By: Tikender Singh Panwar
The Dalits and tribals constitute nearly 25% of the Indian population and almost 29% of Himachal Pradesh’s population. The indifferent attitude of the big bourgeois parties towards both the Dalits and tribals needs no elaboration. Since both the parties represent the interests of the capitalists and landlords in the country, the SCs and the STs remain a distressed lot.
Both the parties have a bias against the Dalits and the tribals. No big surprise, the legacy that the BJP and the Congress inherit is that they are strongly from the core anti-Dalit and against the tribals. Interestingly, both the respective candidates of BJP and Congress from Mandi parliamentary seats come from the feudal background and are known for their rhetoric of being so. Be it as they want, but then they must also share and own for the large-scale atrocities committed on the people at large and the Dalits in particular by the former rulers of the erstwhile states. It is no hidden fact that those who opposed the rule were either thrown out of the state or were tied with large boulders and were thrown either in Satluj or Beas rivers.
The statistics are screaming at the reality. The social indices for both the Dalits and tribals are relatively worse. The social atrocities are still rampant in Himachal Pradesh with even untouchability being practiced at several places. The incidents of mid-day meal workers not allowed to cook food are pretty common. The BJP and the Congress have used the Dalits for their political mobilization instead of sharpening the struggle for equal opportunity.
The Communist party has the glorious legacy of fighting this order and it was because of the strong presence of left and the Communist Party that the land reforms have taken place in the state, because of which the Dalits have been able to own the land they used to till. Very inspiring movement under the name of Mujaara movement was led by the Communist party. Strong movement was witnessed in the Mandi region especially in Jogendernagar and Balh areas where the Dalits have been benefited.
The Left, particularly the CPIM, has played a pivotal role in the struggle for equality of the Dalits and tribals. Of the total land that has been distributed in the country, the Left ruled states accounts for more than 70%. The Forest tribal Act that enables the ST to own a patta on land would have never seen the light of the day in the absence of Left support. It is with the intervention of the Left that the cut-off date in the forest Tribal Act was changed from 1980 to December 2005. Also with the amendment from Left the critical wild life definition was made scientific and not left to the Forest Department. Besides, the ceiling was raised to four hectares. The rights to minor forest produce also got strengthened. For the first time the women would also hold land in the tribal regions under the Act. It was for the last minute intervention of the Congress party that the three-generations clause for forest dwellers, mainly who Dalits, was put in which has forced the dwellers to remain under the definition of encroachers and will be able to own pattas only if they are able to show their possession for the last 75 years, which is almost impossible. The CPIM vows to change the clause to one generation. The forest and the environment ministry continues to hand over forests to corporates and in the year 2008 more than 5.73 lakh hectares of land has been diverted for this purpose.
Similarly, in the state both the BJP and Congress have hoodwinked the tribals and the Dalits on the issue of land. The BJP in the year 2002 stated that it would regularize all encroached land and Rs 50.00 affidavit was attached by the rural people. Shockingly the state government was to divert the land of which it was not the owner. The owner of the forest land is the central government. And as was expected the people were left in the lurch. They even showed their encroachment and were subject to penal action under the rule of law. Then came the Congress government under the leadership of Virbhadra Singh and started the eviction drive that was halted by the combined effort of the peasantry under the banner of the Kisan Sabha. Both the parties want the forest land to be diverted to corporates and not to the legitimate owners – the tribals and the forest dwellers.
Still, the BJP and the Congress continue to cheat the people with divergent opinions over the issue of TD rights. The Dalits who are major part of the forest dwellers and the tribals are the severest hit. Both the parties have made it amply clear that the rights of the people over the forest produce must end and it will shift for the corporates. It is in this background that the Left nominee Dr Onkar Shad, who is a leader of the working people and the peasantry, must win and it is this third alternative which is being developed that can remain in the forefront to protect the rights of the tribals and the Dalits.