Surendra Singh with his wife and three daughters amid the debris of their house that was demolished by the administration in the tribal-dominated Karahal tehsil of Sheopur district on the Madhya Pradesh-Rajasthan border in December-end.(HT Photo)
Surendra Singh with his wife and three daughters amid the debris of their house that was demolished by the administration in the tribal-dominated Karahal tehsil of Sheopur district on the Madhya Pradesh-Rajasthan border in December-end.(HT Photo)

More than 500 Sikhs face eviction from scheduled tribal block in MP

Post-1984, tribal land in Madhya Pradesh became home but now more than they are persona non-grata, staring at an uncertain future
By Ranjan | Hindustan Times, Chandigarh
UPDATED ON JAN 09, 2020 04:51 PM IST

SHEOPUR The Madhya Pradesh government’s drive against mafia and encroachments has an unusual casualty – the Sikhs in the tribal-dominated Karahal tehsil of Sheopur district, about 400 km north of Bhopal on the Rajasthan-MP border, who have been declared as illegal occupants of land in the notified scheduled tribe block.

About a fortnight ago, farm houses of 11 Sikhs were demolished and standing crop levelled on the ground that they bought tribal land on the basis of forged papers and have encroached on forest and other government land, too. The Sikhs denied the charge even as the Akal Takht termed the government action as harassment of the community within the country.

About 100 Sikhs families came here in the past more than two decades and are in possession of hundreds of acres of agriculture land.

Among them, is Kehar Singh, 73, who came to Saharia tribals dominated Karahal in Sheopur district, from Sirsa in Haryana, more than 600 km away, in 1996. He built a farm house over a piece of land measuring more than 25,000 sq feet in course of time in the midst of about 50 acre agriculture land near Gothra village.

Kehar Singh and the other 10 families had their world turned upside down when a team of district administration assisted with a heavy police force bulldozed their farm houses and levelled their agriculture field with tractors in the last week of December last year. The families estimate the loss to be several crores of rupees.

Kehar Singh’s son, Gurmeet Singh, alleged, “The SDM and tehsildar dubbed us as rioters and militants (ugrawadi) and said to us ‘Tum logon ko 84 me bhaga diya tha, tum log fir wapas aa gaye?’”

According to Gurmeet Singh, eight to 10 Sikh families in Karahal left for their native places in Punjab and Haryana when the 1984 anti-Sikh riots took place after the assassination of then prime minister Indira Gandhi. However, they returned a decade later with more Sikh families, who brought land which was far cheaper than land prices in Haryana and Punjab.

Kehar Singh’s family members in front of the the debris of what was once their home in Karahal. (HT Photo)
Kehar Singh’s family members in front of the the debris of what was once their home in Karahal. (HT Photo)

‘NO NOTICES SERVED BEFORE HOUSES RAZED’

Kulwant Singh, a community leader there, said there are a large number of Sikhs in Sheopur and neighbouring Shivpuri, both districts in Gwalior-Chambal region. The Sikh population in Sheopur was 6,387 and 7,151 in Shivpuri districts as per the 2011 Census, which grew further in the past decade.

There are more than 500 Sikhs from 100-odd families in the Karahal area.

“No notices were served. The administration team led by SDM Rupesh Upadhya and tehsildar PN Parmar destroyed the properties as if we were hardcore criminals. They didn’t give any time to us to even remove our belongings,” said Kehar Singh.

Surendra Singh, residing in Karahal area, said, “My wife, three daughters and I were left under the open sky to face chilly winds the whole night, while the administration team didn’t show any mercy to even my daughters who pleaded before them to stop the demolition.”

Rajbahadur Singh, another resident, asked, “What is the difference between Nankana Sahib in Pakistan and Karahal here if the administration or government is targeting us?”

Members of the Sikh community at a gurdwara in Karahal tehsil of Madhya Pradesh. (HT Photo)
Members of the Sikh community at a gurdwara in Karahal tehsil of Madhya Pradesh. (HT Photo)

LEASE PAPERS FAKE, SAYS DC

Sheopur district collector, Pratibha Pal, said, “Karahal tehsil is a notified scheduled tribe area. They (Sikhs) don’t have any legal document to prove their right over the land in their possession. We adopted a legal procedure to take action against encroachment beginning with those who had encroached upon vast areas of land.”

The collector said, “Of 2.3 lakh hectares, about 30% is in their (Sikhs’) possession. The land includes tribals, revenue and also forest land.”

