On 21 July, about 100 police and the Maharashtra State Farming Corporation (MSFC) security personnel destroyed about two hundreds huts of adivasis – indigenous people – and more than thousand acres of crops. No notice was given to the people. Several hundred adivasi children and women have been rendered homeless. The adivasi people have been fighting the MSFC for their legal rights on land where they’ve lived for several decades.
The Maharashtra Agricultural Land (Ceiling on Holdings) Act, which came into effect in 1961, was intended to redistribute land among landless farmers. In Maharashtra and some other states, almost no land was successfully re-distributed. Instead, the government set up the MSFC and gave it cultivation rights over the land. However, the MSFC has never cultivated the 35,000 acres. Seeing the land lying fallow, adivasis have in recent years occupied it and staked a legal claim that is still pending before state authorities.
Meanwhile, a new amendment which will come into effect in 2003, enables the government to withdraw the land from the MSFC and grant any area of land for any “public purpose”. There is a strong likelihood that much of the land will return to the hands of the former landlords, which will have a disastrous effect on those living on the land.
However, recently, the MSFC has started a brutal crackdown against the adivasi people by destroying their houses and crops. This action on 21 July was taken by the MSFC, and strongly backed by the government, despite the adivasis’ claim that the land they are on is theirs and their appeal is pending before the Revenue Commissioner at Nashik. Mr John P Abraham, who is leading the fight, was detained in police custody from 10am until 7.30pm on that day. The adivasi people fear that this monstrous act will be continued.
In his email to the AHRC on 27 July, Mr John P Abraham described how miserable the current situation is and how desperately they need help from others:
“They have burnt down all the remnants of the huts. It is a heart-rending scene to see the young ones lying in the bushes without any cover above them. Only barbarians can do such acts of cruelty to a hapless people. Is there any way you can stop this atrocious act of the government machinery?……All this to return the land to the powerful landlords or to lease it out to big companies. All this land had been acquired under the Ceiling Act. Now all this is government land lying fallow for three decades. Our beloved nation, our beloved leaders. To hell with all these pious thoughts……No body wanted to listen to us. Is there anybody listening to the feeble cry of these people? We informed number of Human Rights fellows. They need papers. Bull shit. People are dying here……Let those who still have some conscience judge the way in which the government is misusing the resources acquired under Ceiling Act and government fallow land, detriment to the interest of the landless and the poor. I hope our cry for justice is heard by someone. We need your solidarity.”
A hunger strike is proposed for 30 July, to bring attention to the plight of the adavasi people who have been negatively targeted by the MSFC and the government of Maharashtra.
Please support the adivasis in their fight for justice immediately.
After the independence of India in 1947, the British left behind large acres of land formerly owned by industrial corporations. The Indian government had the idea of distributing the unoccupied parts to landless people. Related to this, in the following years, the Ceiling on Holdings Act, no:XXVII in 1961 was adopted by the Maharashtra State Government with the purpose of “distribution of agricultural lands as best to serve common good”. An amendment was made to the 1961 Act 14 years after “to limit landlords’ holdings”, to secure a still more equitable distribution of land and for the purpose of removing economic disparity and thereby for assisting more effectively landless and other persons”.
The campaign of the adivasis to occupy ‘ceiling’ land involves documentation, community renewal, advocacy and support for the legal battle. At present, there are over three hundred families on the land being contested, and another two hundred actively involved.
Mr John P Abraham, who is leading the fight, has been under personal threat but continues the campaign for the landless. Despite a lack of resources and lack of support from the legal community, he is now attempting to file a second writ on the case (the first one failed on a technicality) and is following up on an appeal with the Revenue Commissioner who oversees the land.
In addition, a protest was filed with the Tahasildar of Rahata with the request that the adivasis be compensated for their loss, but to date nothing has happened. Other planned action includes a campaign to file First Information Reports (FIRs) on the incident at the Police Station (to date 108 have been lodged); a new memorandum to Tahasildar; and an indefinite hunger strike, to take place from 30 July 2003.
SEND LETTERS/FAXES/EMAIL TO:
1. Revenue Commissioner
Nashik Revenue Commission
Fax: +91 253 2461063
SALUTATION: Dear Sir
2. Police Inspector
SALUTATION: Dear Sir
3. Shri Sushil Kumar Shinde,
Chief Minister of Maharashtra
Office of the Chief Minister
Mumbai 400 032
FAX: + 91 22 2029214
SALUTATION: Dear Chief Minister
4. Shri. Shivajirao Bhaorao Patil
Revenue Minister, Maharashtra
Nilangekar Post Office
Tel: +91 22026658
SALUTATION: Dear Minister
with copies to:
5. Justice Shri Arivind Sawant
Maharashtra Human Rights Commission
Fax: +91 22 2885858
6. Vijay Sonkar Shastri
National Commission for Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes
c/o The National Human Rights Commission
Sardar Patel Bhavan
Sansad Marg, New Delhi – 110 001
FAX: +91 11 334 0016
SALUTATION: Dear Commissioner
7. Mr. Jean Ziegler
Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food
c/o Sally-Anne Way
Assistant to the Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food
IUED, 24, rue Rothschild
CP 136, CH 1211 Geneva 21
Fax: +41 22 906 59 83
8. Mr. Miloon Kothari
Special Rapporteur on adequate housing
UNOG-OHCHR, CH-1211, Geneva 10. Switzerland
Fax: +41 22 917 90 10
To support this case, please click here: SEND APPEAL LETTER
I am very concerned about the brutal crackdown on the adivasi people currently happening in Maharashtra. On 21 July, about two hundred adivasi huts and more than a thousand acres of their crops were destroyed by about 100 police and Maharashtra State Farming Corporation (MSFC) security personnel, with no warning. Several hundred adivasi women and children have been made homeless. This incident was a result of the dispute between the MSFC and the adivasis about the ownership of land.
In addition, a protest was filed with the Tahasildar of Rahata with the request that the adivasis be compensated for their loss, but to date nothing has happened.
According to the Maharashtra Agricultural Land (Ceiling on Holdings) Act, which came into effect in 1961, advivasis do have a legal right to this land. Nevertheless, a new amendment of the Maharashtra Agricultural Land Act, which will come into effect in 2003, guarantees that the land will return to the hands of the former landlords. At present, there are over three hundred families on the contested land and they have submitted an appeal to the Revenue Commissioner who oversees the land.
I urge the Maharashtra State government to take strong action in the matter of the adivasis and the dispute over the tenure of the land, which they have been living on and have claimed as theirs. I also call upon the Maharashtra State government to order an immediate and impartial investigation into the case of violence against the adivivasis and bring those responsible before a tribunal.
I further urge the Maharashtra State government to take steps to ensure the personal and proprietary safety and security of the tribal community, and resolve the issue of land ownership. I also earnestly request that immediate action be taken to uphold justice and protect the civil liberty and human rights of the adivasis.
Urgent Appeals Programme
Asian Human Rights Commission