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Polepalli Thirteen- Protest SEZ killings in Jadcherla మే 27, 2008

Posted by M Bharath Bhushan in Appeals, elections, Mahabubnagar, politics, Telangana.
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Polepally: The Special Election Zone

P. Sainath

It’s a simple strategy of protest with no pretensions of winning. The aim of the Polepally protesters: “That we get our land back, our lives back. Our one and only demand.”

 

COMMON APPEAL: “Voting for the Jadcherla 13 means saluting with love our Mother Earth.”

 

There are as many as 13 of them contesting the same Jadcherla Assembly seat as independents. Only, they’re not contesting against, but for, each other. Their symbols range from a Whistle and a Gas Cylinder to Bangles and a bunch of Bananas. Though pitted against one another, they have a common manifesto and even campaign jointly. These dalit, adivasi and BC farmers are the most fascinating candidates in the bypolls now on in Telangana to four Lok Sabha and 17 Assembly seats.

 

All the ‘Jadcherla 13’ have lost their lands to the Polepally Pharma Special Economic Zone and other projects in Mahbubnagar district. And they now contest the polls to draw attention to their loss. Even while a few work as construction labourers on their own land, raising the very SEZ buildings that will seal their destitution.

 

“Over 41 people have died since the land acquisition process began in 2003,” says an angry Muravat Chandi. She’s a Lambada in the Gundlagadda ‘Tanda’ (adivasi colony) here. “That includes three close relatives of mine. Cut off from their land, people are losing their will to live. My family has lost 27 acres to this SEZ. It’s why I’m contesting.”

 

Seated besides Chandi are young Seenu and Lakshman, sons of Balu one of those who died three months ago. “Having lost all our land to the SEZ, we had no place to conduct his last rites,” says Seenu. “So we bought a tiny plot, just a few square feet, for Rs. 5,000. There we cremated him.” This, says a neighbour, “was a man who once owned several acres of land in his life. But not an inch to receive him in death.”

 

The story of the mounting toll first appeared in Eenadu, the State’s giant newspaper. “We confirmed 25 of those deaths” says M.L. Narasimha Reddy, the reporter who broke the story. Officials dismissed these as “due to natural causes.” But the adivasis say their demise was hastened by trauma and demoralisation. After a struggle during which the Lambadas refused to perform the last rites of their dead, the government assigned them six acres. Four for the tanda to live on and two for a burial ground.

 

“They’re killing us — and they kindly give us a graveyard,” says Dharmia, Chandi’s neighbour, with dark humour. “It’s the only place we can go to. No one in this tanda of 80 households has a job outside of farming.”

 

350 families displaced

 

 

Chandi and 12 more from other groups are independents “as both major political parties backed this SEZ.” In 2003, the then Telugu Desam government notified a ‘Green Park’ and began acquiring 969 acres of land. Much of these belonged to the dalits and Lambadas. Including government assigned lands given to them earlier to better their lives. “We were first told there was to be a Leather Park,” says Etti Linagaih (candidate symbol: Gas Cylinder) in Polepally village. “Then came the Green Park idea. And now the SEZ. They take our land first and make their plans later.” In 2005 the new Congress government enforced the plans. In all, the SEZ and other projects have displaced some 350 families.

 

In the eyes of the official machinery, everything was done by the book. The SEZ was legally notified and the land losers paid off. No one was left out. “Sure,” says a chorus of voices. “For the government-assigned land they declared Rs. 18,000 an acre. For patta land held by us, Rs. 32,000 to Rs. 50,000. And we never received the full amount of even such a pittance.” Land rates in the region, adjacent to the national highway, are worth over Rs. 20 lakhs an acre.

 

Officials point to the fact that the land losers accepted the cheques. “Certainly,” says candidate Chandi. ‘Take your cheque now or never. You will go to jail and get nothing.’ These were the sort of things we were told. Our consent never mattered.’ The low rates aside, there was no other compensation. House sites were spoken of but not seen. Some land losers were given work at construction sites. But many are too old to be able to do that kind of labour.

 

Eight of the 13 candidates speak to us in Polepally. It’s a curious sight. Eight contenders seated together agreeing vociferously with every word the others said. Each of them has lost all his or her land. Distress sales of cattle have decimated their few other assets. The family of T. Mogilamma (symbol: Brick) have lost their eight acres. And sold off 16 buffaloes and cows for just Rs. 20,000. “We could no longer feed them, anyway.” Most of the others have done the same. Jangilamma (symbol: Battery Torch) who has lost seven acres, also sold off four head of cattle for just Rs. 1,000.

 

In the Lambada tanda, a once relatively prosperous tribal group faces ruin. “Most of the families here had 50-60 buffaloes,” says Dharmia. “Most have sold half or more at dismal prices.” And says candidate Chandi, “we have borewells on that acquired land. What happens to those?”

 

“Weddings are paralysed,” says Jangilamma back in Polepally. “No one wants to marry into our disaster-hit groups. We have no land, no assets.”

Down to begging

 

 

Meanwhile, the price rise is also taking a toll on a community for whom the bottom has fallen out of the world. Some of the candidates often go hungry, trying to keep their children fed. “From soap to dal, every item is much costlier. To tell you the truth, some of us are down to begging to feed the kids,” says Satyamma (symbol: cupboard). “We are contesting these elections to highlight the injustice done to us,” says Lingaiah.

But why should 13 of them contest the same seat? Wouldn’t it make sense to have just one common candidate?

Lingaiah knows they cannot win. “Our strategy is to lower the votes of the main parties. Each of us will draw the votes of his or her own group. That’s why so many of us. In fact, we wanted to put up 150 candidates for this seat. But most could not raise the Rs. 5,000 security deposit required.”

 

It’s a simple strategy of protest with no pretensions of winning. “It’s more honest,” says Hyderabad-based journalist Uma Maheshwari, “than the middle class as elite parties that spring up claiming to end corruption and transform society.”

The aim of the Polepally anti-SEZ protesters is modest: “That we get our land back, our lives back. Our one and only demand.”

 

As their common leaflet puts it: “Giving us house sites and rice at Rs. 2 a kilo clearly means taking away lands from farmers” and giving them to big industries. There is a poignancy to their manifesto which makes no promises. “Voting for the Polepally farmers means saluting with love our Mother Earth who has been bearing our weight since ages.”

 

Source: The Hindu / Monday, May 26, 2008

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