Land Distribution for Kol Tribals in Uttar Pradesh

This case study deals with the programme of distribution of land Pattas (titles) to Kol tribals in Chitrakoot district of southern Uttar Pradesh. A local civil society organisation, the Akhil Bharatiya Samaj Sewa Sansthan (ABSSS), has played a leading role in implementing the government's programme to provide land titles to the poor and socially disadvantaged sections of society, mainly scheduled castes and tribes in the district. The focus here is on the role of ABSSS and its contribution to governance in the context of the specific programme.

The Kols are a tribal group who inhabit large tracts of land in central India, comprising Madhya Pradesh (MP) and the adjoining areas of southern Uttar Pradesh (UP), i.e., the districts of Allahabad, Chitrakoot (which formed part of Banda district until 1997), Varanasi, Mirzapur and Sonebhadra. They are a proud people with a long, though unrecorded, history of living in harmony and communion with nature and the environment. They trace their lineage to the legendary Shabari of the Ramayana, who has been revered by generations of Hindus for her extreme devotion to Lord Rama during his exile. She is best remembered for having fed him berries after first tasting them to make sure they were sweet. Interestingly, while the Kols are included in the list of Scheduled Tribes (STs) in MP, they have not been accorded the same status in UP where they are classified as Scheduled Castes (SCs). They have been demanding ST status in Uttar Pradesh as well, but without much success. The ABSSS has played an important role in articulating this demand on behalf of the Kols.

During the last century, the Kols have been treated very harshly by the dominant sections of the region, especially in the southern districts of UP. They suffer high levels of exploitation, immiserisation and marginalisation at the hands of the feudal landed landlords, who combine economic exploitation with social discrimination. Needless to say, these feudal landlords belong to the upper Brahmin and Thakur castes; they find it easy to victimise and exploit the Kols by disposing the tribals of their lands. They do this mainly through subterfuge and in collusion with the local administration, whose members belong to the same social, economic and caste groups as themselves; and when that fails, they use brute force. Because the concept of private ownership and legal title is alien to tribal society, the Kols have been unable to establish legal ownership to the land that they have cultivated for generations. In the face of relentless exploitation by the feudal interests, the Kols have had only two options or survival strategies available to them - retreating into the forest to eke out a living through their intimate knowledge of the forests and their wealth, or becoming bonded labourers in the service of the very same feudal landowners who exploit them.

The first of the two options is becoming increasingly unavailable to them due to the extension of state control over forests and the recent tendency to close forest areas for any kind of human activity in the name of environmental protection - a process began in the middle of the nineteenth century, when the colonial government extended its control to cover forests as well. As the post-colonial government through it forest department expanded its control to cover more and more forest areas, it tended to look upon the forest dwellers, in this case the Kols, with increasing suspicion and sought to evict them, declaring them to be encroachers and squatters. Today, forest officials consider the Kols to be the main destroyers of the forests as they are engaged in cutting fuel-wood and selling it in nearby urban centres. They forget that for generations these people have not only lived in harmony with the forests, but have also been responsible for their preservation. If today they are forced to carry headloads of fuel-wood for sale in urban areas, it is only because of the compulsions of sheer survival.

In the post-independence era, the Kols have been displaced from the forests due to two main reasons: (a) the construction of major projects like dams and hydro-electric and large thermal power stations in areas inhabited by them, such as Sonebhadra district, and (b) the establishment of sanctuaries and wildlife parks in forest areas, such as the Ranipur Wildlife Sanctuary that was created in 1978 and extended over 23,000 hectares of forest land. They have thus become victims of the forces of modernisation, development and progress, and more recently, of programmes for environmental preservation and conservation that, ironically, seek to improve the lives of ordinary people like them.

The Kols of Chitrakoot district thus live a life of abject poverty, exploitation and almost complete subjugation to the feudal landowners, locally known as Dadus. The Dadus not only exploit the Kols economically by keeping them in bondage, but also treat them in the most inhumane manner imaginable. They see Kol women as objects of sexual gratification and subjected them to all manner of humiliation, including rape. As if this were not enough, they routinely use brute force, either directly or through gangs of hired gangs of musclemen, to ensure that the Kols remain in a state of abject servility.

Chitrakoot district falls in a region known as Patha, which is characterised by rocky terrain, poor, gravelly soils, semi-arid conditions and a chronic shortage of water for both irrigation and drinking. In addition to Chitrakoot the region includes parts of Allahabad and Banda districts. The harsh Patha terrain only serves to exacerbate the chronic poverty of the Kols, because the highly unequal and exploitative feudal social structure ensures that they are relegated to the land that is of poorest quality and denied access to even safe sources of drinking water. Having to make do with whatever is available, they suffer from chronic malnutrition and are prone to all sorts of illness. With no medical care available, especially in rural areas, their condition can only be described as miserable. Adding to their miseries is the absence of schools for their children: literacy levels among the Kols are very low. The Kols thus seem to be condemned to live a life of deprivation, with little expectation of upward mobility in the foreseeable future. In recent years, their only ray of hope has come from the ABSSS.

I Akhil Bharatiya Samaj Sewa Sansthan

The Kols' abject poverty, structured and maintained by the prevailing feudal order in cohoots with the local political and administrative system at the local level (which flourishes due to the apathy and neglect, if not tacit approval, of the higher echelons of political power and administrative authority), deeply affected one Gaya Prasad 'Gopal', a young school in Banda district, who had also worked as a journalist for a few years. He had travelled extensively in the Patha area of Banda (now Chitrakoot) district where the Kols lived, and was well aware of their situation, living conditions and problems. He was moved by a strong desire to do something concrete to improve their life, and it was out of this desire that the ABSSS was born on 23 March 1978. It may be recalled that the year 1978 fell in the immediate aftermath of the Emergency, when democracy had been re-established in the country and voluntary activity found a fertile soil. The Emergency, in spite of all its shortcomings, had at least helped in focussing attention on the plight of bonded labour in the country. It was only natural for ABSSS to take on the liberation of bonded labour, in this case the Kols of Patha of region, as one of its major programmes.

Before launching its programmes, ABSSS conducted a survey of 5000 Kol households in five nyaya panchayats - Umari, Rampur-Kalyangarh, Unchadih, Kihuniya and Saraiya - of Manikpur Block in Banda district. The aim was to gather accurate and reliable information and data on the living conditions and the problems faced by the Kols in order to design programmes that would of relevance to them. Since the information ABSSS had at its disposal was largely based anecdotal and based on personal observation, there was clearly a need for collecting more authentic evidence. The ABSSS survey identified the following major problems as afflicting the area:

  • Prevalence of bonded labour.
  • Severe shortage of drinking water.
  • Subjection of Kol women to sexual exploitation, including rape.
  • Lack of education and general awareness.
  • Indiscriminate felling of trees and the prevalence of a contractor system in forestry operations.
  • Illegal occupation of land belonging to the Kols, reducing them to landlessness.
  • Large numbers of Kols being falsely shown as having borrowed money.
  • Ill health and malnutrition.
  • Widespread misappropriation of funds during implementation of government programmes.

