Land Struggle in Rayagada:

Brutal Attack and Resolute Resistance

- D P Bakshi

On July 9, when police were brutally beating up peasants struggling against coercion in land acquisition for Reliance in Bajhera Khurd in western UP, landlords' goons launched a murderous assault on CPI(ML)'s Party office in Bisam Cuttack, severely injuring two popular organisers of land struggles.

Bisam Cuttack, one of the most backward and remote blocks of Rayagada district bordering Kalahandi district has recently been the centre of a determined land struggle by the landless poor, spearheaded by the CPI(ML). In the absence of any meaningful land distribution among the rural poor in keeping with land laws, this block has been marked by rampant irregularities of land record, illegal transfer of tribal land in ‘benami' form, and grabbing of ceiling-surplus/Government/forest land by local landlords (patronised by the Congress/BJP/BJD and the corrupt administration and police) through false documents.

Three years back, poor people under the banner of CPI(ML) and AIALA challenged this powerful nexus by capturing nearly 30 acres of ceiling-surplus land illegally occupied by Manmath Rao. The repression that followed - arrest of the activists, attacks by landlords' goons, and even an attempt to isolate the main tribal organiser by invoking the tribal ‘custom' of ‘witch-hunting' - could not succeed in wresting this land away from the poor, which has since been cultivated and harvested by the poor. This struggle inspired several other similar ones in the block.

This is the backdrop in which nearly 700 poor people mobilised to defend the possession of over 20 acres of ceiling-surplus land in Ranibandh mouja on July 9, 2006 . A group of about 25 goons led by the landlord Babuli Sahoo attacked, and tried to uproot the flag hoisted on the land, but were forced to flee in the face of the bold resistance. Later, landlords' goons assaulted the Party office, and Comrade Meghnad Sabar (a popular tribal leader and CPI(ML) candidate for the Koraput Parliamentary seat last elections), and Comrade Sarat Chandra Tripathi sustained head injuries and were hospitalised. Goons then attacked cadres who reached the hospital to attend on the injured comrades. All this happened with the police remaining a silent spectator. The District SP, when contacted on phone, accused the CPI(ML) activists of disturbing the peace by their land struggle. Two hours later, more than 500 people rushed to Bisam Cuttack, with traditional arms, and sensing the angry mood, the landlords and the goons left the town. Police then cracked down on the poor protestors, preventing them from even visiting the injured comrades in hospital.

On the next day, July 10, CPI(ML) gave a call for a protest meeting at Bisam Cuttack, and in response the District Administration assembled a huge contingent of police forces. The 1500 protestors were not allowed to enter the town, and the protest meeting was eventually held in Dhapagoda village, near the town. Meanwhile, police stood by and watched as landlords' goons demolished the CPI(ML) office in the town. The injured comrades were arrested from the hospital itself and jailed, while the police refused to act on the FIR against the landlords' men who perpetrated the attack. CPI(ML) gave a call for a District Bandh on July 17. 3000 people were mobilised all over the District in road blockades, successfully blocking even National Highways.

The assault at Rayagada is part of a larger project of suppressing land struggles and concentrating precious resources including land in the hands of a few landlords and huge corporations, and as we go to press, the attacks continue, and Comrade Yashoda

Mission Bhumi

The Orissa Government has declared that it will implement second generation land reforms – ‘Mission Bhumi', for which the DFID will provide a grant of Rs. 515 crore. Error-free ‘cadastral' maps will be prepared using high-tech survey technology, to prepare digitalised geographical data available on a website free of cost. This, they say, will be the basis for an effective and accountable land policy that ensures equitable land distribution. One wonders if technology can actually provide correct land records without involvement of the people. Can it create political will and break the stranglehold of feudal forces and corporations which decide land distribution in real life, in collusion with the political elites and the Administration?

Emergency Anniversary Observed as Protest Day in UP, Jharkhand and Bihar

The 31st anniversary of the Emergency (June 26) was observed as a day of protest against the assaults on democracy and rights.

