I, too, have a dream
Actually, I am from among those faceless masses who are not supposed to have dreams. I also have a name. But it is not important. It can not give me a face. By whatever name you call me, I just remain a forest dwelling, tribal landless labour, inarticulate, uneducated, and underfed. We just have votes, and those who want them do come to us to throw us some crumbs. But I, too, have a dream – a dream when I am just left alone – to cultivate the land of my forefathers, to drink water from the same springs, to roam the same jungles. May be the readers will be surprised to read that my dreams do not include SUVs, penthouse, and a top end cell phone. And may be it’s because I am more interested in my own happiness than my neighbors’ envy.
So, to cut a long story short, I have a dream. And this tiny piece of land that gives me a coarse staple once a year has a very important place in it. Its totally rain cultivated, on a hill slope, and full of stones and boulders – but its MINE – it has been in the family for generations together. And for me and my brethren, it’s as important as my mother. But just owning that tiny piece looked like a pipedream just a couple of years ago. Today, I can dream openly about it, and say that soon I will have my name as owner of that land. This here is a story of how we brought this issue from the realm of impossibility to that of achievability.
The story starts when the gora sahibs were ruling India. They had a very clear idea, that the forests in India are a source of timber and such other commercial product, They felt no need to consider any ownership rights of the natives, least of all the aborigines. So, sitting in Delhi, they came out with a list of all forest lands all over the country – and grabbed the land without offering any compensation. Our forefathers had always lived off jungle – by farming tiny plots, by foraging and by hunting small animals not as trophies but as necessary part of food. All these activities were banned to us. They were exclusively reserved for the gora sahibs either as commerce or as pleasure. Our illiterate forefathers just could not think of a means to fight the menace, and learned to live with it. We remained busy trying to grow coarse food from tough, unrelenting land, and then saving the crop from forest guards, and then moving in and out of lock ups because in the law books, it was a crime to till the ‘forest’ land. We were poor to start with, but this actually made us destitute.
The situation remained same, or may be got worse, when the brown sahibs replaced gora sahibs.
Somewhere in 2006, we started hearing about a new law called ‘Forest Rights Act’, and how it’s the magic wand which will make us rich, once and for all. My father had taught me to treat all talk about government schemes like the ghost fables the village elders like to recite to us on rainy nights. They make good entertainment, and may even excite us for some time, but to believe them was asking for trouble.
Some time after this, an urban volunteer started visiting my village and those around us. Some of us had met him earlier as a primary teacher. But now, he said, he wanted to help us achieve better life. Initially we had doubts, but soon a bunch of youngsters took to him, and started listening to his ideas. With help from some urban friends, he had started a voluntary organization called ‘Vayam’. We soon started hearing from him about those government schemes, and also how to get actual benefit from them. We also heard about the Right to Information Act, which can tell us about what was written in government files!
And then, we thought, can we actually get our lands under the FRA, with some help from Vayam?
(Next part )