Human Rights and Wrongs

Some time ago, the boys were asking me about why Piyush was in jail. I had to collect my thoughts, and try and give them a reasonable answer, without ranting, and yet without sounding hopeless. I put the case to them as a story, but much of it is true-to-life and far worse things are happening.

Land here costs one lakh rupees an acre. This means that if you want to buy land from someone, you need to pay him one lakh rupees.It does not, however, mean that if you have one lakh rupees, you can buy yourself an acre of land: no-one may be willing to sell their land.

Suppose however that a company offers 10 lakh rupees an acre; a lot of people would be tempted to sell their land, especially if the company also offers them jobs to mine the land for metal, or quarry it for rocks and mud or whatever…

Ten years down the line, if the company shuts down its operation and pulls out of the area, the land rendered unusable for farming, the people without a job, nothing illegal would have  been done by it. The “nation” would have ostensibly progressed. But at what cost to the peasants whose very way of life has been destroyed?

Would you agree with those who say that the farmers should not have been greedy…should not have sold their land? Would you condemn the violence that arises in the area by people dispossessed of their livelihoods? Or would you perhaps justify it? Would you accept your complicity in the situation?

Is it not time to rethink the laws governing the use and buying/selling of land?


7 Responses to “Human Rights and Wrongs”

  1. Sunny Says:

    “Development” is the central issue. For whom, what kind , for how long , is it sustainable , all these are issues being debated by people with no clear answers. The problem is that there is no consensus on what is “need” and what is “greed” . We need the aluminium lying beneath tribal land and we can recreate the forests even better than the origonal forests afterwards – I have been told this by a public sector engineer who now runs big companies all over the world. Botanists , forest scientists , rehabilatation experts , there are all kinds of teams . They say the problem is only of service delivery in India ! All of the west developed when there was no concepts of “human rights” and ” ecological sustainability” , so their lectures run shallow as the climate change negotiations show clearly, they are not willing to reduce their carbon footprints. So where does that leave us? Countries like China are ruthlessly using Africa and S.America as raw material sources, while India can only use its own hinterland , its own tribal regions. So unless we can come up with a radical new model of our own way , which seems a far shot, the only solution is what I call “speed-breakers” . Local groups who want food, water, resource and cultural sovereignity and self-control/swaraj over extraction have to create local political groups that see to local needs being priortised.

  2. Poorvi Says:

    The Guardian article you provide a link to is very interesting, I think, and very balanced too.

    I think, finally, the choices–whether to sell their land or not, and for how much–do belong to the individuals. The problem, as the Guardian article describes, is that there is not enough knowledge of the consequences when the decision is taken. Perhaps those making large land acquisitions (such as mining and energy corporations) should have to educate the farmers before they can seal the deal, and the education should be by an NGO who receives funds for the purpose. This is imperfect, because the NGO might not be an NGO at all, but perhaps one could insist it be an NGO that already has ties to the district, and not one manufactured for the purpose.

    The larger issue is whether we want large land owners at all. That’s a difficult one. My instinct is “no”, the cost is not worth the benefit. But I can’t pretend to know enough about Indian villages while I sit in the US sipping my latte.

    I also think we can’t caricature the issue. Human greed and desire to dominate exists. It exists among smaller groups, with a historically low-environmental-imprint lifestyle, as it does with the large corporations. It is the concentration of economic power that is dangerous, but I don’t think that economic growth per se is a problem. I think the tribes do need economic growth, and the corresponding benefits of leisure, access to medicine and education/knowledge; not to mention the reduction of inequalities within the tribes.

    I don’t know much about India’s land laws, but I also think that legislative/government action won’t be enough. That’s not sustainable either, because it too asks for concentration of power. If the state prevents you from selling your land, it’s not going to magically provide you with the economic growth that motivates you to sell your land in the first place. All it does is prevent your daughter that education or your wife that surgery. It’s not like the government has addressed the economic needs of our tribal areas in all these years.

