Dalit intellectual and president of the Kerala Dalit Mahasabha K.K. Kochu has criticised the Communist Party of India (Marxist)’s ongoing agitation for land for the landless which, he says, is aimed at keeping frustrated Dalits in its ranks.

“How can the CPI(M) which tried to sniff out the Chengara land agitation by Dalits using extreme physical violence carry out an agitation in the name of landless Dalits,” Mr. Kochu wondered. “And how can a party which when in power refused to allot 3,500 acres of land at Aralam give the false hope that it will secure ‘excess land’ for landless Dalits?”

Mr. Kochu alleged that the CPI(M) agitation was aimed at checking the exodus of frustrated Dalits from the party. Dalits, he said, made up a large chunk of the CPI(M) but had been let down by the party for a long time. “The land agitation is to save the party, and not Dalits or the landless,” he said. “The party wants to keep the Dalit vote bank in tact and to return to power as it thinks the conflict-ridden Congress and UDF would crumble soon.”

He said the CPI(M), through the agitation, also aimed to win back the support of its middle-class constituency which had lost confidence in the party in the wake of T.P. Chandrasekharan murder and the M.M. Mani episode.

Land reforms

Mr. Kochu said the CPI(M) had wound up its land reform efforts way back in 1970, which it had launched in 1957. The agrarian reforms of the Communist government in the 1950s and 60s had not benefited Dalits as they had only been farm labourers and not owners or lessees of the land they tilled. The reforms benefited only the small farmers and peasants who had rented or leased land from landowners under various agreements such as paattam, vaaram, and kaanam. Those with the caste status of Ezhavas and above as well as Christians were the main beneficiaries of the agrarian reforms.

Dalits missed out because the CPI(M) had not stuck to the slogan ‘land for the tillers.’ What some of them got were 10, 5 or 3 cents for putting up houses which were granted by panchayats and municipalities — and not agricultural lands. Around 26,000 of them got tiny houses in the Laksham Veedu colonies also.

Dalits started launching their own land struggles in the 1990s, without any support from the CPI(M), Mr. Kochu said. The Muthanga and Chengara stirs were the two main Dalit agitations for land. These had not been supported by political parties.

‘Go to other sectors’

“Dalits should fight for a comprehensive law for land allotment for them from out of the land held by government departments and agencies as well as the excess land of large owners and estate holders,” he said. He also wanted Dalits to resist attempts to hold them down to the land. “Dalits should educate themselves and get into industry, business, commerce, and the professions,” he suggested.

But land was very important. “To the Dalits in Kerala, land is not just for land’s sake,” Mr. Kochu said. It was the ‘start-up capital’ for their socio-economic advancements. “Dalits need land not just for farming or putting up a small house, but to improve their economic, social, and educational status as well,” he said.

“Just consider this: if you have a piece of land, you can mortgage it in a bank, get the money for you daughter’s education or to start a small business. In that sense, owning a piece of land is a tool of empowerment. It is a tool of socio-economic uplift for the Dalits, much more than any other community.”

However, the CPI(M) agitation, he warned, was only to exploit the Dalit vote bank, not to empower them.

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