Land triggers tussle between SCs, upper castes in Kutch

Tejabhai M Solanki and his wife Dhani at their farm in Gedi village. DH photo/Satish Jha

Tejabhai M Solanki and his wife Dhani are busy irrigating their 4.5 acres of land for the cumin crop. They were landless farm labourers till some four months back. Then they got this piece of land for the first time. “This is a great relief for us considering how poor we are. We hope to get a good crop this season due to abundant water this season,” says Solanki. He adds that he is a little worried about the upper caste people who used to till the same land so far.

About three to four km away from their farm at their Gedi village in Rapar taluka of Kutch district, the atmosphere is tense. The land Solankis are tilling was in the illegal possession of upper-caste villagers since independence. There are many Scheduled Caste (SC) farmers like Solankis who got the possession of the agricultural lands on paper, but they are yet to be freed from the clutches of upper-caste farmers.

In the last three years, following Una SC flogging incident, SC leader and independent MLA Jignesh Mevani, through his Rashtriya Dalit Adhikar Manch (RDAM), started a state-wide agitation for handing over the land to landless SCs. These lands had been declared surplus under the Gujarat Agriculture Land Ceiling Act, 1960. By 1980s, the government had allotted over 2,500 acres surplus land to Rapar Taluka Anusuchit Jati Kheti Samudayik Sahakari Cooperative Society involved in community farming. 

However, the actual possession remained with the upper-caste farmers, mostly from the Kshatriya community. Over the last two years, following numerous agitation and court orders, the government finally handed over 2,500 acres of land to the cooperative that has 42 villages in the taluka. Gedi village is among them. The move has only resulted in caste clashes. In the past year, at least 30 FIRs have been lodged. Last month, Raj Shekhawat, chief of Gujarat unit of Rashtriya Rajput Karni Sena, was booked in Rapar for urging his community to use swords against those who came to take away their land. 

“I and my two brothers got 16 acres of land under the scheme two years back. But we are yet to get possession. Those upper-caste men who have been tilling the land are refusing to vacate it,” says Gajubhai Meriya from neighbouring Rav village.

Mangrabhai R Padhhiyar, 63, has a similar story. He was given 5.5 acres of land, six months ago. He spent nearly Rs 70,000 to sow moong and millet but the upper caste men came and ruined the crop. Rapar police station refused to act. Many upper-caste farmers have secured a stay on the move from the high court. He claimed that in the last year, two SC leaders died in mysterious road accidents on their way to get the possession of the land.

An estimate says that in the 1980s, more than 50,000 acres of lands were allotted, mostly to landless Scheduled Castes. Several organisations were fighting to claim these lands. The agitation following Una flogging incident prompted Scheduled Castes to demand land more aggressively.

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