Flashpoint Chengara: March Against Blockade Tomorrow

AN APPEAL from the PANCHAMI DALIT FEMINIST COLLECTIVE, Kottayam, to join the march on August 14th, against sexual harassment and human rights violations at the site of the struggle for land at Chengara, Pathanamthitta, Kerala.

[Below is an urgent appeal from Chengara, Kerala, where a land struggle has been on for the past one year. There seems to be a general elite consensus about refusing citizenship to the 7500 landless families that have occupied government land there; more ominously, there seems to be also the determination to punish them. Since early August a road blockade has been going on led by the united front of trade unions defending the right of (eighty) workers in the occupied Chengara plantation. Apparently, there are also ‘criminal elements’- the trade unions and the police, poor things, know nothing of them – who have been violently stopping activists from reaching the settlement.The CPM intellectuals in Kerala are patiently waiting for ‘more and accurate’ information, as they were when some of us approached them proposing a protest around Nandigram last year. Reports of starvation, sickness,and sexual assault are reaching us from Chengara but there is no way we can get there.Now, what is this? A new form of illegal custody? A new form of sexual harassment in custody? On 14 August, dalit activists and organisations are planning a march to Chengara, and hopefully food and medical supplies can be taken there. Please circulate this appeal widely – we have to stop another Nandigram– JD]

A historic land struggle has been unfolding at Chengara in Pathanamthitta district, Kerala, involving about 7500 families, which includes all sections of landless people, the majority of them being Dalits and Adivasis. Landless people have claimed land in the Chengara estate, a rubber plantation, which had been leased to the Harrison Malayalam Plantation by the government of Kerala. At present, the lease is invalid and the property has lapsed back to the government. The landless people who have flocked there from all parts of Kerala demand that this government land be redistributed to them. These marginalised people have thereby demanded a say in what must be done with government land in Kerala: given the present political and economic climate, the likelihood is that this land will be taken over by the state only to be assigned unconditionally, or with minimum conditions, to the multi-nationals. The struggle is now over a year old; it began on 3 August 2007, and was led by Laaha Gopalan, a leader of the Dalit organization, the Sadhujana Vimochana Samyuktha Vedi.

Throughout the past one year, the struggle has been conducted in a peaceful way. Also, its political gravity has been widely recognized, both in the national and international pro-democracy, pro-equity circles. This was probably why the Kerala High Court ordered the government, in March 2008, not to evict the people forcibly from Chengara . The Left Democratic Front government in Kerala, however, has failed to address the issues raised by the struggle in any serious way. Indeed, it has continued to espouse the position that no land remains in Kerala that may be redistributed. This, however, is a position that has been contested since long.

The present scene, however, appears more ominous. Tensions had started building earlier this month. On the first anniversary of the land struggle, which was observed on 4 August 2008, workers of the Harrison Malayalam Plantation began a road blockade that cut off food and medical supplies to people inside the plantation. In the subsequent days, unlawful detention of and violence upon male and female activists by goons have become frequent. Men going out of the plantation seeking work have been increasingly attacked and beaten up. Women have been threatened with sexual violence in overt and covert ways. Human rights’ activists were violently prevented from entering the area by goondas pretending as workers, in the full view of police and government officials. This incident was widely reported in the press in Kerala, and revealed the complicity of state authorities with the vested interests seeking to break the back of the land struggle through unlawful means. Starvation and illness has been reported from inside the plantation but activists have been forcibly prevented from entering. Indian Vision, a Malayalam TV Channel, reported the abduction and sexual harassment of four women activists. However, no one from outside has been allowed in to investigate. Following the reports, a protest was organized at Pathanamthitta, on 11 August by dalit activists, dalit feminists and other human rights activists, but not a single activist was allowed to proceed. The media, too, is eerily silent. The day after the protest, two women who went out for provisions were attacked, who were rescued from abduction by the police. Importantly, this attempt to abduct happened in the full view of the police. What this reveals is the determination of the goondas to make the point that police presence does not deter them.

The relative absence of outright violence, until now, is no consolation. The recent goonda tactics are according to a blueprint of violence now familiar in Kerala — of the sand mafia, which creates an atmosphere or terror instead of outright violence and brings the local community to its knees. Clearly a variant of the same is being experimented with in Chengara.

