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Banding together, for their rights

Tribal women in Uttarakhand are standing up for their community rights, and resisting the dispossession of their lands by a nexus between powerful landlords and the government machinery. Puja Awasthi reports.

13 August 2011 (India Together) – One morning the pond named Haldubala was gone. It had turned into a slushy farm.

Not that the residents of Khempur village (near the city of Sitarganj in Udham Singh Nagar) hadn’t noticed what had been going on. Sardar Jangir Singh, a powerful member of the local Rai Sikh community, had been, bit by bit, filling up the pond (named after the spice turmeric, haldi) with earth, emptying it of water and increasing the boundaries of his farm, a few feet at a time. “Every six months he would drop in a few drums of mud. We had ignored it”, says Kalawati Singh, a Tharu tribal.

In the foothills of the Himalayas, land and natural resources are increasingly turning into bitter subjects of feuds. And Kalawati Singh and others are mindful of a major change all around them – the dispossession of tribal land by non-tribals. The biggest victims are always the lower castes and the tribals. All sorts of ruses are resorted to in this land grab – offering tribals loans in lieu of land, marrying a tribal woman as a second wife to buy land in her name, employing tribals as servants and getting land registered in their name, etc. [more]