After ‘Chalo Una’ in Gujarat and ‘Chalo Udupi’ in Karnataka, this march is scheduled for Republic Day next year.

Chalo Trivandrum the next stop for Indian Dalits nation-wide land struggleFile photo of the protest at Una (Image: PTI)
news Protest Tuesday, October 18, 2016 - 08:18

Dalit activist Jignesh Mevani is visibly excited about Kerala’s “fantastic" response to his call for a consolidated ‘land’ struggle that he plans to launch right across the country.

After having tasted success with ‘Chalo Una’ in Gujarat and ‘Chalo Udupi’ in Karnataka, it is now time for ‘Chalo Trivandrum’, he says, while speaking to The News Minute. The Long March is scheduled to take place on January 26, the day India celebrates its 'Republic' status each year.

“This is just the beginning. From now on, I plan to dedicate myself wholly to the cause of getting back the Dalits the land that is due to them. Our mantra will be: ‘Give us land or send us all to jail’. It is high time all those in power stop making a mockery of our plight. This is not going to be just a day’s protest, but the launch of a sustained struggle for Dalit emancipation at all levels,” Jignesh avers.

And for this, Dalits from all over India plan to come together to build a broad democratic platform from where they can fight against the ‘casteist’ mentality of Indian society.

Prominent dalit activist from Kerala, Geethanandan reiterates that it is the ‘ghettoism’ mentality that tries to limit the Dalits, tribals and all who comprise the marginalized in today’s world, that needs to be first done away with.

“Just the other day, a colleague was telling me as to how during the course of a Dalit kids’ camp, she had asked the participants to draw a house. Not one of them could visualize a house that was not a hut. Can you blame them? They were born into homes less than 250 square feet in size. How on earth are they to know what it is to dream, to aspire to higher social levels?” he asks.

The innate casteism that is ingrained into the Indian psyche -he feels- is the root cause of such a colonial attitude to Dalits: “Everyone speaks of the Kerala model, but one should understand that it is used to highlight the state’s achievements in the fields of education and health. The so-called Land Reforms Act that was pioneered by the Left in Kerala ironically did not cater to the marginalized communities -including plantation workers- who actually work the land. Only the upper castes benefit from it.”

According to Geethanandan, even while official figures restrict the number of Dalit and tribal colonies to 26,000 and 8000 respectively, the ground reality was that there are more than 50,000 such habitations in Kerala.

This is seconded by another well-known activist Dhanya Raman who says that though the state government loves to flaunt an official figure of 3 lakh landless Dalits, the actual figures lie closer to 30 lakh.

“They count one person from every Dalit family which usually has 10-12 members,” she fumes.

The identification survey of surplus land in the state -Dhanya mocks- has been going on for ages: “But till date, only 40% of the said survey has been purportedly completed. Nearly five lakh acres of surplus land in 1863 villages across the state have been identified, but the government is simply not interested in handing it over.”

Geethanandan points out that there are more than ten lakh acres of surplus land in the state, of which only five lakh acres has been identified for distribution among the marginalized.

“Most of the land has been illegally occupied by private land/estate owners whom no one seems to question. Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan recently announced a scheme of four lakh homes for the homeless, of which 1000 flats are earmarked for the Dalits/Adivasis/tribals. All these communities are traditionally dependent on natural resources for their livelihood, and have always lived in close commune with Nature. Just imagine holing them up in pint-sized flats! Could anyone think of a worse punishment for them?” he wonders.

Dhanya Raman chips in: “Why is it that there seems to be ‘Jaathi’ (caste) colonies only for the Dalits? Why are there no similar colonies for Christians, Muslims, Nairs and others?” Geethanandan attributes such Dalit ‘ghettos’ to the result of a colonial hangover that authorities still seem to suffer from.

“Do you know that hardly 10% of the Scheduled Caste/Scheduled Tribes Planning funds are utilized? And now with the doing away of the Planning Commission and Neeti Ayog taking its place, even whatever little was allocated for our so-called upliftment will go down the drain,” he remarks.

That is where a consolidated Dalit struggle against societal ostracism and concerted efforts to ensure that all Dalits have land they can call their own gain relevance, he believes.

“And this is not just land to build a home alone, but land which can be used for agriculture too. That is our target,” he smiles.

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