On the allegation that only Sikhs were targeted during the drive, she said, “Action was taken against 23 people belonging to several castes. More than 326 acres of government land was freed from encroachers. As many as 34 SC/ST persons were restored possession of their land. In 12 villages, more than 657 acres was identified which was occupied with the help of fake lease papers.”

LAND AND CONFLICT

Explaining the reason for coming here, a member of the gurdwara committee at Karahal, Guljar Singh, said, “As land holding of an individual reduced due to division among brothers, we sold our land in Punjab and Haryana and came here as the price of land was very less about two decades ago.”

Surendra Singh, whose house was demolished, showed a document from the local revenue office to say the land was in his name. Another Sikh resident showed a registry of land sale from a non-tribal Brahmin. Other Sikh members also showed land records to claim that they owned land.

An administrative officer, who didn’t want to be quoted, said, “According to Madhya Pradesh Land Revenue Code (MPLRC)’s section 165 (6), an aboriginal tribal’s land in the area can’t be transferred to any non-tribal. Even transfer of land among non-tribals in the scheduled area is not allowed without permission of the collector. No outsider is allowed to buy land and therefore, Sikhs staying here is illegal. This is to ensure protection of tribals’ culture and eco-system.”

On the property ownership documents showed by Sikh families, principal secretary, Madhya Pradesh government Manish Rastogi said, “They are illegal occupants of land.”

The makeshift tent put up by Kehar Singh after his house was demolished. (HT Photo)
The makeshift tent put up by Kehar Singh after his house was demolished. (HT Photo)

‘SIKHS WORKED HARD TO MAKE

BARREN LAND CULTIVABLE’

While the Sikhs bought private land, a Karahal based businessman, Harendra Singh Rajawat, admitted that some families also took over surrounding revenue, forest and tribal land.

“In this, both (Sikhs and tribals) benefited,” he said, claiming that Sikhs gave tribals annual rent of Rs 5,000 to Rs 6,000 per acre and also employed them in their farms for daily wages of about Rs 150 per day if they work in the field as labourers.

According to him, the problem started about a decade ago when the barren land became cultivable because of “hard work” of Sikhs. “The land where only maize and barley used to grow started producing wheat, paddy and mustard. It is then that certain local elements provoked the tribals to try getting back their land which is as good as gold now,” he said.

Karahal sarpanch Nandkishore, who himself is a Saharia tribal, agreed with him to an extent. “The Sikhs say they taught us farming and raised our living standard. But the fact is they made fortunes while cultivating our land and we continued to be poor,” he said.

He backed the agitation led by tribal leader Mukesh Malhotra, who was arrested along with three Sikh members last week for breaching peace. Malhotra’s protest was against Sikhs ‘occupying’ tribal land in the region. Police said Malhotra was arrested for raising slogans such as ‘Sardar bhagao Karahal bachao (Shoo away sardars, save Karahal)’.

However, Kulwant Singh, a block Congress president, refuted the claims of the conflict between Sikhs and tribals. “There is no rivalry. The action was purely administrative,” he said.

POLITICAL ANGLE

Though chief minister Kamal Nath stopped the anti-encroachment drive here and at least four revenue department personnel, including the SDM, were removed, the politics over ‘Sikh victimisation’ has snowballed.

Several Sikh leaders, including Delhi Sikh Gurdwara Management Committee (DSGMC) members, visited the area. Committee head Manjinder Singh Sirsa, who is a BJP MLA in the Delhi assembly, accused the Congress government of trying to throw Sikhs out of the state.

As per the gurdwara committee at Karahal, delegations of the Shiromani Gurdwara Prabandhak Committee (SGPC), Amritsar, Shiromani Akali Dal and some deras have visited the area and blamed the government for “persecution” of Sikhs.

“Actually, Sikhs are not safe in Pakistan as well as India. If we talk about India, they are facing eviction in Shillong, the capital of Meghalaya, besides Madhya Pradesh. Similar circumstances are there for Sikhs in Pakistan, where they are receiving death threats. In such a situation, we have no hope of justice from any government,” Akal Takht’s acting jathedar Giani Harpreet Singh said on Monday.

State BJP vice-president Vijesh Lunawat said, “Atrocities on Sikhs in the Congress government are not unusual. It was expected.”

Narendra Saluja said, “Our government is committed to ensuring justice for all, including Sikhs.”

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