We are afraid that another kind of Nandigram is awaiting us at Chengara, and in the near future. This appeal comes from those who have been engaged in anti-caste and anti-patriarchal struggles in Kerala, which have grown outside formal institutions of the state. We feel that these two axes of exclusion and violence have conjoined at Chengara, both in the blockade and in the intermittent violence there. We demand that democratic forces in Kerala rise to the occasion to challenge this denial of democracy. We demand, first of all, that the illegal road blockade at Chengara be lifted at once, and that the trade unions take necessary steps to isolate the criminal perpetrators of violence against the struggling people of Chengara. We demand that neutral teams of observers be immediately allowed into the estate to take stock of the situation, and investigate the extent of violence. We condemn the use of sexual harassment – and the threat of it – against women as a political weapon at Chengara and urge the government to take strong steps against this. We appeal to the democratic and socialist supporters of the mainstream left in Kerala to remember the histories of valiant struggles for workers’ and peasants’ rights. We appeal to all democratic people in this country and the world to join us in this struggle to live and flourish.

— Issued by Rekha Raj, for the Panchami Dalit Feminist Collective, Kottayam, Kerala

3 thoughts on “Flashpoint Chengara: March Against Blockade Tomorrow”

  1. The articles are completely baseless and to me it seems some work of imagination of people sitting in far flung places who are being influenced by disinformation emanating from here which is purposeful and eludes reality.Let me clarify some points
    1 Chengara in not govt land nor the govt has claim on any area of the estate
    2 this is a purely private property Of Harrisons malayalam limited and has been in existence for last 100 years.This was partly a tea estate and later became a rubber property.
    3 Generations of workers and their families have worked in this estate and this is the only income of these families
    4 Most of the workers (90%) are not in posession of land but are dependent on the estate for livelihood.
    5 This forceful intrusion into a private property is the first and foremost violation of fundamental right of life and property as enshrined in the constitution.
    6 This has not effected the govt in any way but has only resulted in loss of occupation and employment to these employees for the last one year.
    7 There is not an inch of excess land in Chengara as clearly spelt out in the Laluk landboard proceedings of the government.
    8 There is no Govt lease on the property and this is a property with proper title and deed.
    9 Private party leases if any have no significance after the introduction of land reforms act in kerala and these earstwhile zamindars dispossed of their land are one of the forces behing the agitation .
    10 This is being lead by a so called leader who retired from govt service few years ago as a 4th grade employee and today he owns acres of land ,vehicles.This is his development.
    11 To some extend people are attracted by false claims of distribution of land and they come here and once they are inside cannot leave the place.Their Ration cards are taken away,voter card too and they are left to the mercy of the goons of this brigand Lahai Gopalan.
    12 The law of the land does not prevail in this area.Ganja cultivation,illicit liquor and all immmoral activities are taking place in this area under the guise of this agitation.2 unnatural deaths of women has taken place in this area which people claim to be as a result of molestation etc but this has been hushed up.All records af theft,ganja seizures are avaailable at local police station.
    13 Ramphant slaughter and theft of rubber is taking place.There is a well established cartel for selling of this illegal produce.Share from every sale goes to his highness Lahai gopalan.
    14 There are other forces behind the agitation who are financing this operation for last one year.Just imagine 2500 people being fed for last 1 year.There is a well organised land mafia which has managed to put forth some small religious luminaries to give sanctity to this operation.
    15 Most of the people are not aware of the true face of this agitation.
    16 This agitation has taken a different turn as the workers,their dependents and the whole community which was awaiting some sort of govt intervention and judicial solution became restless as no initiatives seem to be comming.
    17 The turning point was the miscalculation by the so called leader when he ordered furthur encroachment into another 100 hectartes of the estate which was thawted by the workers.Already 150 workers and their families are badly effected due to this agitation.
    18 Trade unions understand that this is a challenge to the very survival of an organised industry which has been the source of livelihood of millions in kerala and they cannot be mute spectators to this .
    There is not an iota of untruth in what has been written.This is the true face of Chengara.I only wrote this to make people aware that such a wide campaign of disinformation is being spread by vested interests.I appeal to the so called human right activists to understand the real face of this agitation and not to jump into this without understanding of the real ground situations.
    The deprived workers and marginalised sections effected by this agitation are also human beings whose plight has not been captured by the intellligensia.
    This is not right for land but purely a land grab agitation and trasgression into an industrial undertaking which will not go on for ever.People have started to realise the true face of this agitation and it is just a matter of time that so called intelligensia will realise how some few people can get togeather,connive and weave a story ,publish it and built upon it a revolutionary tinge and a movement which is purely a militant operation which cannot sustain .People of kerala do read the news,internet but are not ones to be completely bought by these adventurisms.

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