In May, Raju of Parasan village in Kalpi had weighed his options and decided that taking tablets of celphose, a pesticide, would be the easiest way out of his miserable existence. Life had been harsh on this landless young man and his family. After a drought robbed him of his livelihood as an agricultural labourer, he earned a few hundred rupees last season digging ponds under the National Rural Employment Guarantee scheme. His wife and two daughters, one five and the other two years old, were living on baked potatoes. Nothing on the horizon evoked any hope.
But his worldview changed dramatically on June 19.
Overnight, Raju became a landlord. The Mayawati government gave this scheduled caste person, among others, a hectare of land in the village. None of his ancestors that Raju could trace owned even “an inch of land”. Now, the man who contemplated suicide a few months ago proudly calls himself a kashtkaar (farmer) and has selected black gram as the best crop to sow in “his field”. The patta (title deed) of the land given to him has changed him into a compulsive dreamer.
<b1>The dreams of some 212 erstwhile landless people of Kalpi have turned out in a similar manner. They have been given a total of 191 hectares of land in the village that was made into a gram-sabha after a chakbandi (consolidation). As many as 145 of the beneficiaries belong to scheduled castes and 64 belong to other backward castes. The district administration claims it as the biggest redistribution of agricultural land in Uttar Pradesh.
Rigzin Samphel, Magistrate of Jalaun district, says, “It was one the toughest tasks we have accomplished. We did not stop at allotment only. Within a week of allotment, we deployed the Provincial Armed Constabulary, the police and over two dozen tehsil officials to give possession of the plots to the beneficiaries.” Such security was needed because the government land had been encroached by some upper-caste people of the village who were not letting go.
Sub-divisional magistrate Gyanendra Singh says, “We are going further: not all the plots of land are good — some are uneven or barren. We have decided to suggest means to use a particular piece of land. We will also give options to plant cash crops and provide saplings free of cost.”
According to Mayawati’s announcement, in 2007-08, the pattas of “a total of 10,078 hectares of agricultural land were allotted to 51,419 poorest of the poor of scheduled castes and tribes, while a year before only 19,500 persons had been given pattas.” The target for the coming year has been doubled.
What does all this mean to the poor of the state? “Empowerment,” says Samphel.
To Raju, it means a life and more. He says, “I am sure that the land would end my poverty. I just might become a little affluent if I do things well… I would start sending my daughter to school (she would be the first in the family to do so). I would cut the trees and stumps on my land and raise money. With a part of it I would buy a quintal of black gram seeds, and with another part I would rent a tractor.” In other words, it’s the stuff dreams are made of.