An Empirical Study

Alienation of Tribals

Partha Sen

The history of migration of Santhals to the Dinajpur district of North Bengal began in the 18th century. After the famine of 1776 the then Dewan of Dinajpur Raja (king) brought the Santhals from Bihar and western districts of Bengal. According to Gait, the Census Superintendent during 1901 "about fifty years ago it occurred to the Manager of a government Estate that the waste land might be reclaimed if Santhals were imported and settled there. The experiment was made and proved such a success that the influx continued ever since". As per the Census report of 1991, the number of Santhal population in the present North Dinajpur district of West Bengal  is 102044. Although the Santhals were employed to reclaim the waste land they were not given the ownership right over the land by the jotedars. Moreover, along with normal rent, the jotedars used to extract numerous taxes from the Santhal peasants. After the passing of the Bengal Tenancy Act, 1985, the Santhals of this district began clamouring for their right over land which they used to cultivate over decades.

At the beginning of 20th century the Santhal peasants of this district began to take part in the peasant movement. In the month of June-July 1932, the Santhals of Akchta under Gangarampur Police Station (PS) stopped payment of rent; chowkidari tax etc. under the leadership of Kashiswar Chakraborty. Bhaju Tudu led them to take part in the Tebhaga Movement in the North Dinajpur district.

The West Bengal Land Reforms Act, 1955 was passed by the then Congress government. But it was only after the advent of the left front government that the land reform measures were practically implemented. Recovery and distribution of vested land and Barga recording began during 1970's. In this district a large number of bargadars and patta holders happened to be Santhals. Total number of Santhal bargadars in West Dinajpur district was 28672 and number of Santhal patta holders was 466735.

However, all these records are only on paper and the actual picture is altogether different. Santhal people are being deprived of their barga, patta and Ryati land. Taking advantages of their poverty and illiteracy small tea planters and a section of influential non-tribal people are regularly evicting Santhals from their land. Even employees of BLRO and SDLRO office being motivated by financial gain and bribe were actively helping the land grabbers.

In the year 1989-90 the new Chamta Tea Estate forcefully occupied 40 acre of Santhal land in Dohasa Mouza (J.L No. 24) under Ramganj II Panchayat. The Tea planters with the help of local criminals uprooted about sixty tribal families from the 40-acre plot. The Refugee Rehabilitation Department had earlier distributed the said land to those Santhal families. In spite of the written complaint to Raiganj II Gram Panchayat Pradhan, the police and the local administration did nothing to recover the said land from the new Chamta Tea Estate.

Benami transfer of Santhal land is the common practice in this district as it is the case in the Chotanagpur region of Jharkhand. Jiropani Mouza under Chopra PS is a glaring example of how the tribal lands have been illegally transferred to non-tribal planters. In this Mouza 27.62 acre of vested land which was under the possession of Santhals had been purchased through benami sale deeds by one tea planter named Dhananjoy Chowdhury. Sri Cbowdhuri purchased the said land in the names of Shyam Mahato and Bipin Mahato of Islampur Thana Colony. But there are no such names in the electoral list of thana colony. The story of tribal land grabbing by the tea planters does not, however, end here.

In the Bhojpuranigachh Mouza under Chopra PS one small tea planter named Gopal Pramanik purchased 30-40 acres of tribal land in the name of one Aliam Kisku. Kachchugachh Mouza under Islampur PS is another example of how the jotedar Nazharul with the connivance of BLRO office evicted the Santhals. In the year 1964-65 local jotedar Nazharul Haque allowed 27 tribals named Sahu Kisku, Soru Mandi, Khera Kisku etc—to cultivate his waste land. Those people with their hard labour made the land arable. In the year 1974-75 the said jotedar attempted to evict them. But due to the intervention of the local administration the tribals were saved for the time being. But in the year 1990-91, with the help of local criminals the tea planter evicted those tribals from the land.

Kiru Kora, Ramu Kora, Kakansu Kora, Asram Kora, Lalu Kora and Hazari Kora—all inhabitants of Dehochi village under Hemtabad Block, were cultivating 4.22 acres of land since long. But the BLRO office of Hemtabad did not record their names during the time of RS Operation. Kiru Kora and others evicted cultivators sought the help of Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribe Welfare Department for re-correction of record without any success.

Here is another case of benami transfer of Santhal land to one non-tribal. Matla Murmu and Amma Murmu, sons of Pal Murmu, are inhabitants of Mirual village under Raiganj PS. Pal Murmu had 2.25 acres of land (Mouza Mirual, Khatian No 56, CS Plot no. 46, JL No 174). Pal Murmu had mortgaged this land to Bhupal Das of Chaditala for a few hundred rupees. Bhupal Das then transferred the said land in the name of Budhu Mandi of Mirual village. Now Matla Murmu applied to Tribal Welfare Department reclaiming the land. During the time of inquiry it was found by the Tribal Welfare Department that Sankar Das, son of Bhupal Das, actually sold that land to the Border Security Force. There is no end of such illegal transfer of tribal land to non-tribals. Pradip Besra of Gopepur village was in possession of 0.70 acre of land for a long time. Karandighi BLRO office recorded this land in the name of Madhu Pashwan. So Pradip Besra is now a landless peasant.

Pathar Mardi of Bhalaigaon village under Raiganj PS mortgaged 1.42 acres of land to Arjun Upadhya (JL No. 55, Khatian No. 83, Dag No. 419). Pathar Mardi could not realize that land in time from Arjun Upadhya who transferred that land to Sandul Murmu of Kastor village by kabla deed. Pathar Mardi complained to the Tribal Welfare Department alleging that he neither sold nor mortgaged his land to Sandul Murmu and claimed the restoration of the land.

Saru Murmu resides in Bellia Village under Karandighi Block. In the year 1988 he mortgaged 0.75 acre of land to Rebea Khatoon and Abdul RazzaK for Rs 1200. Seven years later, Saru Murmu filed a petition to the Tribal Welfare Department for restoration of the said land. Being asked by the Tribal Welfare Department Rebea Khatoon of Bilaspur village produced Kabla deed of 1974 (no. 284/74) as proof of her purchase of land from Saru Murmu. Rebea Khatoon also produced one permission letter (No. 105/XVI11/1974) of West Dinajpur Tribal Welfare Department for purchasing the land from Saru Murmu. Saru Murmu had mortgaged his land in 1988 but Rebea Khatoon produced document that showed that she purchased the land in the year 1974 by a kabla deed.

Cases of illegal eviction of Santhal bargadars (share-croppers) are equally agonising. Dimal Hasda of Mukundapur village under Raiganj PS was a recorded bargadar over 1.97 acres of land (Mouza Mukundappur, JL No 45, Dag No 183, 184, 185, 391/421). The land owners were Atul Dutta, Goutam Datta. The owners with the help of Raiganj BLRO Office evicted Dimal Hasda.

Now a sense of alienation is developing among the Santhals of this district. Other than Tribal Welfare Department no political party is found eager or willing to address the problem of land alienation of Santals. Even the restoration orders passed by the Tribal Welfare Department remain unheeded by the police administration for years. It is quite natural for these alienated Santals to join the on-going separatist movement led by the Kamrapuris.

Vol. 48, No. 6, Aug 16 - 22, 2015