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No changes in Champaran

Nothing has changed in Mahatma Gandhi's karmabhoomi, Champaran, where he spearheaded a peasants' movement against the British indigo planters in 1917, reports Anirban Guha Roy.

india Updated: Nov 17, 2006 03:11 IST

Nothing has changed in Mahatma Gandhi's karmabhoomi, Champaran, where he spearheaded a peasants' movement against the British indigo planters in 1917, for the past 90 years. The tillers continue to scrape for livelihoods, denied land rights and are forced to work as bonded labourers. Only the masters have changed. The local landlords have replaced the colonial masters.

In a report on his visit to Dhanauti, a village in the Bagaha sub-division of West Champaran district, Land Reforms Commission chairperson D Bandopadhyay, recommended that vast swathes of land and estates in "benami" possession should immediately be taken over by the government and settled in the name of the tillers.

The fertile district, part of Bihar's rice bowl, is located on the Indo-Nepal border. Bandopadhyaya, in his note to the government, said despite the sharecropping system (land given to peasants for tilling on a contract) in force, complaints about the misuse of the system are negligible. Only five cases of dispute have been registered so far. An investigation reveals that the sharecroppers are resigned to their fate. " It appears that the sharecroppers have reconciled themselves to the harsh, coercive and iniquitous system because they have no alternative. The situation is similar to the one Mahatma fought against in 1917 when the ryots resented the 'tin kathia' system, but had to submit to force." 

The Commission, tasked with toning up land reforms in Bihar, found that "three to four thousand acres of land were held in benami possession by influential people in the area. Despite the abolition of zamindari system long ago, these families continued to wield control over land by virtue of their political and social clout."

Bandopadhyaya classified the peasants' grievances at Dhanauti into two categories -non-regulsarisation of occupation of gair mazarua (government land) and shikast (ceiling) land and the non-possession of land despite having parchas (land titles). The commission pointed out that the peasants had been allotted the same plot at different points of time by ministers, perhaps because of fraudulent deals by revenue officials. "We received 700 such complaints in just two hours". The "same fear and the sense of powerlessness" pervaded Dhanauti, when the British indigo planters stamped their writ in blood.

Email guharoy_anirban@rediffmail.com