ABSSS and its Successful Struggle for Land and Livelihoods for the Kols
Few NGOs in the country work under more hostile political conditions than does ABSSS in Manikpur block of Banda district of Uttar Pradesh. Yet in nearly two decades of work, this ActionAid supported NGO had had remarkable success in securing land for the kols and then in helping them put it to good use as the author, Policy Analyst at ActionAid India, explains.
Akhil Bharatiya Samaj Sewa Sansthan (ABSSS) founded in 1978 by Gaya Prasad Gopal (better known as Gopal bhai), with the motto Anth Ka Uday (the rising of the last one), works with the Kols in Banda district (recently renamed Sahuji Maharaj Nagar) of Uttar Pradesh.
The struggle of the Kols, the prime inhabitants of the area is against the government, particularly the forest department, landlords, local media and society at large. Land is the bone of contention in most of the cases. Another major issue of concern is that Kols still have a status of Scheduled Caste in UP whereas in the neighbouring state of MP they have been given the status of Scheduled Tribe.
Land is the single most important source of livelihood for the Kol. Land is controlled by the big landlords and the Kols are often forced to work as bonded labourers getting as low as 5 pau (about 1.25 kg) of grain a day. Moreover, land in this area is uneven, rocky and not very fertile.
History of subjugation in this Patha area is old, and there exist a dual terror. First from the landlords, better know as dadus and the lurking shadow of dacoits, especially the notorious dadus dacoit. Moreover some so called people's representatives have terrorized the are completely, cutting and taking away standing crops from kol lands. An article in the daily Amar Ujala by its reporter Satyanarayana Mishra described that the threat is meted out to those who protest: "If you complain, then you will be thrown out of the village; yours wells, ponds and passage will be blocked. You will be dragged and killed; and this is not a warning from any Dhania-Munia, but this is a proclamation of Prakash Dadu."
Such blatant violation of land laws taken places in the area that land gets transferred and registered in the name of cows and buffaloes. In another bizarre case a few years back (which got national publicity) some persons were shown as dead in the land records when in fact they were very much alive. When the adivasi harijan started to speak out and fight for their rights false charges were leveled against them and many were arrested, among them Gopal bhai of ABSSS.
A Tedious Process
ABSSS has been working in the area for nearly twenty years and has developed a relationship with the people and gained their confidence. The people are forthcoming in sharing their problems with the organisation including on land related issues. Initially there was little effort to systematically collect land records and ABSSS went by what the complainant told them. However the last three-four years they have been collecting records systematically - not an easy task as by law it is not possible to get records of the entire village and information is made available only on those concerned. ABSSS has got around this problem by inviting the lekhpals who hold the records as trainers in land-related workshops and befriending them or urging them to stay at night in the village and then engaging them in discussion to get access to the records.
Once the land record is available and the patta issued, the next step is to get the land in dispute measured by the lekhpal or patwari, and then get the possession. Legal aid and information about their land is also provided to the Kols by ABSSS.
Initially there was little effort to systematically collect land records and ABSSS went by what the complainant told them. However over the last three four-years they have been collecting records systematically - not an easy task as by law it is not possible to get records of the entire village and information is made available only to those concerned. ABSSS has got around this problem by inviting the lekhpals who hold the records as trainers in land-related workshops and befriending them or urging them to stay the night in the village and then engaging them in discussion to get access to the records.
There are three kinds of land cases that are encountered: Few people have pattas, but do not have possession. Some don't know that they have pattas in their names, courtesy the landlords who did it to get around land ceiling problems. Few have possessions but no pattas.
In some cases ABSSS has managed to get new pattas for the KOLS, but the most common case is where the pattas exist but the people do not have possession (or even knowledge).
ABSSS has collected government records of pattas for 17 revenue villages. These prove very helpful in providing solid proof to the government while arguing the villagers case.
Land possession in only the beginning of the long road to survival in this area. Land development assumes great important due to the fact that the land, as stated earlier, infertile, and rocky in many places.
One of the interventions that ABSSS has undertaken is bunding of farms. It has been noticed that were bunding work has been done farmers report greater production. In some cases productivity has increased from 5 quintals to 12 quintals of rice per acre any many farmers are now in a position to take two crops. The land development measures, especially bunding, has resulted in people in the are benefiting and getting food for at least 6 months.
ABSSS recognizing the usefulness of traditional agriculture instead of high input agriculture: making use of high yielding varieties (HYV) and chemical fertilizers, is beginning to promote traditional seed preservation, crop credit for traditional seeds, and use of traditional (desi khad) manure. According to Gopal bhai as irrigation facilities are not widely available, the are is relatively safe from the onslaught of chemical fertilizers. However, as there is more labour involve in use of traditional manure, people tend to use urea which is ready available.
Watershed programme has also been undertaken in conjunction with the government. To meet the demands on water ABSSS is promoting ponds (which help in recharging the water table) as compared to tube wells.
Another source of income and food security for the poor, non timber forest produce such as tendu patta and awala holds great potential if properly managed.
Reflections from the Field
People in Amchur Neruwa Society, a village, said they were able to grow only two to two and half months of their food requirements due to lack of resources which prevented hem from ploughing their entire field. They said that they would leave manual labour and devote all their time to farming if irrigation facilities were provided.
