Having struggled for the last five years for their lands, the mine workers of Khara village still do not know what they are fighting against—a feudal social system, a corrupt forest department or their own fate?
The Khara village in the Jawa block of Rewa district of M.P., is a typical example of how feudal forces, with tacit approval from the local administration, still call the shots in most of rural India.
Three years of drought and a barren, stony terrain makes agriculture a difficult proposition here, except on a few patches of fertile land.
This means that the only means of livelihood for the over 70 tribal households here is working as labourers in stone mines or migrate to neighbouring Shankargarh in U.P. for work, which most of them have done.
The land over which mining takes place belongs to the forest department. The tribals of Khara have been fighting for the last five years to obtain a lease for this land, so that they can pursue mining on their own.
For this, they need the mandate of the Gram Sabha. However, the Sarpanch Ram Gopal Tiwari, a Brahman, has not convened a Gram Sabha for the last five years over a past conflict with the tribals over agricultural land.
“This land was promised to us by the Sarpanch during elections,” says Raj Narain, the up-sarpanch. “Even the then Sub-Divisional Magistrate (SDM) agreed to give us pattas for this land, but he was transferred. When we didn’t get it, we seized it. The district administration started a media campaign and termed us naxalites,” he says.
In 2005, they were evicted by the district administration and police.
“We only had our lathisi while they were all armed with guns. So we had to leave. Now there is nothing to do except work in the mines,” says Narain.
Working in the mines fetches two labourers working together for 15 days around Rs.2500. This is sold off by the contractor for Rs.4500. This, however, makes the tribals criminals under the law as the entire process is an illegal operation.
The contractor who buys from them is from cross-border Uttar Pradesh and does not have the lease rights for the land.
The district administration, however, is not even aware of the issue. N.P. Dahariya, the Additional District Magistrate, Rewa, said “I am not aware of this issue and cannot comment without consent from the collector.”
The collector, when approached by the tribals, said that the matter could be taken up only after clearance from the gram sabha.
However, not even a single gram sabha has been convened in the village for the last five years.
“If we get the lease rights for the mining land, we can earn up to Rs.8-10,000 from our work,” says the up-sarpanch. “We got a proposal map made by the Patwari, but when we went to the sarpanch, he threatened to shoot us,” he says.
When contacted, Rewa range Chief Conservator of Forest V. V. Singh refused to comment. “I know nothing about this issue and I cannot comment,” he said.
“He(Mr. Singh) has instructed the forest officials to beat up and chase anyone who comes asking questions about the mining issue,” says Siyadulari, an activist working in the area.