    There’s another imperfect model that my husband’s cousin is looking at: for tribes to sell carbon credits and remain green, using the additional income to develop long-term sustainable approaches and strategies (as opposed to the current reactionary state they are relegated to). I say imperfect because one has to buy the notion of a carbon credit, and the notion that some can pollute how much they want as long as they pay for it. And that the market value of these carbon credits is a correct representation of their worth, determined as it is by the caps set through negotiations among politicians, and not by measures of environmental impact. But the strength of this approach lies in its ability to capture exactly the fact that this lifestyle does provide value to the world at large, in a very material sense. It appears significantly better than the current alternative.


  3. Piyush Manush Says:

    Sorry for the naive & crude comments, but this far is the maximum my brain allows me to travel…

    1. If the market price is 1,00,000, the companies may be paying only Rs10000 to buy rather acquire land as they have the state to act on their behalf for the land acquisition process. for examples nearby the ongoing process of land acquisition on Salem- Dharmapuri road (2500 acres), the famous 3600 acres of land acquired by Salem Steel Plant in 1971 & dues to be settled till date.

    2. Ironically most of the 60000 sq km of forests of bastar have no patta system for the tribals & so they are illegal encroachers & havung committed this crime for thousands of years, generations to account for .. Tata, Jindals, Essars, Vedanta, Mittals all gods of development have taken it on themselves to correct this anomaly.

    3. Declare war in this region & kill all, rape girls & women, maim children, burn houses, destroy crops & legalise the operation green hunt in the name of development.

    4. Jobs are but a maya that is always there to be got but never given.


  4. sunder and sonati Says:

    Anupam Kakkar e-mailed this to me and I am copy-and-pasting. Everyone please feel free to comment on the blog itself, even if you are shooting from the hip:

    My two bits worth – mostly shooting from the hip, rather than considered comments – but you DID ask !

    First, on the wider issues (“rethink the laws”).

    My belief (admittedly based on reading other peoples’ opinion, rather than on personal observations) is that, on the whole, India has perfectly adequate laws, systems and processes in place; it is the actual administration of these that is woefully inadequate. For example, the allowed quota of judges for the courts (at all levels) is never properly filled, and most courts are operating at well below 50% strength. This is reflected in the preposterous lengths of time (i.e. decades) it takes to obtain a decision in even reasonably straightforward cases. Justice delayed is justice denied. There is no hope of obtaining justice through the courts, hence no matter how many laws are passed, or systems and processes put into place (on paper), there is no way to make these enforceable – as there is no fear of prosecution for non-compliance.

    Unfortunately, the power to correct this administrative impotency rests squarely with the government – but historically, the political class has consistently demonstrated not only its disinterest in improving administrative efficiency, but has in fact regularly acted to destroy any pockets of excellence that exist. This can be corrected only when one of two situations occur – either the “right sort” of people stop complaining from the outside and join active politics, or change is forced by social unrest.

    Second, on the specific example (your “case as a story”).

    If someone is willing to sell his land, and someone else is willing to buy, no civilised society should create laws to block this. However, there are some steps that could help. For example, just as non-graduates require an emigration clearance before they can take a job abroad, thus ensuring a level of protection for the uneducated / uninformed, similarly a mandatory clearance could be required for sales by marginal farmers. Or, a “citizens bureau” facility could be set up (e.g. through NGOs) to offer free advice and information.

    Just out of interest, what do these farmers do with the “10 lakhs” they get for selling their farm? Can they not go and buy a farm (or five!) in another region which does not have “metal […] , rocks and mud or whatever”?
    That way, everyone’s happy, and it may also result in consolidation of farms which are too small to be viable?

    I know I am far from being any kind of expert in these matters, just stating some of the arguments that came to mind while reading your article … would love to hear your reactions and perhaps in the process understand the issues better!


