Civil Society and Governance

Akhil Bhartiya Samaj Seva Sansthan (ABSSS) which initiated collective action around the issue of non-implementation of the policy of allotment of land to the Kols in Chitrakoot is an intermediary mobilisational association. ABSSS began to address the issue of land allotment to Kols in its dimensional struggle for proper implementation of the policy. It has been able to mobilise the Kols to rise against social and political oppression, injustice, and demand for their rights. Their mobilisation has taken place through raising the awareness in the Kols about their legal rights and formation of Patha Kol Adhikar Suraksha Manch – an organisation which the Kols themselves run. Difficult as it is, to break the nexus between social structure and administration completely within a short span of a decade, the Kols have been bearing the brunt of feudal atrocities and their administrative allies which support these atrocities. Nevertheless, a perceptible change in their situation has taken place, due to the assertion of their rights and the support structure provided by ABSSS through legal aid camps, publicity in the media and involvement of eminent people in their struggle. ABSSS has not come into an overt conflict with the administration, instead it has found a few sympathetic allies in the administration to work together. The administration has been made to acknowledge its faults and rectify them. The public hearing organised by ABSSS in Delhi in which many eminent lawyers, educationists and human rights activists participated, is one such instance which by bringing the Kol women into the public sphere to highlight their plight, has forced the administration to take action against persons known to be exploiting women. The realisation that mere possession of the land will not uplift the social and economic status of Kols, has led ABSSS to formulate its social reconstruction programme which works towards providing education to the Kols, making available health care facilities, making them self-reliant through the formation of women's self-help groups. Simultaneously, the Kols are also taught the values of soil conservation, social forestry and conservation of water resources.

Distribution of land patta to the Kols brings in nature of governance issue. The Kols have been traditionally dominated and oppressed by the higher castes like Brahmins and Thakurs. The oppression often took place in the form of dispossessing the Kols from their land with the consequence that they either retreated to the forests or became bonded labour to the feudal masters. With the forests becoming inaccessible due to the extension of state control over forests, the Kols have no other way left for survival than serve as bonded labour. Accepting the fate as bonded labour means accepting the use of brute force, sexual harassment of their women, and many other indignities which a master-slave relationship entails.

To improve the conditions of the Kols, the government, as a pert of its land reform legislation in the 60's and 70's gave the Kols right over the ceiling surplus land coming under the purview of village Panchayat. The fact that despite these rights and preferences, exploitation of the Kols continues reveals that the policies have merely remained on paper and the feudal lords in collusion with the local administration have manipulated the legal provisions in their favour. The Kols were seldom given possession of their lands; in most of the cases the lands allotted to them were rocky and unirrigable; and in many instances the land allotted came under dispute resulting in the dispossession of the Kols from the land allotted to them. The subversion of an emancipatory legislation by the high caste people and the local revenue officials is an example of the fact that any such socio-economic transformatory policy programme has to progress against tremendous resistance.

It is in this context it is important to understand that land, particularly good quality productive land, is a scarce resource and therefore it is a symbol of power, particularly in Chitrakoot which is known a patha-rocky and barren region. Hence there is a vested interest on the part of the feudal lords in keeping the land under their control. The entitlement of land to poor means bringing them at par with those who have traditionally held control over land. Therefore in the event of their dominance being challenged, it is not surprising that they try to maintain the status quo by keeping the Kols under subjugation. The fact that the high caste people are politically active in the region and fill higher agencies of local, district and state administration, helps the feudal structure to perpetuate itself.

Key Governance Issue

Non-implementation of the policy relating to land allotment to the Kol tribals in the Chitrakoot district of Uttar Pradesh

Key Civil Society Actors

Akhil Bhartiya Samaj Seva Sansthan (ABSSS)

Patha Kol Adhikar Suraksha Manch

Strategies Used

  • Create awareness among Kols and among others in society
  • Invite outside people like journalists to witness the plight of the Kols
  • Put pressure on the government through mobilisation of people (meetings, dharna, demonstration)
  • Constructive action (soil conservation, social forestry etc.)

Outcome

Helped the Kols acquire possession of land

Links

Bundelkhand Info

Free online encyclopedia on Bundelkhand, from a development perspective, web published by ABSSS. View Site