The UP unit of CPI(ML) observed a statewide Protest Day on June 26, and thousands of activists courted arrest throughout the state to protest the Mulayam Singh government's anti-democratic and anti-poor policies – non-implementation of NREGA, omission of the poor from the BPL list, state terror in Sonbhadra, Mirzapur and Chandauli, and starvation deaths. Party activists in Sonbhadra, Mirzapur and Chandauli courted arrest in large numbers. Thousands more were arrested in Lakhimpur-Kheri, Sitapur, Ambedkarnagar, Deoria, Gazipur, Allahabad and Lucknow , and a chakka-jam was held at Ballia. The Protest Day was also observed in Varanasi , Mau, Pilibhit, Moradabad and many other districts by holding demonstrations.

A statewide chakka jam was organised in Jharkhand on June 26, to protest the framing of case with attempt to murder charges on Comrade Dipankar Bhattacharya and other comrades. People held massive protests and courted arrest. Road blockades were held at Albert Ekka Chowk and Birsa Chowk in Ranchi , and militant road and rail blockades weer held all over the State. At Rajdhanwar in Giridih, the road blockade was followed by a lathicharge, after which Comrade Rajkumar Yadav was held and, in a vindictive and familiar pattern, was charged with ‘attempted murder'!

All India Protest Day Against Displacement and Assaults on Democracy

July 20 was observed all over the country as a Protest Day against displacement of the poor in the name of development, against state repression and witch-hunts against activists of people's movements. Protestors demanded that the Jharkhand Government immediately withdraw the false murder charges framed against CPI(ML) General Secretary Dipankar Bhattacharya and other activists, for participating in the Assembly March against the firing on tribals protesting displacement at Tapkara. Meanwhile, some news reports in the Jharkhand dailies reported that the Jharkhand Government had shown signs of withdrawing the cases. These indications are yet to be put into action, but they do show that the popular protests are putting pressure on the Munda regime.

At Delhi, CPI(ML) activists observed the protest day by holding a massive dharna at Jantar Mantar, protesting against the increasingly authoritarian and brutal attitude of the ruling political forces, police, and even the Courts, against slumdwellers in Delhi, peasants in UP, and tribals in Orissa, the Narmada Valley, and Jharkhand.

In Jharkhand, the CPI(ML) held a massive People's Convention at Ranchi on the issues of Displacement and Democracy, in which representatives of people's movements and political forces condemned the way in which tribals in the mineral-rich states of Jharkhand, Chhattisgarh, and Orissa are being evicted to make way for loot by national and multi-national corporations. The Convention resolved to intensify the struggle against the repression being unleashed on those who protest against such policies, and demanded withdrawal of the false charges against CPI(ML) activists in Jharkhand, including Comrade Dipankar and Comrade Rajkumar Yadav. It also declared that the Munda Government had no right to turn Jharkhand into a grazing ground for MNCs and corporates, and demanded that all standing MoUs be scrapped immediately. The Convention demanded action against Dipak Varma, now SP of Garhwa, who is implicated in Comrade Mahendra Singh's and advocate Prashant Sahai's murders, and who has recently molested a woman activist and framed false murder charges against CPI(ML) activists. The Convention, presided over by CPI(ML) State Secretary Shubhendu Sen, was addressed by CPI(ML) CC Member and AICCTU's All-India General Secretary Swapan Mukherjee, CPI(M) State Secretary Gyanshankar Majumdar, former MLA and leader of the Jharkhand Movements Coordination Committee Bahadur Oraon, journalist and Jan Sanskriti Manch leader Xavier Kujur. A Convention was also held at Koderma.