Based on these findings, ABSSS adopted a multipronged approach to simultaneously address three sets of issues that it felt were crucial for improving the lot of Kols. These were: (a) creating awareness among the Kols about their situation and the need for organised effort to break the shackles of feudal exploitation; (b) creating awareness in the wider society, including the government machinery at the district and state levels, about the grinding poverty, misery and exploitation suffered by the Kols; and (c) taking up specific development programmes and lobbying with the government to ensure that the benefits of development and welfare programmes actually reached the people for whom they were intended. The methods it used to do this included:

  • Extensive travel in Kol-dominated areas.
  • Personal contact with the people.
  • Organising meetings, seminars and discussions with the people.
  • Contacting government agencies like Terai Anusuchit Jati Evam Janjati Vikas Nigam (Terai Scheduled Castes and Tribes Development Corporation), and individual officers both at the district and state headquarters.
  • Establishing links with journalists at the state and national levels and asking them to tour the Kol areas and report on the condition of the people living there.
  • Setting up Kol organisations - Patha Kol Adhikar Manch (Patha Kol Rights Forum) and Uttar Pradesh Adivasi Vikas Manch (Uttar Pradesh Tribal Development Forum) - to mobilise the Kols on the issue of their rights.

During the past two decades of its existence, the ABSSS has notched important achievements to its credit in all the three areas of its chosen activity. Thanks to its success in inviting journalists from the national press to tour the area and write about it, there is a fairly comprehensive documentation available on the conditions of the Kols and on the programmes undertaken by ABSSS on their behalf. It would be no exaggeration to say that if today the Kols are able to see a glimmer of light at the end of the proverbial dark tunnel, it is largely due to the efforts of the ABSSS.

The this case study we take a close look at one important and pioneering initiative of the ABSSS, i.e., assisting the Kols to gain possession of the land allotted to them by the state government of Uttar Pradesh under its programme of giving land pattas to landless persons belonging to Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes.

II Distribution of Land Pattas

The Patha region is characterised by a severe inequality in the pattern of land ownership. The Kols own very little land while the Dadus control most of it. Much of the land that the Dadus control has been illegally acquired from the former. Again, while the better quality, irrigated land is in the hands of the upper castes, the Kols are relegated to barren and rocky tracts. Over 50 per cent of Kol households were found to be without any land when the ABSSS began its work. In the 1960s and the 1970s (especially after 1975, i.e., during the Emergency period), the government had undertaken a major programme of allotting Kols with rights to the gaon sabha (village community) land. The distribution of pattas was done according to Sections 195 and 198 of the Zamindari Abolition and Land Reforms Act, 1950. The impetus for this programme, as of the imposition of ceilings on landholdings during the 1960s and 1970s, came largely from political compulsions - to keep the landless rural poor satisfied in order to prevent them from succumbing to radical ideas, including armed struggle, that were being espoused by the extreme left groups in many parts of the country. In the mid-1970s, the desire to impart a pro-poor ideological flavour to the Emergency gave the programme added urgency.

Whatever the political or ideological compulsions, like the law imposing ceilings on landholdings this programme, too, remained largely an exercise on paper. This was especially true of UP, and within it, of districts like Banda, where the feudal structure ws still all-powerful. The implementation of the ceiling law and the land pattas allotment programme were almost completely frustrated by the Dadus acting in league with the local administration. They were able to retain possession of land in excess of the specified ceiling by transferring it either in the name of their relatives (who even included their domestic animals!) or their Kol servants or bonded labourers without the latter even being aware of what was happening. The Dadus frequently appropriated loans that they persuaded the Kols to take from official agencies in their names (as ostensible owners of the land that had to pledged as surety for the loan) by falsely promising to repay the loan on their behalf. But since the land was recorded in the name of the Kols, it was they who were held responsible for repayment of both the principal and interest thereon. When they failed to do this, they lost their not only their meagre possessions but also their freedom, as they often ended up either in jail or as bonded labour of the very Dadus who had hoodwinked them into taking loans.

Similarly, the land pattas given to the Kols remained as entitlements on paper only. They were seldom given physical possession of the land. In many instances, they were not even aware that land had been allotted to them. In addition, much of the allotted land was of very poor quality. Located on hill slopes, it was rocky, difficult to irrigate and uncultivable. Further, large tracts of land allotted to them in the 1960s came under litigation, with the Forest Department claiming ownership rights. For instance, a major part of the 23,000 hectares earmarked for the Ranipur Wildlife Sanctuary had belonged to the Kols for generations. But because they did not have documentary proof of ownership, they not only lost possession of this land, they received no compensation for it either. Local revenue officials, too, used wily tactics to ensure that several of the pattas given to the Kols were open to question. In some cases more than one person was allotted the same piece of land, which inevitably led to dispute and even litigation.

The ABSSS decided to intervene on behalf of the Kols to ensure that they actually got physical possession of the land to which they were entitled. Based on the findings of the survey it conducted soon after its inception, this was one of the many programmes that it undertook to better the lot of the Kols. The ABSSS became active simultaneously on several fronts in order to tackle the Kols' land rights issue. Apart from carrying out an intensive awareness raising campaign among the people, its activists travelled extensively in the villages and organised meetings with the panchayats and the villagers in general, providing them with the detailed information about the land distribution programme, their rights and how they could organise themselves to fight for them. Periodically, development seminars were held, providing the Kols with a platform where they could come together and exchange ideas. Government officials, political leaders, academics, journalists and other opinion-makers were also invited to these seminars in the hope that they would disseminate information about the injustice being done to the Kols and thereby create a broad alliance for the protection of their rights. Among the prominent people invited by the ABSSS to tour the Kol areas of Banda and attend these seminars were Rajmohan Gandhi, Swami Agnivesh, Pran Chopra, Prem Bhai, Mahendra Singh Tikait, Rajendra Kumari Bajpai (Union Minister) and a number of Members of Parliament (MPs) from different parts of the country.

A third form of activity that ABSSS undertook involved agitations, dharnas and mass mobilisation. These were organised with the help of the Patha Kol Adhikar Manch (Patha Kol Rights Forum) whenever the administration filed false or misleading reports about the distribution of land pattas. This also helped in focussing attention on skewed pattern of land ownership in the region and the denial of justice to the Kols by the administration. A fourth activity involved organising legal aid camps for the Kols about their legal rights and provide them with assistance to contest the various cases filed against them by landowners in order to the land allotment programme.

