Most Dalit victims of violence and discrimination are landless agricultural laborers. In rural areas, where caste discrimination is most entrenched, land is the main asset determining an individual’s social status and standard of living. Dalits’ lack of access to land makes them economically vulnerable and dependent upon their upper- and middle-caste landlords. This economic dependency is often exploited by the landlords, allowing for many abuses against Dalits to go unpublished. Furthermore, the effects of globalization—namely, the large tracts of land being provided to multi-national corporations and projects funded by the World Bank—have meant that millions of small and marginal farmers, most of whom are Dalits, are losing their land or having their land alienated each year.
Laws and regulations exist that prohibit the alienation of Dalit lands, set ceilings on a single landowner’s holdings, and allocate surplus government lands to be re-distributed to Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes; however, most state governments have consistently failed to adequately implement this land reform legislation. Statistics show that government land reform policies are increasing the land holdings of non-SC households at a rate considerably higher than SC households. Perhaps most significantly, in cases where Dalits have been offered land under agrarian reform legislation, many have been forced to refuse it for fear of dominant-caste backlash. Since the dominant castes depend on the economic subjugation and exploitation of Dalits, and since Dalit land acquisition and ownership threatens this arrangement, land disputes often result in violence and abuse against the Dalit community (especially the destruction of their homes and property) as a means to “keep them in their place.” Typically, in such disputes Dalit women are made the targets of violence in order to silence their male counterparts.** [**Some information above taken from: Smita Narula, Broken People: Caste Violence Against India’s Untouchables (Human Rights Watch, 1999), p. 27-28.]
CASE STUDIES IN VIOLATIONS OF DALIT LAND RIGHTS
Below are some case studies documenting the extent to which land rights and atrocities against Dalits are closely interwoven:
Dalit’s Lands Illegally Taken; Assaulted on Seeking Justice. Amargadh Village, Bhavnagar District, Gujarat. A Dalit (Lakabhai Nathubhai) was given 17 acres of uncultivable land by the government. After working for nearly 40 years to make the land cultivable, four dominant-caste members of the village forcibly seized 15 acres of his land. After writing to the authorities on four separate occasions, local officials finally came, conducted a measurement of the land, and found a clear encroachment by the accused dominant-caste individuals. However, despite receiving written notices from the Magistrate, D.S.P, Collector, the accused refused to remove themselves from the land and on March 5, 2005, attacked Lakabhai with pipes, sticks, and hockey sticks. Lakabhai filed a complaint with the police immediately, but it was only after he was discharged from the hospital two weeks later that the accused were arrested.
Dalit’s House Destroyed, Wife Molested Due to Land-Ownership. Bhaniyana Village, Pokhran District, Rajasthan.
A Dalit couple (Tajaram and Bhawari Devi) are the only Dalits who own land in the entire village. Not respecting them and wanting to take the land to extend the campus of a nearby private school, several dominant caste villagers sought to intimidate the couple. On the night of December 7, 2006, these dominant caste members forcibly entered their house, molested and injured Bhawari Devi (failing in an attempt to rape her) and ransacked and destroyed everything in her home. The police registered a report, but have taken no measures to protect the family and have not apprehended the accused.
Physical Torture of Dalit Man Leasing/Cultivating Land. Chhanbilla Village, Sagar District, Madhya Pradesh.
In 2004, a group of Dalits, led by Phoolchand Ahirwar, together leased a land area from the Madhya Pradesh Irrigation Department for cultivation. All other Dalits in the village were landless and entirely dependent on the dominant caste (Yadavs) for their livelihood. In response to the successful Dalit initiative to purchase and cultivate land, on the night of December 20, 2006, Phoolchand was lured behind a shop at a bus stop where three dominant-caste villagers held him down, brutally cut his ears off with a blade, beat him with a stick until they broke the femur of his left thigh, and finally knocked him unconscious with a blow to the head. When he and his family members attempted to register a report at the Police Station, the police initially simply toDominant Caste Members Cut-Off Water Supply to Dalit Lands.ok a signature on a blank sheet of paper and sent them home without registering a report. Subsequently, the police connived with the perpetrators and actually registered two cases (Rash Driving or Riding, and Endangering Life or Safety of Others) against Phoolchand! According to the most recent status check, Phoolchand has not been granted any compensation or assistance in paying his medical expenses from the government and the accused dominant caste members continue to threaten him.
21 Dalits Shot in Land Dispute. Chamalpur Village, Allahabad District, Uttar Pradesh.
A disputed and unused piece of land was under consideration to be allotted to 7 Dalit families. On the afternoon of 10 November, 2006, a dominant-caste member of the village along with his family began to erect a house on the land. When the Dalits learned of this, they rushed to the police station to lodge a report. The police officials discouraged and demoralized the Dalits and did not lodge the complaint. The Dalits then returned to the land where they requested that the perpetrators stop working and showed them the stay order of the court. In response, members of the dominant-caste Yadavs began to curse the Dalits and fired gunshots at them, injuring 21, six of whom were seriously injured. No arrests have been made and no protection has been provided to the Dalits though they continue to receive threats from the perpetrators.
Dominant Caste Members Cut Off Water Supply to Dalit Lands. Medjil Mandal Village, Mahaboob Nagar District, Andhra Pradesh.
When two Dalit brothers (Korrala and Kesavulu Chennayya) began successfully (i.e. profitably) cultivating cotton on their two acres of government-given land in 2001, three members of the village’s dominant Reddy caste responded by forcibly building a bore-well on the Dalits’ land (a mere 15 feet away from the Dalits’ own well) and laying a 3km pipeline to their lands, thereby depriving the Chennayyas’ farm of a water supply and causing their crops to dry up from which they incurred major financial losses. When Korrala Chennayya questioned these actions, he was beaten up. Furthermore, he was denied access to the panchayat bore-well and forced to migrate in search of daily labor. When he later attempted to cultivate his field again in 2005, he was attacked by the same three dominant-caste individuals and warned of dire consequences if he were to persist. Despite filing an official complaint with the police, the accused have yet to be arrested and the Dalit victims are yet to receive any compensation for their losses.