In Bihar , CPI(ML) observed the day as a Protest against the Nitish Government's brutal lathicharge on a demonstration of para-teachers, and its disbanding of the Amir Das Commission appointed to probe the political links of the Ranveer Sena, as well as against the false charges imposed on CPI(ML) leaders and activists in Jharkhand. In the capital Patna , a dharna was held at the Income Tax circle. Protest Marches were held at Paliganj, Masaurhi, and Dhanarua in Patna District, and dharnas were held at Bihta, Naubatpur and Maner. More than 2000 people took part in the March at Masaurhi. In Bhojpur, dharnas were held at block headquarters, and mass meetings were held at several spots in the district headquarter Ara. Street-corner meetings were held at Dehri, Karakat, Vikramganj, and Nasiriganj in Rohtas district, Buxar, Dumraon, Dhansoi, and Kaseth in Buxar district, at the block and district headquarters in Jehanabad, Gaya, Nawada, and Nalanda, and at Chanpatiya, Sikta, and Betia in West Champaran and Motihari, Chaudadano, and Ghodasahan in East Champaran. A massive Protest March was held at Bhabua in Kaimur district, and also at Gopalganj, and at Muzaffarpur. At Arwal, a protest march was held and Nitish Kumar's effigy was burnt. At Siwan, thousands of CPI(ML) activists participated in a dharna at the District Collectorate. At Bhagalpur , a mass meeting was held at the Station Circle .

In Tamilnadu, 150 people participated in a demonstration at Erode, and the mass gathering was addressed by the Tamilnadu PUCL General Secretary Balamurugan, Mohan Raj of Omkar Textile Employees Union, Puli Pandian of the Communist Front for Abolition of Caste, Kannan of Tamilnadu Tribals' Association, and V Shankar, CC Member of CPI (ML). At Salem , a demonstration was held, and the protestors submitted a memorandum to the President of India through the Salem District Collector. A demonstration was also held at Karur. Demonstrations were also held at Chennai (where comrades from Tiruvallore and Kanchipuram also joined the protest), Sirkazhi, Kumbakonam, Tirunelveli and Dindigul,

In Bengal, mass meetings were held at Kolkata and Siliguri; a road blockade was held at Curzon Gate in Bardhaman town; at Krishnanagar (Nadia), Chunchura ( Hooghly ), and Barasat (North 24 Parganas), a deputation met the DM and submitted a memorandum.

In Andhra Pradesh, on July 19, activists of AISA and RYA at Osmania University in Hyderabad , collected 270 signatures of intelligentsia and students on a protest letter addressed to the Jharkhand CM, and submitted it on July 20 to the district collector to be sent to Arjun Munda. On July 20, at Vijayawada , a booth was set up near the CPI(ML) office, where a mass signature campaign was conducted and nearly 1000 signatures were collected. On the same day, a dharna was held at the Sub-Collector's office, and a protest letter was sent to the Jharkhand CM through the district collector. At Kakinada , 160 people held a dharna and sent a protest letter. In Cudapa, members of dalit organisations met the collector and submitted a protest letter. In Medak, a delegation of 15 freedom fighters led by Bhaskara Reddy met the collector and gave a protest letter. In Nalgonda, members of ‘Saahiti Mithrulu' met the collector; in Devaruppalapadu of Warangal district, a delegation of women belonging to backward caste organisations met the MRO; and in Siddipeta, representatives of 11 organisations met the officials and gave the protest letters.

The Assam State Committee of the party organised a protest meeting on 20th July at the Guwahati Press Club, addressed by party State Secretary Rubul Sarma, SUCI State Committee leader Vimal Nandi and Janata Dal (S) State Secretary, veteran socialist leader Harendra Deva Goswami, Viren Kalita, General Secretary of the Guwahati Refinery Union, as well as P. K. Barman, General Secretary of the North East Oil Workers' Coordination Committee, and Loknath Goswami.

At Tripura, a protest meeting in Agartala was held under the banner of the People's Solidarity Form, addressed by eminent writers, journalists, as well as a range of political forces, who demanded withdrawal of false charges against CPI(ML) activists in Jharkhand. Speakers included CPI(ML) State Secretary Mrinmoy Chakraborty, CPI State Secretary Prasant Kapali, RSP State Secretary Sudarshan Bhattacharya, Forward Bloc State Secretary Shyamal Roy, and Budhu Debbarma, Vice President of National Socialist Party of Tripura. In Amarpur in South district, Udaipur (district HQ of South Tripura) and at Kailashahar and Dharmanagar in North Tripura , processions and protest meetings were organised. Protests were also held at Jaipur and Jhunjhunu in Rajasthan, Dehradun and Haldwani in Uttaranchal, and Bhiwani in Haryana.

