Stories of upper caste oppression and land grabbing are quite a common phenomenon in Chambal region of Madhya Pradesh.
But the upper caste communities now have some tough competition, for several Sikhs and Jats from Punjab and Haryana have captured large acres of agricultural land of the Saharia tribals in Sheopur district in Chambal, about 450 kilometres away from the capital.
These Sikh and Jat farmers have been residing in Sheopur for more than two decades now and have acquired the plots of several Saharia families over the years.
Locals say these all-powerful Sikhs and Jats lure the tribals with money and acquire the land through lease but never surrender the plots.
Karahal block, which is 80 kilometres away from Sheopur district, is dotted with these massive illegal constructions and farm houses of Sikhs.
Almost every village of the Saharias is teeming with several stories of land atrocity.
Despite possessing all the essential documents of their land, the Saharias are not allowed to enter their own land.
The district administration’s data claims that there is not a single case of land atrocity pending in the district.
But the ground reality is stark and clearly contradicts the claims of the district administration.
According to the administration, only 21 cases of land atrocity were registered last year and all of them have been resolved.
When this HT correspondent met some of the Saharia families in Panwada village of Karahal block, the Saharia families said the Sikhs had been holding their land for more than two decades.
“Ten years ago, Harpal Singh from Punjab bought a piece of land adjacent to mine. A few months ago, he captured my land and started farming on it too. I objected and asked him to leave my land, but he threatened me and asked me not to return. He said he would physically assault me if I did otherwise. I went to the tehsildar office to get my land back but no action has been taken so far,” said Pappu Adivasi (40), a resident of Panwada village.
Another Saharia, Prahalad Adivasi, gave his land on lease to Kuldeep Singh for a year but later Singh allegedly refused to return his land.
“Kuldeep Singh paid `20,000 for taking the land on lease for a year. After a year, I asked him to vacant my land but he refused. When I went to the tehsildar office to lodge a complaint against him, he already had some papers which stated that I had sold my land to him. The paper also contained my thumb impression on it,” he said.
However, some of the Sikhs who have been farming in Karahal block for more than 15 years have a different story to tell.
Forty-year-old Sukhchain Jat, who is a farmer and a businessman in Karahal, said: “The allegations leveled by the Saharias are false and baseless. They sell their land and later allege that we have acquired their land. I came from Punjab to Sheopur 20 years ago and my main source of income is agriculture. These Saharias are frauds, they sold the forestland to us.”
Keshav Singh, who came to Sheopur from Punjab 15 years ago, said purchasing land here was a profitable deal at that time as it was cheap when compared to Punjab and Haryana.
Former district collector GB Patil, who ran an extensive campaign to help the Saharias get their plots back, said: “Sikhs and Jats in the district are less in numbers but they have captured the maximum number of plots of Saharias in the district. As the Saharias are less educated and innocent, luring them and capturing their land is easy. Also, they don’t have the resources for performing agricultural activities.”
Activist Jay Singh Jadhon said cases of land atrocity had spiraled out of control in past few years.
Tehsildar of Karahal block Bharat Kumar claimed action had been taken in many cases of forcible land acquisition in the region.
He said there had been 131 cases of land atrocity in Karahal block in 2012-13 and 129 cases in 2013-14.
Sheopur district collector Dhananjay Singh Bhadoria was unable to provide any relevant information and said he was not aware about the issue.