The Patha Kol Adhikar Manch formed in November 1987 on the initiative of Gaya Prasad Gopal. Some publications of the ABSSS describe it as a sister organisation, and it is true that several ABSSS workers played an active role in the formation of the Manch. Legally, however, there is close interaction and cooperation between the two. The Manch has a membership in excess of 10,000 and, over the years, has emerged as a major force for awareness generation among the Kols as well as for organising and mobilising them around issues that have a bearing on their lives. It has also served as a nursery for leadership among the Kols and all its office-bearers and functionaries are from the Kol community. About 50 young men are intimately involved in its day-to-day activities. ABSSS provides it guidance and support, encouraging the Kols to be at the forefront of struggles, agitations, dharnas, demonstrations, etc.

The battle that ABSSS was fighting was decidedly unequal as it had to take on the combined might of the entrenched feudal landed interests, who had for generations dominated and exploited the Kols, and the local-level administration that shared class and caste affinity with the former. Inevitably, therefore, the progress of its work was far from smooth. Positive results were achieved whenever there was a sympathetic and sensitive district administration. At other times, not only were there no results, the ABSSS workers and functionaries also had to face the wrath of the Dadus and the local administration. Intimidation tactics employed by the Dadus against the ABSSS workers and the Kols included threats, violence and implication in false criminal cases. In 1989, even Gopal Bhai, the Director of ABSSS, was falsely implicated in a case of dacoity. He was finally acquitted after nine years in 1998 (see Box 10.1).

ABSSS' efforts to help Kols get possession of the land for which they had been issues pattas were quite successful. By the end of 1997, 2,500 poor Kol families of Mau and Manikpur had acquired possession of 10,000 acres of land valued at Rs 2 crore (20 million). For a short span of two decades, this was a truly remarkable achievement, particularly in view of the prevailing social environment - feudal oppression backed by pliant and conniving local administration that had no hesitation in using brute force to retain dominance - in which it had been achieved without a drop of blood being shed.

Box 10.1 The Clout of the Dadus

Bhagirath Kol of Chureh Kesharuwa village, Karwi Tehsil, had 46 bighas of land in his name. In the year 1969 (Fasli) Gungai Seth alias Hiralal of Manikpur connived with the local Lekhpal and Qanungo and gained possession of the land. Bhagirath Kol filed a case to regain possession of his land, which went up to the Allahabad High Court. On 21 May 1970, the Court decided in favour of the widow of Bhagirath Kol (the later having died in the meantime) and ordered that possession of the land be given to her. In total disrespect of the Court's orders and with the support of the local administration, Seth Hiralal alias Gungai continued to hold possession of the land, while the widow of Bhagirath Kol and her relatives continued to be oppressed by him. When they tried to harvest the crops on their land they were accused of dacoity, arrested and jailed. On 22 December 1989, Shri Gopal Bhai, the Director of ABSSS, was also accused of the same dacoity. He was charged under Section 395/09 of the Indian Penal Code with being armed and with abetting and instigating the forcible harvesting of the jowar crop. He was ultimately acquitted of the charge in February 1998.

Source: ABSSS (nd): 30-31.

III The Case Study

The main objectives of this case study has been to

  • Analyse the role played by a civil society organisation (CSO) in promoting good governance, especially in influencing the state and its agencies (in this case the district administration) to act in accordance with its explicitly stated policies and programmes.
  • Understand the various ways in which the CSO attempted to influence state action to promote good governance and the methodology it followed to achieve this.
  • Assess the results achieved by the CSO in its efforts to promote good governance.

In the context of this study, good governance would mean proper implementation of the state's programme for allotting land pattas to the Kols. This, in turn, would imply not merely allotment of land pattas and submission of compliance report to the higher authorities (state headquarters), but actually handing over of the title deed and physical possession of the land to the allottees. And this, in turn, would involve demarcation and measurement of the land allotted, as well as the removal of encroachments on it. Clearly, then, fraudulent allotments, which have frequently occurred in the past, would not qualify as proper implementation.

Given this definition of 'proper implementation', what we mean by 'contribution of the CSO to good governance' also becomes clear. It would cover the steps taken by it to educate those affected about their rights vis-a-vis the land allotted to them, motivate them to organise and jointly pressure the state machinery to act according to its stated policies and programmes, and work with the state machinery, where necessary, to identify cases where either possession of land has been denied to the lawful allottees, or the land allotted to them has been forcibly occupied by others. Ensuring good governance, in this instance, would undoubtedly include taking on the might of the vested interests and preventing them from frustrating the implementation of the land allotment programme.

The methodology adopted by this study involved the following steps:

  1. In the first stage, secondary material pertaining to the ABSSS and its activities was scanned to obtain a general idea about the work in which it is involved. Special emphasis was given to its efforts to empower the Kols to get possession of the land allotted to them. A preliminary field trip to the area by the research team was also made for this purpose.
  2. Based on this initial survey issues were identified for detailed investigation. According to preliminary findings, ABSSS had been working among the Kols in 233 villages, and 5,894 Kol families, covering two blocks, i.e., Mau and Manikpur. It was decided to collect information from 20 villages - 12 from Manikpur and 8 from Mau. In each village, five households that had been allotted pattas would be contacted for collecting information. The investigation would not be restricted to the Kols but als include other SC patta holders. Thus a total of 100 patta holders from 20 in two blocks formed our information resource pool. Two instruments for data collection were devised in Hindi - one for village-level information pertaining largely to the general features, locale, availability of various facilities in the villages, etc.; and the other for collecting information from the respondent households, who were the primary units for data collection through structured interviews based on a check list of items on which information was required.
  3. The actual collection of data was done in two phases between August and October, 1999, with a gap of about two weeks between the two phases as the parliamentary elections intervened during this period. Incidentally, the elections in this area are characterised by high levels of violence caused by incidents of booth capturing and the intimidation of poor voters by the Dadus and their musclemen.
  4. The data were analysed partly on the basis of the quantified information that emerged form the study and partly on the basis of discussions and interviews conducted with the people.

Characteristics of Study Area

Manikpur and Mau, the two development blocks chosen for the study, fall under the Karvi and Mau tehsils respectively. As mentioned earlier, the study was conducted in 12 villages of Manikpur block and eight of Mau block. The villages covered in Manikpur block were: Chheriha Khurd, Tikaria, Mangawan, Doda Mafi, Barah, Kihunia, Itwa, Kusumi, Markundi, Amchur Nerua, Chheriha Buzurg and Sarhat; the Mau block villages comprised Jamira Colony, Semra, Goiya Khurd, Lodhaura, Kotwa Mafi, Kataiya Dandi, Bargadh and Kalchiha.

All these villages are quite remote from the district, tehsil and block headquarters, with their average distance from Chitrakoot, the district headquarters, being 59 km. The villages in Manikpur are at an average distance of 25 km from the block headquarters, while those of Mau are at about 22 km from the block headquarter. Manikpur, Bargadh and Majhgawan are the nearest towns/markets that cater to the needs of these villages. Seven villages are close to Manikpur, eight to Bargadh and five to Majhgawan. Average distances of the villages from Manikpur, Bargadh and Majhgawan are 21, 6 and 14 km respectively.

