We have recorded a win! It is small, but has boosted our faith in fighting a democratic lawful struggle to empower our people. This story must be shared.
The people from tribal villages are tilling the so-called ‘forest’ lands since last many many years. The land-holdings are small and in many cases eroded. However, the living of the people depends largely on the little farm produce from these lands. The Forest department, in the past has inflicted many atrocities – like burning the crops, burning homes, arresting people, beating them – and so on. The FRA (Forest Rights Act 2006) assured people that they could own these lands. The people had to file claims to their Village Forest Rights Committee. These committees were elected by the people and people entrusted the committees with their claims and evidence papers. Later, the committee verified all the claims, got them passed from the Gramsabha (village assembly) and forwarded the claim files to government. The government was sitting on these files for more than six months.
Then Delhi kicked Mumbai and Mumbai bosses kicked the districts to get things done before 30th May. When the kick reached the sub-division, some innovative brains got an idea to meet the deadline. They drafted a fake resolution to be signed by the Gramsabhas. The resolution said “We, the members of this Gramsabha, have received X number of claims and we are rejecting X number of claims because the claimed lands are not measured by GPS machine.” That was ridiculous. How could a community reject all of its claims? And why would they do it on such grounds – of not measuring by a state-owned machine?
These resolutions were signed by Gramsevaks and Sarpanchs of 176 villages, without really understanding the implications of the resolution. The resolution meant that the village was giving up its decisive authority over the claims and handing it over to the bureaucrats. Nobody in the villages knew that such resolutions were passed in their name. Not even Vayam’s youth groups in the villages knew this. Vayam got hold of these resolutions by using RTI.
The activists then visited villages and asked people whether they knew that they had signed off their rights. (It was difficult to reach the villages and gather people during heavy rains.) Some village leaders chose not to pay heed to this mad call by Vayam. Their political and bureaucrat patrons told them not to worry. Some villages understood what Vayam was trying to tell them. Vayam’s active groups in villages Hateri and Kogda spearheaded the drive. They conducted new Gramsabhas with massive attendance of people. Gramsevak and Sarpanch apologised to people for hastily signing the fake resolution. The Gramsabha passed a new resolution rejecting the old one. They also attached copies of State Monitoring Committee meeting minutes – which stated that GPS-measurement was not a pre-requisite to passing of claims. Hateri and Kogda villages were followed by three more villages. A political party approached these villages and told them that the party would clear their claims even without such Gramsabhas, only thing is they should join the party!
The villages then formed a delegation and met the Sub-divisional Officer. (Meanwhile, Vayam had also informed the State authorities about this incident and the State nodal officer had also called the Sub-divisional Officer enquiring about this issue.) The delegation (villagers) argued vehemently quoting the sections of law and effectively cornered the officer. He assured them that their claims would be cleared on priority and no further trouble would be caused. He called in his assistants and told them to cooperate with these villagers. He requested the villagers to communicate straight to him if there was any trouble.
Vayam’s volunteers from villages have recorded this as a second win. Earlier, they had brought another government officer to his knees for not delivering his duties under the NREGA (National Rural Employment Guarantee Act).
Vayam has held this premise that people can solve their problems without taking to streets or guns. Our democracy must work, must be made to work. Vayam chose a clear path for this: The youth in the villages must be empowered with the knowledge of law and with confidence that they are not alone. “Not even a Satyagraha should be needed, when we have the power to make our laws” – that was the dream of Dr. Ambedkar. Though at a very very modest scale, Vayam’s youth are proving that it’s possible!
Tu zinda hai to zindagi ki jeet mein yakeen kar 🙂
– Team Vayam,
[reachable at +91.94215.64330]