The South Asia Solidarity Forum also submitted the online petition demanding withdrawal of the false charges from against CPI(ML) activists, with over 500 signatures collected from around the world, to the President of India. Comrades of the Lal Nishan Party (Leninist) also sent a protest memorandum.

Chetana March in Mansa, Punjab

A revolutionary ‘Chetna March' led by the Party General Secretary Dipankar Bhattacharya was organised in Mansa of Punjab on 28 June (following the Party's CC Meeting which was held there) by the Punjab unit of CPI(ML). The march passed through several villages in Mansa district which has recently witnessed a sharpening of struggles of the agricultural labourers and poor peasants. The march started from Mansa with the chanting of revolutionary slogans after a veteran communist leader of the region Comrade Kirpal Bir flagged it off. Comrade Dipankar Bhattacharya along with many central committee members and the state leadership of the Punjab unit of the Party stood on open jeeps heading the long caravan and received greetings from comrades and common people of Mansa town. A cultural troupe was accompanying this caravan singing revolutionary songs at the beat of the ‘nagara' from atop a bus decorated with banners and flags. A group of motorcyclists cleared the way for this revolutionary kafila .

The march stopped for a while at the main chowk in Mansa where Comrade Dipankar addressed the masses. Then it left for the historical village ‘Tamkot' which is the birthplace of a great guerrilla commander of the armed peasant uprising of the early 1950s, Comrade Ishar Singh ‘Tamkot'. Then the caravan proceeded to the village Jhabbar, which has recently been a centre of struggle against the feudal atrocities on Comrade Bant Singh. The next stop of the caravan was the village of Late Comrade Hakam Singh Samao , who was one of the pioneering leaders of the Naxalbari movement in Punjab . He led peasant struggles for land in those years and was instrumental in the freeing of one large tract of land from the clutches of an absentee landlord in 1969 in his own village. The State Convener of Punjab Kisan Union, Ruldu Singh, read out a charter of peasants' demands. Finally the march reached Boha, which had also recently witnessed a successful struggle to enforce the Minimum Wages Act as well as for the equal rights for women. Hundreds of agricultural labourers and poor peasants welcomed the caravan and held a rally which was addressed by Dipankar Bhattacharya, along with CPI(ML) Punjab State Secretary Rajwinder Singh Rana, State Secretary of Mazdoor Mukti Morcha Bhagwant Samao, Punjab Kisan Union Convener Ruldu Singh and AIPWA leader Kumudini Pati.

Around twenty thousand people became a part of this day-long march which culminated back at Mansa.

Protest against Murder of AIALA and BPKS Leaders in UP and Bihar

In both UP and Bihar , leaders of agrarian labourers and poor peasantry have been killed by feudal forces. On July 8, Comrade Rambux Singh, Block Secretary of AIALA in Sitapur, (UP), was murdered by local feudal lord Shiv Kumar Singh and his henchmen. The upper caste goons who killed Comrade Rambux - an agrarian labourer of dalit origin who had led several powerful land struggles - belong to Bahujan Samaj Party, which is shamelessly supporting them. His murder was followed by a powerful protest, with his dead body, for two days in Sitapur. State level protests were held all over UP.

On July 3, Comrade Ashok Patel, district convenor of Bihar Pradesh Kisan Sabha, along with Comrade Ajit Patel, another BPKS leader, were murdered by criminals in league with the police in Nalanda. On their way back from a BPKS meeting in Patna , they were abducted, and it was only on 7 July that their bodies (which had been buried) could be recovered. CPI(ML) held a protest march in Patna on 8 July and also a Nalanda Bandh on 10 July.