The remoteness of these villages can be gauged by the fact that only nine of them are situated near a road; the remaining are at a distance of between 2 and 15 km from the nearest road. Table 10.1 shows the situation regarding the availability of other facilities such as transport, communications, health and education by charting the distribution of villages in terms of average distance from various facilities.

As can be seen, the primary school is the only facility available in all the villages. Other facilities available in some villages are a bus station (four villages), a junior high school (two villages) and a high school (one village). Among these, the only ones available within 3 km of the villages are the bus station, primary school and junior high school. Other like the post office, the PHC, CHC and AHC, are located at distances exceeding 3 km. Certain facilities like telegraph office, public telephone, high school (except in one village) and intermediate college are only available at a distance of 5 or more km. The last column of the table, which shows the maximum distance at which a facilities are available is particularly revealing. In specific cases, this distance can range from 7 km (bus station and AHC) to 54 km (telegraph office).

Table 10.1 Distribution of Sample Village According to Average Distance from Various Facilities (Distance in km)

Facility 0.0 0.1-2.0 2.1-3.0 3.1-5.0 >5 Total Highest Value
Bus Station 4 2 4 - 10 20 7
Post Office 2 - - 14 4 20 15
Telegraph Office - - - - 20 20 54
Public Telephone - - - - 20 20 39
PHC - - - 7 11 18* 21
CHC - - - 4 16 20 25
AHC - - 1 5 14 20 7
Primary School 20 - - - - 20 -
Jr. High School 2 3 5 2 8 20 9
High School 1 - - - 19 20 8
Inter College - - - - 20 20 25
Notes: PHC – Primary Health Centre; Community Health Centre; AHC – Animal Husbandry Centre
* Information not available for two villages

 A survey of the land-use pattern in the villages (Table 10.2) shows marked similarities and some equally major differences between the two blocks. The similarities are in terms of the extent of forest area and barren land. Forests constitute just over 26 per cent of the area occupied by the villages in Manikpur block and about 21 per cent in Mau block, barren land occupies about 31 per cent and 28 per cent respectively of the areas that the sample villages cover in the two blocks. The extent of irrigated land is also roughly the same - about 40 per cent in the two groups of villages. The differences between the two blocks are apparent mainly in two land-use categories: areas not available for cultivation and areas that are being cultivated. The first category constitutes almost 19 per cent of the total area in Manikpur and only 6 per cent in Mau, while the second category has a share of only 23 per cent of total land in Manikpur and 42 per cent in Mau. In addition, the obvious difference between the total areas occupied by the villages in the two blocks with that Manikpur being being more than 4 times that of Mau. It is obvious, then, that a large chunk of land, especially in Manikpur, is either barren/uncultivable or under the control of the Forest Department. Moreover, irrigation is available in only a small part of the cultivated area. Given the nature of the terrain and generally poor quality of soil, the non-irrigated land is bound to be infertile. These conditions explain the Dadus' intense desire to control as much of the land, especially good quality land, as possible and use whatever means available to retain this control, including patently illegal methods to prevent the Kols from taking possession of the land allotted to them by the state. Further, ownership of land give rise to the need for labour to cultivate it. Unwilling to employ wage labour at market-determined rates (given the uncertain returns from agriculture), the Dadus resort to bonded and other kinds of cheap labour.

Table 10.2 Land-Use Pattern in Sample Villages

Land-Use Category Manikpur Block (12 villages) Mau Block (8 villages)
Hectares Per cent share Hectares Per cent share
Total area 21536 100.0 5236 100.0
Forest area 5729 26.6 1084 20.7
Barren land 6773 31.4 1480 28.3
Area not available for cultivation 4010 18.6 436 8.3
Cultivated area 5022 23.3 2236 42.7
Irrigated area as percent of cultivated area 39.9 40.3

Characteristics of Sample Population

Although we had planned to select five patta holders from each of the 20 villages to give us a total sample of 100 households, we were able to access only 91 households. Of these 60 were from the 12 Manikpur block villages and 31 (as against the planned 40) from the 8 Mau villages. The shortfall occurred because the required number of patta holders were not available in the villages selected for the study. However, no great significance need be attached to this shortfall since the sample size and study design was not intended to draw any inferences (statistical or otherwise) about a larger population. The aim was to obtain a wide cross-section of opinion among the patta holders regarding the implementation of the land distribution programme and the role of ABSSS in it.

Ninety per cent of the households (82 out of 91) were Kols households, while and the remaining 10 per cent (9) belonged to other Scheduled Castes. The total population of these households was 716, comprising 379 males and 337 female members. The sex ratio of the sample population worked out to 889 females per 1,000 males, which is slightly higher than the 1991 figure for Uttar Pradesh (879) and significantly higher than that of Banda district in the same year (841). Where literacy is concerned, we found that 59 per cent of the population was illiterate and another 18 per cent barely literate, i.e., they could just about sign their names. Thus, for all practical purposes, over three-fourths of the population was non-literate. The remaining (23 per cent) can be classified as literate with some education. Of them, 73 per cent had studied up to the primary level (Class V), 12 per cent up to upper primary level (Class VIII) and 15 per cent up to high school or more. It is noteworthy that the proportion of people with a high school or further education was significantly higher in the Mau block villages (26 per cent) than that in Manikpur block (3 per cent). Both literacy and levels of education, especially among the adults, seemed to be related to poverty syndrome - a combination of economic hardship, exploitation, social deprivation, inequality and lack of opportunities together with the remote nature of the villages and their lack of access to facilities and infrastructure. As seen in Table 10.1, the villages of Mau block are relatively less remote and better served by social and economic infrastructure. This fact is reflected in their better access to educational facilities, especially high school, as compared to those in Manikpur block, where the villages are more isolated.

The situation is much brighter where the education of children is concerned. In our sample, 62 households reported that their children were in school as against only 17 per cent who said that they were not; the remaining 12 per cent either did not have children or any children of schoolgoing age. The credit for this must largely go to the ABSSS, which has a major programme of establishing primary schools in the backward, Kol-inhabited villages of Manikpur Block, and to the large number of private schools in Mau block. The government's efforts in this crucial area of human development have been minimal.

As we noted earlier, all 20 villages in our sample have a primary school located within the village. In fact, many have more than one school. Thus the villages in Manikpur have 32 primary schools while those in Mau have 24. It is interesting to note that in Manikpur block, 24 of these 32 schools are run by ABSSS, three are private and only five are government schools. In Mau, on the other hand, there is only one government primary school, with the rest being privately owned. The primary education system in the area is therefore predominantly a non-governmental - dependent on a non-governmental organisation in one block and on the private initiative in the other.

Information on the economic status of the households revealed widespread prevalence of poverty among the people. Household incomes are slightly higher in Mau villages as compared to those of Manikpur, but on average, the majority of the households fall below the officially defined poverty line.

