The news from Chengara (ചെങ്ങറ) is depressing. Women are being abducted and raped, men kidnapped, in addition to over two weeks of cutting off food and other lifeline supplies to people who have been protesting peacefully for more than an year now.
[See: ചെങ്ങറ: 4 യുവതികളെ പീഡിപ്പിച്ചെന്ന്]
Even worse, all this is not making news. It seems CPM goondas are doing all this, so one expects the likes of Malayala Manorama and Mathrubhumi to cover this as sensational news. But they are silent. Are they just scared? Or plain bought off? Or the managements have personal interests in protecting these people and finishing off this struggle?
Indiavision reported the abduction and sexual abuse on women on last Sunday 10th August. When I saw no mention of this in next day's major Malayalam newspapers, I searched for Chengara" on Malayala Manorama online edition (English version). It returned zero results. "Nandigram" returned 100 results on the same page.
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So is there a parallel between Nandigram and Chengara?
The similarity is that both have CPM on the wrong side. The difference, in Nandigram it is people who have land who are struggling to keep it, whereas in Chengara, it is the landless who are at struggle.
Which makes it difficult to understand their demand for many of us. Many of us who can connect to Nandigram as an emotional attachment of "man with land". (The time is not 1957 when we had some sort of land reforms in Kerala. Make no mistake, we are living in a time when the power centers of this nation are ruled by the land mafia.)
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What is this struggle all about?
Over 5000 families of landless Dalits, Adivasis and other marginalised people started this protest on 4th August 2007 claiming 6000 acres of land (you read that right -- six thousand acres) that is illegally kept by Harrison Malayalam Private Ltd in Pathanamthitta district, Kerala. Around 24,000 people from different parts of the region have moved to this area, with tents with poles and plastic sheets.
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Why should they be given land? We do not have enough land to give everyone..
I would not blame someone from a relatively better-off household who thinks like this (that is, if they came to know about it). But I hope we try to go beyond this and try to find out why these people would risk their lives in a life and death struggle like this.
Dalits and Adivasis are the sections of people who were denied any right to land in the land reforms that said "krishibhoomi krishikkaaranu". That applied to the farmer, but it excluded those who worked at the fields. Needless to say, it also excluded others who were at the lowest end of the society.
"The Sadhu Jana Vimochana Samyuktha Vedi (SJVSV), the collective that leads the struggle, has opted for the land take-over as strategy remembering the tradition of the great leader Ayyankali, the militant dalit leader whose mission was to ensure liberation of dalits from various forms of slavery, right to agricultural land, as well as right to education in Kerala," says an article that appeared in The South Asian.
Add to it the fact that the land kept by most rich land owners have been encroachments traditionally, this becomes an even more severe power inequation. Many of them managed to get some legal right to their land with the power they had, and some did not even care that much. (Apparently the land where this struggle happens was leased to Harrison Malayalam and the lease expired in 1985. No rents have been paid to the State ever since).
That is where a state intervention is required to ensure justice and right of living to those who are living in the "margins", so to speak. And it asks us to rethink the way we are used to looking at things. Labeling anyone who comes out in support of this struggle as a "Maoist" will not help.
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Some links in Malayalam:
ചെങ്ങറ ഭൂസമരം ഉയര്ത്തുന്ന ധാര്മ്മികപ്രശ്നങ്ങള: a blog post with links to some writings on this issue.
Randaam bhooparishkaranam viplavavayaditham ennu Pinarayi, Manorama news today without mentioning the word Chengara.
Indiavision: Women attacked in Chengara
Chengara land struggle: a report