
Brijendra Dubey 12 July 2022 1:32 PM GMT
Reported by Brijendra Dubey & Satish Malviya
Dhanoriya (Guna), Madhya Pradesh
When Rampyari Bai, belonging to the Sehariya particularly vulnerable tribal group, went to inspect her field on the morning of July 2, little did she know the horrific assault she would face. Some henchmen overpowered the 46-year-old farmer, poured diesel over her and set her alight. She was taken to Bhopal, over 200 kilometres away, and admitted to the burn unit of the Kamla Nehru Hospital, where after six excruciating days, on July 8, she died.
It was a 22-year-old land conflict that led to the violent and painful death of Rampyari Bai, a resident of Dhanoriya village in Guna district of Madhya Pradesh.
"At around eleven in the morning of July 2, I was going to buy vegetables when my wife, Rampyari, left for our farm informing me that she will begin work in the field and I should join her later," Arjun Sehariya, her husband, told Gaon Connection on July 5 outside the Bhopal hospital where his wife was admitted.
When Arjun Sehariya heard from other villagers what had transpired, he rushed to the land where he found his wife's semi-charred body. Soon the police arrived. Rampyari Bai was rushed to the district hospital in Guna where doctors said her condition was serious and she was taken to Bhopal. "I learnt that she had found some other people sowing soybean with a tractor on our land. She opposed them and was beaten up. They poured diesel on her and set her ablaze," Sehariya narrated, while he waited at the hospital, hoping Rampyari might still make it. But, she did not and she died on July 8.
It was only recently that after a 22-year-old struggle and running from pillar to post, Arjun and Rampyari had got hold of their 1.35 hectare (ha) of patta land that was allotted to the tribal family by the government. As per news reports, between 1999 and 2002, the Madhya Pradesh government had allotted lands from the government grazing land to landless scheduled caste and scheduled tribe (SC/ST) families. Overall, 344,329 SC/ST families were allotted 698,576 acres (282,703 ha) of land but it is claimed that 70 per cent of the people haven't received the possession of their allotted lands.
After a protracted legal battle, Arjun and Rampyari got their land but the victory was short lived. Some powerful people in the area who had taken possession of the land were not about to allow the tribal couple to get away with the temerity of taking legal recourse to get what was rightfully theirs. To teach them a lesson they would not forget, and warn other tribal families in the area to not raise their voice, Rampyari was set alight on the same patta land for which she had fought so hard and so long, said her husband.
The attack on Rampyari has intensified the fear amongst the adivasi inhabitants in Guna who were promised pattas as far back as 2000.
"I too was sanctioned a patta for about 5 bighas (1.35 hectares) of land in 2000, but I have not been able to get possession of it," Kanhaiyalal Sehariya, another tribal inhabitant of Dhanoriya village, told Gaon Connection. "I am a labourer, a daily wager. I do not have the means or the time to take my battle to the courts," he added.
Pankaj Srivastav, police officer, Guna, told the media on July 3 that five people, including three men and two women, have been arrested in connection with the attack on Rampyari.
Land conflict in tribal areas
The issue with patta lands and the tribal population is not a new one. And the conflicts are only increasing.
As per news reports, in February 2013, Karan Singh Varma, the then revenue minister, in response to a question from KP Singh in Vidhan Sabha, had said that there were several districts in Madhya Pradesh where nearly 60 per cent of the families, who were granted patta, were yet to get the land in their possession.
Last year, on December 7, former minister KP Singh again wrote to the chief secretary of Madhya Pradesh that there were lands allotted to beneficiaries in Shivpuri district but many haven't yet received these lands and these land allotments had not been updated in the state revenue records. Gaon Connection has a copy of the letter.
More recently, on July 8, villages of Singhapur and Bongla in Bamori tehsil erupted into violence over the 'illegal occupation of land'. According to media reports, 10 people were injured badly enough to be admitted to the district hospital. The dispute had arisen over 300 bighas of land.
According to Suraj Sahariya, coordinator of Ekta Parishad, (a people's movement for land rights) in Guna: "In Madhya Pradesh, in 2002, the state government had distributed land pattas to the poor and landless tribal communities in the state. But this remained on paper as several tribal beneficiaries of the patta were yet to get hold of their land."