The main occupations of the people in the sample villages are collection of forest produce, agricultural labour, agriculture and non-agricultural labour. Since none of these activities can by itself provide enough to sustain the family, most people engage in more than one activity. Table 10.3 shows the distribution of households and individuals engaged in various occupations. As can be seen, most of them are engaged in the four occupations just listed. This fact only confirms the picture of the region as an underdeveloped one, dependent on primary activities, especially forestry and agriculture.

Table 10.3 Main Occupations of Sample Households and Individuals

Occupation Households Individuals
No %a No %b
Agricultural labour 73 80.2 174 24.3
Non-agricultural labour 72 79.1 162 22.6
Collection of forest produce 71 78.0 175 24.4
Agriculture 66 72.5 163 22.8
Non-agricultural work 21 23.1 29 4.1
Other work 7 7.7 9 1.3
Notes: a Percent of all households, b Percent of all individuals


A final characteristic of the sample households relates to the high incidence of bonded labour among. During our inquiries, 47 households - more than half the total - admitted to one or the other member as having been in bonded labour at some point during the past, with the duration of bondage varying from 2 years to 60 years! In almost all the cases, the reason for being in bondage was indebtedness, even though the loans taken were often very small - a few hundred rupees or a few kilos of grain. The masters were invariably the dominant landowners, several of whom were also the local (political) leaders.

Box 10.2 All for a Few Rupees

Lakshmi's bondage to Prem Narain Tripathi, a local leader of the Bharatiya Janata Party, was inherited. His father, Kuber, had taken a loan, both in cash and grain, from Tripathi, and for this he ended up in bonded labour. When he died, his son had to continue to discharge his father's obligation till he won his freedom in 1994 after he had paid off the debt.

Ram Bhawan spent three years as a bonded labourer in the service of Keshni Pandit for failure to repay a cash and food grain loan valued at Rs 500.

Bachha remained in bondage for 20 years after taking a loan of Rs 6,000 for a wedding in the family. He got his freedom in 1992 after he repaid the loan with help from ABSSS.

Buddha of Doda Mafi ended up in bondage for a paltry Rs 100 that he had borrowed from a local leader.

Maia Deen remained in bondage for 20 years in lieu of a loan taken by his father.

Allotment of Land Pattas

The legal basis for allotting land to specified categories of people was provided by the Uttar Pradesh Zamindari Abolition and Land Reforms Act, 1950. As is well known, the Act vested all estates in the state and to redeem the promise of land to the tillers made by the Congress Party during the freedom struggle, abolished all intermediaries (variously known as zamindars, taluqdars, etc., in different parts of the state) between the actual cultivators and the state. The cultivators were thus brought into direct relation with the state and the land tenures, which had become highly complicated under the the zamindari system as a result of constant sub-infeudation, were considerably simplified. Section 117 of the Act provided that the state vest certain in the gaon sabhas (village community consisting of all adults in a village), to be managed by the sabha's Land Management Committee (LMC), a statutory body constituted under the UP Panchayat Raj Act, 1947. Further, under the UP Imposition of Ceiling on Land Holdings Act, 1960, the gaon sabhas and their LMCs also came into possession of some ceiling-surplus lands. Section 195 of the UP Zamindari Abolition and Land Reforms Act authorised the LMCs to admit any person as a title holder with non-transferable rights to any land vested in them. Section 198 of this Act gives the following order of preference in admitting persons to such land:

  1. Landless widow, sons, unmarried daughters or parents residing in the circle of a person who has lost his life by enemy action while in active service in the Armed Forces of the Union;
  2. a person residing in the circle, who has become wholly disabled while in active service in the Armed Forces of the Union;
  3. a landless agricultural labourer residing in the circle and belonging to a Scheduled Caste or Scheduled Tribe; (emphasis added)
  4. any other landless agricultural labourer residing in the circle;
  5. any other landless agricultural labourer belonging to a Scheduled Caste or Scheduled Tribe not residing in the circle but residing in the nyaya Panchayat Circle referred to in Section 42 of the UP Panchayat Raj Act, 1947.

While the legal basis for grant of land pattas was quite clear, the process for doing this turned out to be far from simple. Since ownership and control of land is still the main instrument for domination in rural society, the landed interests are willing to go to any lengths to prevent alienation of the land held by them. They also do not favour the idea of a more egalitarian distribution of land. Implementation of measures like imposition of ceilings on land holdings and distribution of land to the landless poor has therefore been largely frustrated. The situation is particularly serious in areas – such as Bihar and Uttar Pradesh – where the pressure on land is high and feudal values and attitudes, along with caste-based oppression, reign supreme. However, land distribution programmes can only be subverted through collusion with the administrative machinery, especially at the local level. The role of the political system and the higher administration has also been rather dubious, as they have seldom put their full weight behind the implementation of these programmes, which they themselves have formulated and drafted which they unceasingly and vociferously support at the level of rhetoric.

Distribution of land involves three important steps: distribution of land pattas; entry of patta holders' names in the village land records; and actual possession of the land by the patta holders. Our investigations show that land pattas have been distributed fairly regularly to the landless poor since the 1950s. Among the households we contacted, six had got pattas between 1954 and 1959, 14 during the 1960s, 26 each during the 1970s and 1980s, and 14 during the 1990s (Table 10.4). The names of the patta holders had also been entered in the patwari's land records with almost the same regularity. There is little evidence of undue delay at this stage, except in isolated instances. But where getting possession of the land is concerned, the story is entirely different. In this area the progress here has been very tardy, especially during the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s. It is only during the 1980s and the 1990s that the majority of the land allottees (73 out of 86, or 85 per cent of all allottes) managed to get possession of their land - 20 during the 1980s and 53, representing 62 per cent of all patta holders, during the 1990s. This period, it needs to be remembered, coincides with the formation of the ABSSS and its decision to take up the cause of the patta holders who had been unable to get possession of land allotted to them.

Table 10.4 Progress of Land Distribution Cases in Chitrakoot District: 1954-1999

Period (Years) No. of Pattas given No. of Pattas recorded No. of Patta holders given possession of land
1954-59 6 4 3
1960-69 14 16 3
1970-79 26 23 6
1980-89 26 28 20
1990-99 14 15 53
Total 86 86 85
Backlog - 0 1

However, ensuring this has not been an easy task for the ABSSS. It has had to struggle hard and it is only in the last five years that it has achieved a notable degree of success. This is borne out by the fact that in more than half the cases (47 out of 85, or 55 per cent), possession of allotted land has been possible only after 1995. Overall, however, there is little doubt that the ABSSS has achieved remarkable success in its efforts in this direction. This can be judged from the fact that at the time of our field study, possession of land had been given to all but one of the patta holders.