But they are thankful for the access to land that ABSSS has been able to provide. Earlier when they did not have land, they user to get a mere Rs. 5 for a days work (the younger once get only Rs.2.50). But now they grow Dhan (rice) and have become attached to their land. They have even begun to consider themselves as small dadus (landowners). Bunding work has also generated employment in the area. ABSSS has been giving them the minimum wage of Rs.33 for the bunding of the work, whereas they were getting only Rs.20 working outside. As a sign of their new found prosperity, the villagers have bought tape recorders (there are 2 in village, apart from the radios owned by them.) Now they eat rotis made out of rice. A few of them have ration cards, but do not use them as not much is available at the ration shop.
(Responding to the claim by the villagers from Amchur Neruwa Society that they get food for 2 months Gopal bhai said that the people have a habit of always understating in anticipation of further help from the listener. He said that the villagers eat mahuwa for 2 months of the year itself, Moreover they are also marketing their produce in the markets, implying that they have more than two months worth of produce.)
Bunding work have been completed in all the plots in Amchur Neruwa Society. Before the bunding work, the output from one bigha was 10 Paseri or 1/2 quintals, and after the bunding work was completed, the output went up to 1-1/2 quintals - an increase of quintal.
People in Amchur Neruwa Society were aware that if urea is used, the next year more of it has to be put in and that in comparison, traditional measure was better. They had also heard of pits (for composting) and one of them had even made some. However, they said that they did not have enough animals to provide the basic raw material.
In another village Cheria Bujurg Gaon, Ramesh has been farming for 30 years, and got patta as well as possession of 4-5 Bigha land a few years ago. He gets about 6 months of food from his farm and either migrates outside or does manual labour for the remainder of the time. However, he says he pays more attention to farming. The production in his farms has increased by one and a half times after the bunding has been done. Lalaram also from Cheria Bujurg Gaon gets food for 6-9 months from the field. He primarily grows wheat, jowar, mustard. A positive externality of farming on their own land, as seen by the villagers of Cheria Bujurg Gaon was that since, there was no migration for 6 months at least, the women stay at home and this has an effect on the children too who are able to go to the ABSSS run school. Due to the check dam in Cheria Bujurg Gaon some farmers are able to even take 2 crops in a year. The farmers of the villages felt that while traditional (desi khad) manure is better, the land had become used to urea and they were now applying about 5 kg. of urea for 1 bigha land.
Ram Bhauna from Doda Mafi has 6 bigha patta land, but possession of only 2 bighas, the rest is under dispute in court. This was a case of double entry in the government records. Till 3 years back, he used to work for a Pradhan for a pittance of 1.25 kg. grain a day. It was only when landlords who had bought a pumpset on credit against the land standing in Ram Bhauna's name and did not repay resulting in the creditors knocking on his door, did Ram Bhauna come know of his patta. Since then he has become deeply involved in this land struggle and has been going to the court and appealing at different forums.
According to Gopal bhai the biggest problem of the area is rapid population growth which is resulting in further fragmentation of landholdings. He says 4 acres per family is necessary to ensure food security but it is becoming difficult to even get 2 acres land per family these days. But it is a measure of the success achieved by ABSSS in enhancing food security that the grampalikas now feel health to be the current problem rather than food which was the problem earlier they said.
Gopal bhai feel that as a result of increased land ownership among the Kols his organisation has been able to bring about, there was a increased attachment of the Kols to their villagers and had also led to greater unity among them. They were eating better too and were no longer bonded at 5 pau anymore. He is of the opinion that if the villagers are able to tap the common property resources and forest produce, they will not remain hungry and poor.
According to Gopal bhai the biggest problem of the area is rapid population growth which is resulting in further fragmentation of landholdings. He says 4 acres per family is necessary to ensure food security, but it is becoming difficult to even get 2 acres land er family these days. But is is a measure of the success achieved by ABSSS in enhancing food security that the grampalikas now feel health to be the current problem rather than food which was the problem earlier they said.
In a discussion with the grampalikas on food security, they said that the situation has improved a lot. They felt that making land available was best way to ensure food security. Earlier the used to have broken rice, now they are having proper rice. They also said that greater economic security has resulted in less instances of wife beating. They too believe that land tied one down and said that it was a good thing. This is reflected in the fact that the Kol who has land does not go out as much for labour as in the past and this has helped push up the local wage to Rs. 37 per day.
Chandan Bhaiya from Kekaramer village, also associated with ABSSS, postulates that the number of landless has gone down by 75%. In his view food security is best ensured in the following order: by one owns land, second by ones labour, and third by an effective PDS (which is not there at present).
In the article by Bharat Dogra published in a leading daily in September 1997, ABSSS estimates that its efforts of the last 12 or 13 years have led the availability of 3,000 to 4,000 acres of land to nearly 1,300 - 1,4000 families. Through its legal efforts it has also successfully prevented the eviction of weaker sections, mainly Kol tribals from 2,000 to 2,500 acres of land
Ruchi Tripathi, Exchanges, March 1998, Issue No. 20