  5. Aseem Shrivastava Says:

    To my limited intelligence the problem really is that the future is not what it used to be. The entry of large sums of money on the potentially accessible horizon has changed everyone and everything. In the past, in so many parts of the country, you could do without much money. Real resources were accessible to people. Today, the farmer who is unwilling to sell his land for a lakh, but is tempted to sell it for ten is caught in a world where the future cannot be negotiated without money. So the conversion of something potentially lasting and real (land) into something ephemeral and abstract (money) makes sense to him. Because he feels that he could (has to) convert the abstract into the concrete in the future. Yet, there are farmers who resist the temptation (usually at some cost). We have created a world in India where, regardless of which of the two options (hold or sell) the farmer chooses, he is ultimately damned. Because policies are not being written or executed for him/her. They are driven by corporate-nationalist forces of global ambition, which too are ultimately doomed, though that will take some time to become clear. At root, India will have to give up trying to compete and catch up with China, Japan and the West and instead focus on securing a decent life and livelihood for its own people. This is unlikely to happen till such time as the people themselves rise up and assert their basic rights in unconquerable numbers. If that happens, no Maoism or vanguard activism is necessary. If that does not happen, there will only be avoidable violence and bloodshed.

  6. sunder and sonati Says:

    A few additions to flesh out my story:

    1.The situation is REAL for us. If Duraisami or Kolandaian were to come tomorrow to ask for advice regarding selling some of their land, I would be hard put to advise them. Like Aseem says, “Damned if they do, damned if they don’t”. I am in (to their eyes) the enviable position of not having to make this choice. But I am here, can empathize with their situation, hence am complicit, hence involved.

    2. The reality is compounded by violence, threatened or explicit. When our road was being tarred, a thug-like contractor with two henchmen, came to “ask my permission” to blast our Hippo Rock for “jalli” (small sharp stones which underlie a tar road). I stalled, used my Brahmin card, said that the rock has “power” (which is now a Tamil word) and so on.He didn’t come back, because he found easier pickings elsewhere. There again I am privileged by my middle-class-ness. Tribals would have been hard put to refuse him.

    3.These people are in the main small self-sustaining farmers. Up until a generation ago they would walk, once in six months, to the nearest shandy some 15 km away with their cash crops on their heads and return with salt and matches to last them six months.
    So 10 lakhs will not go very far if you have to buy everything that used to be available for the asking/growing/plucking/collecting.
    Moreover as Piyush says, it is more likely to be Rs. 10,000 and their land acquired rather than Rs. 10 lakhs and their land bought.. Big business and Government are brothers-in-arms

    4.This situation is not peculiar to this place. There is an excellent interview with Aruna Roy which sets things out more eloquently than I can.

  7. Sunny Says:

    We have been working with traditional textile castes in a Rajasthani village for the last 16 years. The village is 40 kms from Jaipur , a big city. It has a population of 10,000 people. Land was about Rs.100,000/- an acre 18 years ago , is now Rs. 25 lacs an acre. Water levels have dropped from 30 feet to 150 feet. And it is not outsiders who have bought agricultural land , it was grazing land, or common village “gauchar” land which was made into small industrial area. And the rest of village rejoiced for their land price went up and they all became crorepatis. They grow wheat which need nine waterings, traditionally they used to grow bajra, jowar, jau and chana which needed less water. After NREGA the panchayat elections have got highly competitive. The five yearly budget for 36 villages in our panchayat samiti is 250 crores, roughly 7.5 crores per village, about 1.5 crores per village per year. That means the most “honest” sarpanch can make at 10% commission about 15 lacs a year ! This time 25 candidates stood for sarpanch election ! Such funds going down to the lowest level of democracy has divided our caste ridden villages completely. The last sarpanch was a Dalit who made 4 crores by selling off fake pattas of state land and making a house in Delhi ! Just like politicians make in Switzerland. It was covered in local Hindi press for two days then all went quiet . There are few NGO’s and fewer activists, and no one in the village wants to pick up a fight with a village clansmen as it will last for generations ! I don’t know of a single landed family which doesn’t occupy extra community of government land and try to bribe the sarpanch to give them pattas ! Probably the only seedha saadha people in this country must be the tribals in central India who have no choice but to be gun fodder in this war between the state and Maoists. I feel the only option the tribals really have is to form co-ops and decides to negotiate how much land to lease. Bolivia has sold its mines to Jindal after Eva Morales , a tribal leader came to power ! So rather than allow any Maoist or any outside political agency , the only option now for any local population is to organise , create land co-ops and negotiate hard, just like a company. And use every environment, rehab, labour law to create a humane structure.

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