From the point of view of the patta holders, the assistance provided by ABSSS has been absolutely crucial in acquiring possession of the land. It is hardly surprising, then, that most of the people we talked to (70 out of 85 who had got possession of their land) acknowledged the help they received from ABSSS, which included petitioning the concerned authorities, providing legal aid when necessary, keeping track of the cases in courts and providing moral and material support to the people in distress Box 10.3)

Box 10.3 Lending a Helping Hand

Sattilal was given a patta for a piece of land in 1969, though he remained unaware of this fact for many years. The land allotted to him was being cultivated by one Khelawan Yadav. When he learned of this, he approached ABSSS and with its help, petitioned the District Magistrate to get possession of his land. With continued support from the ABSSS he was finally successful in 1998 - a full 29 years after he received the Patta.

Ram Biswas got possession of the land given on patta to him after 17 years, again through the intervention of ABSSS. One Jola Yadav was being forcibly cultivating his land. However, he still has to get possession of a half-hectare of the land he was allotted, as the patwari has been demanding a bribe of Rs 1,000 for measuring the land.

Bhola's land, on the other hand, was not occupied by any other person as it is rocky and of poor quality. Yet, for 30 years he did not get possession of it, as the patwari would not demarcate the land. It was only when ABSSS intervened that he was finally able to get his land measured and demarcated, and take possession of it.

In the case of Badlu, the delay occurred because instead of his land, the patwari measured and demarcated land belonging to someone else. The mistake was corrected only after ABSSS took up Badlu's case and the other person whose land was affected also raised a hue and cry.

The ABSSS has also helped in indirect, less visible ways by building an environment favourable to the protection Kols' rights and against the injustices perpetrated on them. It has done this by periodically holding seminars and discussions, by building alliances with other CSOs and by inviting influential persons, journalists and opinion- and policy- makers to tour the area and check the condition of the Kols for themselves. It has also used forums like the Patha Kol Adhikar Manch to organise and mobilise the Kols to fight for their rights.

A unique feature of the approach adopted by the ABSSS has been the extensive use of the media to spread information about the widespread poverty, exploitation and miserable living conditions of the Kols in the Patha region. It has been successful persuading correspondents and reporters of various newspapers, magazines and news agencies to visit the Patha region and report on the conditions prevailing there. The ABSSS also publishes a newsletter in Hindi called Gaon Ki Ore (Towards the village), whose circulation includes the villagers, panchayats, district-level government offices, other NGOs, etc. It provides information on the activities of the ABSSS, reports on government programmes, publishes news about the region and provides general awareness about issues that are of importance to the locals. ABSSS has focussed not only on the negative aspects of the feudal social structure and the malfunctioning of the government at the grassroots level - of which, unhappily, there are countless examples - but has also not hesitated in bringing to light instances of positive response from the government and individual officials to the problems of the region and its people.

In spite of the support and assistance from the ABSSS, a large number of patta holders have had to face intimidation from the dominant landlords, who illegally occupied and cultivated the land allotted to the Kols and refused to vacate it. In some cases they forcibly harvested the crops grown by the Kols on their own land. The arrogance and high-handedness of the Dadus has been such that even the presence of the ABSSS and its public espousal of the cause of the Kols has not deterred them from their intimidating tactics (Box 10.4).

Box 10.4 High handedness of Dadus

Tunaia of Mangawan village has not been able to get possession of half an acre of land that belongs to him. It is under the forcible occupation of Bachaua Pandit of Bambiha village. All efforts to regain possession have proved futile.

Hirmaniyan of Doda Mafi village had been given a patta for over 1.2 hectares of land. He has been able to acquire possession of only a third of it. The rest is occupied and is being cultivated by one of the most powerful persons in the village.

Brijpal Pandit of Bambiha village forcibly harvested the crop raised by Shiv Pal of the same village on his own land.

Saman is not able to till his own land, which is illegally occupied by Ashok Pandit. Some years ago, Saman had taken a loan of Rs 75 from Pandit, who now wants 75 tolas (800 gm) of gold valued at over Rs 3,50,000 to vacate the land!

Unfortunately, gaining possession of their land does not mean that their woes are at an end. The Kols have to deal with two further problems. If the land is at all cultivable, there is a strong likelihood that the Dadus will try to dispossess them of it. The Kols are then faced with the prospect of becoming labourers on their own land or even reverting to bondage under the Dadus. An overwhelming majority (four-fifths) of the patta holders we spoke to reported that attempts had been made by the dominant groups to dislodge them from the land allotted to them. And they had invariably turned to ABSSS for help in resisting these attempts. It was quite clear from our discussions with them that ABSSS is the only agency which to which they turn for support when threatened and intimidated by the Dadus. The ABSSS has always stood by them, even though it has not always been successful. Interestingly, attempts to dislodge the Kols from their land were made both by the local dominant sections of the rural society as well as by local political leaders. This is hardly surprising because the local power structure is almost completely under the dominance of the large landowners who belong to the upper castes. The Dadus are also the local leaders and active in all political parties. In such a situation, the attitude of the local administration can best be indifferent, if not downright hostile, to the plight of the Kols.

The second problem that confronts patta holders relates to the quality of the land. Almost 50 per cent of them complained that the soil was gravelly and lacked irrigation facility. Agriculture is thus mainly rain-fed. The main crops grown are paddy and kodon (a millet) during the kharif season (monsoon) and wheat, barley, gram and mustard during the rabi season (winter). A majority of the people said they cultivated their land only during kharif. The poor quality of land is reflected in its low productivity. Rough estimates show that the yield obtained by the people we spoke to was only about 4.5 quintals per hectare during both kharif and rabi, as compared to the 1997 yield of these crops for Banda district: 7.4 quintals per hectare during kharif and 10.9 during rabi!

The poor quality of the land and the virtual absence of irrigation and other infrastructure facilities mean that agriculture alone cannot provide the people with a secure livelihood. In the case of patta holders, the problem is compounded by the fact that the area allotted is very small. The average area of a patta is 1.25 hectares and seldom exceeds 1.5 hectares. An overwhelming majority of the land allottees informed us that their land could not meet even their basic food requirements. In fact, more than 80 per cent of those who cultivated their land said that it barely yielded them six months' requirement of food and they had to depend on the market for the rest. Sadly, the Public Distribution System (PDS) does not reach the really poor and needy despite all the official rhetoric of targeting the tribal areas. Less than 10 per cent of our sample made use of fair price shops for their food grain needs. This means that the poor need a second source of income that would enable to buy food for the rest of the year. The only secondary occupations available to them in this remote backward region are wage labour - both agricultural and non-agricultural - and collection and sale of forest produce. Since for generations the Kols have been living in close harmony with the forests and have a good knowledge and understanding of its various products, they have been using this knowledge to supplement their income. The main items of forest produce collected and sold by them include tendu leaves (used to make bidis), firewood, amla (a small fruit used for medicinal purposes and for making pickles and preserves), honey, mahua (a flower used for distilling liquor) and chiraunji (a small seed used for flavouring sweets and confections).