According to the coordinator, the wealthy and powerful people in the area were in an all out effort to push the poor adivasis out of the way and occupy all their lands.
"We have petitioned everyone from the district magistrate to the present state government about the patta land that rightfully belongs to the adivasis, but no one has the time to even listen to us," Sahariya told Gaon Connection. Ekta Parishad has been trying to help out nearly 45 such adivasis whose patta land has been illegally occupied.
Gaon Connection tried accessing the latest data on how much land has been allocated to tribal farmers in Guna district and how much is actually being cultivated by them. However, such information was not available with the district officials.
Frank Noble A, collector of Guna district, told Gaon Connection that the district administration has been allotting land to tribal and non-tribal families. "So far, we have given 6,000 van adhikaar pattas allotments under the forest rights act; and land has also been allocated for agricultural purposes," the collector said. "We will collect data for such allocations and share it," he added.
22-year-long struggle that ended in a violent death
It was in 2000 that Arjun Sehariya was given the patta for 1.35 ha of land. But for 22 years, the adivasi had fought to actually get that land, which he finally did in March earlier this year. The land was demarcated as per the court orders, and given to him by GS Bairava, the tehsildar of Bamori, under which his village falls. It was a victory for the Sehariyas, but one that Rampyari had to pay for with her life.
"The tehsildar Bairava had ordered that the land be measured and handed over to me. A tractor created a bund around my land to demarcate it and it was handed over to me on March 8 ," Arjun Sehariya told Gaon Connection.
"The powerful people had taken over my land despite the court order. I had filed a case against them under the land revenue code section 250. When I was returning from the hearing from Bamori on February 8 [this year], these goons beat me up," Arjun narrated. According to him, he sustained an injury on his head. Though he complained to the police, who registered his complaint through the Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribe (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 1989, it took no action against the perpetrators, the tribal farmer claimed.
"I wish the government had never given us that land. We have never felt so bereft of hope and justice," Prem Sehariya, Arjun and Rampyari's son who works as a daily wage labourer in Indore, told Gaon Connection. "If there was timely action taken when my father was assaulted, my mother would perhaps be alive today," he added.
On being contacted, Bairava, the tehsildar of Bamori (earlier Guna tehsil used to come under Bamori tehsil), said: "Four months ago, Rampyari Bai had filed a complaint regarding encroachment on her land. We took action under the 1959 land act and removed the encroachment. But, the land remained encroached."
"On May 6, we visited the field and physically got the encroachment removed by ploughing Rampyari's field with a tractor," he added. However, that solved nothing and on July 2, Rampyari paid with her life.
The patta beneficiaries in Dhanoriya village are fearful. "You think these powerful people who have occupied our land for so many years will just let it go? There will be violence and bloodshed and what happened with Rampyari can happen again with any of us. We are scared," said Kanhaiyalal Sehariya, a daily wage labourer, who preferred to continue to live a life of struggle rather than confront people who he knew he was no match for.
About 26 kilometres from his village, Sribai Sehariya from Honotiya village in Bamori is struggling to claim what is rightfully hers. Her father had been allotted the patta for 20 bighas (5 ha) of land which was rightfully hers after his death. And, though the tehsildar had issued the papers giving her possession of the land in December 2021, and demarcated the land, she was yet to get it.
Sribai told Gaon Connection that a thakur (higher caste) of the village had grabbed the land. "He neither gives us any money for it and if we should go to the land to sow or lough, he threatens us with death," she said.
"The thakur has been cultivating the land as his own for the past twenty years and enjoying the produce, said Sribai's husband Banwari Lal.
"The intimidation of the thakur's men is such that one of my uncle's had to leave the village, many of us have been beaten up…" Banwarilal trailed off.
"The government should do something to provide us with protection and compensate us for the 20 years we have lived landless, despite having patta for the land," he added.
Babulal Sehariya, of Hinotiya village in Bamori, said he too was beaten mercilessly by 'landlords' for daring to demand his land back from them.
"My father was given the patta of six and a half bigha (1.6 ha), but the land was snatched from us. When I protested, I was beaten up. I have children and if I die, who will look after them," a worried Babulal asked.
While the shockwaves still reverberate through Dhanoriya village, its tribal inhabitants are even more convinced that patta or no patta, the justice system is not for those like them and they will continue to the way they have been existing all their lives.