Other Activities of ABSSS

Although best known for helping Kol patta holders to get possession of their land and for liberating bonded labours, ABSSS' other work in the Patha region is no less important, even if not as well known outside the region. It is true that possession of even a small plot of land that they can call their own is very important for restoring the dignity and self-respect of the Kol community. At the same time, merely providing land and ensuring that the Kols get possession of it are not enough to lift them out of poverty and put an end to the conditions that in the past have been responsible for their becoming bonded labourers. The ABSSS has therefore launched several programmes designed to improve the economic conditions of the Kols. These include:

  • Land improvement through soil conservation, contour bunding, construction of check dams and gully plugging.
  • Natural resource management, especially conservation and management of water resources.
  • Social forestry.
  • Women's self-help groups.
  • Education and literacy.

Of these two deserve special mention: water conservation and management, and education.

The Patha is a drought-prone area and suffers from severe shortage of water, both for drinking and irrigation. The worst sufferers are the poor Kols as the few sources of water available in the area have been cornered by the Dadus. In order to overcome this problem and provide water to the Kols ABSSS launched a programme for water conservation and harvesting using traditional knowledge and practices. Under this programme, the ABSSS took up the task of constructing dug wells, reservoirs, shallow ponds, locally known as chohras for collecting water in low-lying areas, check dams and small earthen dams. All these were designed to store and retain rainwater in situ and to improve the ground water recharge.

The first three reservoirs were constructed by ABSSS between 1982-83 and 1983-84 at Harijanpur, Sukhrampur and Paramhans. The impact of these reservoirs on water availability was so great that it generated tremendous enthusiasm among the people, especially when they reaped a bumper harvest for the first time in their life. People from other areas were also enthused and wanted similar programmes in their villages. In 1987-88, ABSSS took up the construction of five wells, 13 chohras and four reservoirs with assistance from Council for Advancement of People's Action and Rural Technology (CAPART) and Oxford Committee for Famine Relief (OXFAM). Thereafter, the programme really took off and by 1997 ABSSS had completed construction of 22 wells, 26 chohras and 18 reservoirs in 66 villages.

Allied to water harvesting was a programme for soil conservation, with particular focus on building contour bunds on the lands of the poor Kols. The programme was first taken up in 1988-89 and by 1997 had covered 1,488 acres of land belonging to 554 families. It, too, has resulted in considerable gains in agricultural productivity and improvement in the living condition of the affected families.

Apart from improving land productivity, ABSSS also took up other programmes for improving the economic condition of the Kols. For instance, it has been helping people to organise and demand higher wages from the landlords on whose fields they work as agricultural labourers. The traditional wage in the region has been a meagre 1.25 kg of (paanch pav) of grain for a day's work. ABSSS has also been successful in negotiating higher prices for the collection of tendu leaves. The replacement of contractors by the UP Forest Corporation as the collection agency in 1982 clearly helped the Kols in getting better rates for tendu leaves and checked many of the earlier malpractices indulged in by the contractors, and more recently, the forest corporation workers. In addition, ABSSS has been running various income-generation and micro-credit programmes for the Kols.

The importance of education for Kol children was recognised by ABSSS from the very beginning. Education is not just an important mean for awareness raising and upward mobility; it also lays the foundation of leadership among the people. The lack of education among Kols is probably responsible for many of their problems. Absence of any leadership among them has meant that there has been no one to intercede on their behalf or articulate their problems to the political administrative system at either the district or state level. The government system of primary education is largely non-functional; and where it does function, tends to discriminate against the Kols as the teachers are drawn from the same section of society as the feudal interests that control the economic life of the region. Instead of teaching the few Kol children who attend such schools, the teachers make them work in their homes.

Confronted with this grim picture of education in the Patha region, ABSSS decided to do something about it in 1988-89. It was well aware of the shortcomings of the existing education system, especially its alienation from the life of the people in rural areas, particularly rural poor. It wanted education to be relevant to, and intimately linked with, the life of the people in the rural areas. At the same time it believed that education should have a strong ethical foundation. According to ABSSS, the aim of education was to instil the individual with proper values - of creativity, or respect for other individuals, curiosity, self-reliance and discrimination. Needless to say, it found all these values absent in the dominant state-supported school system.

Inspired by these ideals, the ABSSS began its educational activities in 1989 by setting up 15 primary schools under the umbrella of Bharat Mata Shiksha Sanskar Kendra in various Patha villages. The teachers in these schools are known as gram pals (keepers of the village), implying that they are responsible for the well-being of the entire village and not just the education of children under their charge. The success of the primary school education programme can be judged by the huge demand it generated for opening such schools in other villages of the region. By 1997-98, ABSSS was running 40 primary schools where 2,169 children - 1,279 boys and 890 girls - were enrolled.

In addition to running primary schools, ABSSS is also involved in providing adult literacy and has been running a number of centres for this purpose. It also operates 100 non-formal education centres under the Mahila Samakhya project, which is a programme for education and empowerment of women.

State and National Linkages

The work of ABSSS on the land issue, however, has remained restricted to Manikpur and Mau blocks of Chitrakoot district. Failure to give possession of land given on pattas is not specific to Chitrakoot. From all available evidence, it is a feature that is common to the whole of UP, indeed, the entire country. But the ABSSS has not linked up with any other organisation, either within the state or in other parts of the country, which is working for the same cause. Neither has it attempted to undertake a state- or national-level campaign on the issue of land rights for poor and landless tribals. By linking up with similar struggles elsewhere, it might have made greater headway in forcing the administration to take note of the issues involved. For in the absence of a larger – state- or national-level – campaign, it has been easy for the administration and political leadership to dismiss the issue as a local one. It has therefore not been given the importance it deserves in the policy framework for alleviation of poverty at the state and national levels. Instead of providing access to the one basic, productive asset, i.e., land, which is what really matters in an agrarian economy, state action has remained predicated on either transfer of limited resources like money (through employment schemes), or subsidised food grain (through PDS) or some income-generation schemes (like the Integrated Rural Development type programmes).

But where the ABSSS has extended the scope of its intervention and advocacy role to the state and national levels, it has achieved remarkable success. Take, for example, the issue of oppression and exploitation of Kol women by the Dadus with the active support of the local administration. In May 1997, ABSSS organised a seminar on the status and condition of women in the Patha region, inviting the Chairperson of the National Commission on Women (NCW) to be the Chief Guest. In this seminar, about 300 women, mainly from Shankergarh, Majhgawan and Manikpur blocks, narrated their harrowing tales of the exploitation they had suffered. Moved by their stories, the Chairperson of the NCW wrote to Ms Mayawati, the Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh, asking that steps be taken to protect the rights of the women in the region. At about the same time, the press, too, reported on the piteous condition of Patha women. The result was that the state government ordered an inquiry, setting up a committee that toured the region extensively and found that most of the incidents of exploitation, harassment and abuse - which included instances of women being pawned, made bonded labourers, raped and attributed of fraudulent loans - that had been narrated by the Kol women during the seminar were true.

As a follow-up to the seminar and government, ABSSS, in association of NCW, organised a public hearing on the problems of Patha women in Delhi on 4 November 1997. The objective was to ensure justice for them. The jury for this public hearing comprised Justice (retd.) V. Krishan Aiyar, Captain Lakshmi Sehgal, Swami Agnivesh, Ms Asma Jehangir (Chairperson, Human Rights Commission, Pakistan), Ms Mohini Giri (Chairperson, NCW) and Ms Padma Seth (Member, NCW). Representatives of both the national and international press and television were also present as were the Superintendent of Police of Chitrakoot district (then known as Shahuji Maharaj district), Superintendent of Police (City) of Banda, and the Secretaries of the Social Welfare and Basic Education Departments of the UP Government. Thirty-two Kol women deposed before the jury, as a result of which concerned officials were ordered to provide an immediate explanation of their behaviour.

The upshot of this hearing was that the administration came under considerable pressure and was forced to take action and arrest the persons who were known to be exploiting women but had thought themselves immune from any kind of punitive action. The public hearing and the subsequent arrest of the guilty parties provided a tremendous boost to the self-confidence of the Kol women, who for the first time in their lives felt they could come forward, confront their oppressors and demand justice for themselves.

IV Conclusion

This case study on the role of the Akhil Bharatiya Samaj Sewa Sansthan in helping the Kol tribals of Chitrakoot to acquire possession of the land for which they had been allotted pattas, brings into sharp focus some very important issues. First, it points to the tremendous odds with which any programme of economic uplift and empowerment of the poor and oppressed, especially in a tradition-bound, feudal social and economic order, has to contend. The study clearly brings to the fore clash between the philosophy of social justice and commitment to uplift of the poor and the oppressed that is enshrined in the Constitution, and the actual implementation of legislations and programmes formulated to translate these constitutional directives into reality. That vested landed interests would oppose a programme for distributing land to the rural poor is understandable, especially in remote, tradition-bound and backward regions like southern UP, even when, as in the present case, the land distribution programme does not challenge their economic power. It is pertinent to mention here that the distribution of land pattas does not involve the confiscation of land from the large landowners, except that which they have illegally or fraudulently occupied. What is distributed comes from the lands vested in the gaon sabhas. At the same time, the average area of the distributed land is so small that it has little impact on the overall pattern of land distribution in a village. Moreover, the land given to the poor through pattas is generally of such poor quality that it cannot bring about any significant improvement in the living conditions of the patta holders. As we have seen, at the most they can get only six months' requirements of food grains from the land; for the rest, they have to rely on some secondary occupation like wage labour and the collection and sale of forest produce.

The real significance of the land distribution programme is symbolic and lies in the challenge it poses to the feudal power structure in the rural areas. Once the Kols acquire land, they are likely to reclaim their self-respect and dignity that for generations has been crushed through bondage and other forms of oppression, including sexual exploitation and rape of women. With the return of self-respect and dignity, it is likely that the Kols would stand up for their rights and challenge their exploitation at the hands of the Dadus. When this happens, the Dadus would be unlikely to get labour at exploitative wages, which in turn would affect their economic status. Ultimately, their social domination, which is partly caste-based and partly relies on economic status, would also be threatened. It this threat, perhaps, lies the explanation the concerted attempts made by dominant groups to frustrate the programme of land distribution to the Kols.

What is not so easy to understand is the failure of the state-level political leadership and higher-level administration to provide the requisite support for the implementation of a programme that they themselves have initiated and about which they never tire of waxing eloquent. The wide gulf between rhetoric and action points to the lack of commitment and sincerity on the part of all major political parties and of the state-level administration towards poverty alleviation and the social uplift of the poor, particularly when it means challenging the dominant power structures at the local level.

With little or no support from the macro level, working for the rights of the downtrodden and exploited in a socio-economic environment characterised by brutal domination and suppression at the micro level is surely a daunting task. But as our analysis shows, by adopting multi-pronged approach, ABSSS has accomplished it with remarkable success. At one level, it has sought to make the Kols aware of their legal rights, especially to the land for which they have received patta, and their exploitation at the hands of the dominant feudal interests. It has helped in uniting and organising them under the banner of the Patha Kol Adhikar Manch, which is the main instrument of organised action and struggle by the Kols. It has also pursued cases filed in court against or by the Kols vis-à-vis patta land and provided them with legal assistance through legal aid camps. At another level, it has pressured the administration at the subdivision, district and state levels to implement the land distribution programme in both its letter and spirit. Whenever it found sympathetic officials at the local level, it has sought their support and assistance to get justice for the Kols. At a third level, it has helped to spread information about the condition of the Kols in the Patha region and built alliances not only with CSOs in other parts of the country, but also with influential leaders, and opinion- and policy- makers. The ABSSS has organised seminars and discussions on the problems of the Kols, which has helped in spreading awareness about them. It has invited journalists to tour the area and report on the conditions prevailing there. This has helped disseminate information about the plight of the Kols to the world at large.

These efforts have served three purposes. First, by making public the inhuman oppression of the Kols, it has helped to create some degree of among the Dadus .Second, by persuading influential persons from the larger society to express solidarity with their cause has helped to build self-confidence among the Kols, which will stand in their struggle for land and other rights. Third, the Kols have slowly but surely started to assert themselves, questioning the existing order and organising for the protection of their rights.

The road ahead is far from easy, but the first few steps have been taken. One strategy that ABSSS has not used, and which perhaps might have brought it greater success, is conducting state- and national-level campaigns on the land question and linking up with other organisations and movements working on the same or related issues. After all, the land is not unique to southern UP; similar programmes have been taken up in many other parts of the state and country. Were the ABSSS to link up with these other organisations and orchestrate a wider and larger campaign on the issue of land distribution to the rural landless and the government's inefficiency in implementing the programme, its efforts might achieve better results. As the example of the public hearing shows, state-level political and administrative systems may react quite differently to such a campaign. It might jolt them out of their apathy and force them to respond in more positive ways.

The activities of ABSSS among the Kols of Chitrakoot have not been restricted to helping them get possession of land for which they have been issued pattas. As we have seen, this is only one of the many issues it has taken up. Its other activities include action for identification and abolition of bonded labour, abolition of contractor system for the collection of tendu leaves, mobilising people for protection of their rights and ending exploitation, especially sexual exploitation, of women, running primary schools in remote Kol inhabited villages, watershed management and setting up water harvesting systems to meeting drinking water and irrigation needs, setting up income-generation and self-help groups to improve the economic conditions of the Kols, providing them with health education, basic health care and immunisation services and working towards women's awareness and their empowerment.

This multipronged approach adopted by ABSSS to help patta holders get possession of their land has meant that it has used a variety of strategies for achieving its objectives: mobilisation and organisation of the affected people, lobbying with the administration and government, using print media to spread awareness and information about the condition of the Kols and building alliances with other organisations and influential persons. The confluence of these strategies probably has a lot to with ABSSS' success.


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