May 21, 2010
It was Independence Day, 15th of August. Bhola Ram a farmer owning five hectares of ancestral land in Murg in the center of India was looking up at the sky. The sky was blue, with a few clouds here and there. He looked around on his field, dry and bare, prepared to be sown. Monsoon was due for over a month, but not a drop had fallen yet. He is thin and fragile. He and his family are amongst the poorest in the country. The land was his only possession and he had not seen the world beyond the nearest town. He was illiterate. After the visit to his land he attended the Independence Day celebrations at the Panchayth. He did not understand the celebrations, but he had been a part of it since his birth and not much had changed since then, neither in his life nor in the celebrations. Murg was a forgotten part of India where people lived unaware of the idea behind India.
At around the same time, Ram Kapoor woke up in his centrally air-conditioned luxury apartment in South Mumbai. Since it was a holiday for him, he could put up his feet and relax. He switched on his large LCD Television and began to surf the channels. Having nothing else to see, he finally watched the Prime Minister’s address to the nation, yawing at every new proposal. He wished there was an IPL match on. Mr. Kapoor had an MBA Degree from Harvard and worked for one of the leading business houses of the country. He was a mid-level manager, in his mid thirties and was expecting a promotion. He took home one of the highest salary packages in the country and he even considered starting his own business, but was unable to find the right idea.
Here are two Rams of India who would soon be fighting over their mother land- INDIA.
The village Murg was located in a state with acute poverty and few industries. The State Government was desperate to change the situation and usher in a life of prosperity in the mineral rich state. The elected representatives and the Bureaucrats went on trips and organized “Investors Meet” in different Cities of India and the world. They signed MOU with Ram Kapoor’s company to establish an Iron Ore Mining and Steel Plant in the state. Ram Kapoor got his promotion and was made the head of this project.
Ram collected data from satellite images and other surveys. He soon had a database of the ore available, the investment required and finally something which made the greatest impact on going ahead with the project- Profits. Monsoons had come and Bhola Ram was busy admiring the crop growing on his farm, when three jeeps approached on the dusty village road. They got off and began seeing his farm. They clicked some pictures. They took out some maps and laid it on the bonnet and began pointing in different directions making sense of it. Bhola was suspicious and scared; he quietly hit behind a tree and watched.
A few kilometers away were Reserved Forest. Bhola and other villagers were harassed by Forest Guards when they tried to take firewood to cook food. They had no gas connection, hence it was impossible to cook food without wood. Collecting wood were adventure folklores in the village. Ram Kapoor wanted to mine Iron Ore from the Reserved Forest cutting down several acres of forest and set up the Steel Plant in Murg village. Environment Minister’s permission was required.
The Minister gave patient hearing to the Environmental Activist, but Ram Kapoor’s boss, the entrepreneur wouldn’t take no for an answer, so he offered paper with numbers and Gandhi’s Photograph to the Minister in goodwill. Who could refuse the portrait of the father of nation in bulk? Ironical that Gandhi ji practiced and preached honesty. The deal was done; the company would cut down forests in three phases and auction the wood, giving a share to the Government. It would also provide the Government with funds to buy seeds to replace the trees, some of them being fifty years old and over hundred feet in height. The Government would acquire land and provide the company in 3 months. The press loved it, with pictures being clicked and champagne being popped. It would create over 3000 jobs after all.
Bhola Ram spent his days being blissfully unaware and happy that his crops would grow in three months and he was expecting a bumper harvests. The talk in the village was centered on guessing the identity of the people who had come with maps. Some felt they were tourists while others thought they were census officials.
Ram Kapoor mean while designed the IPO for the steel plant. Mutual Funds had shown great interest and there was a positive vibe in the Market. At ten rupees a share, it was expected to sell thick and fast. By the time IPO Closed, Ram Kapoor was a hero, with the offering being over-subscribed. With the bonus, he took his family to a holiday to Iceland.
Murg, a once forgotten village was in the limelight. The District Magistrate reached the village one evening and addressed the villagers. He said, “You would all be happy to know that your Village has been chosen to be the site Steel Plant being set up by a large company. According to Survey, lands of the people belonging to the entire village would be acquired by the Government in the coming days. You will be given compensation at the market price of your land. You are lucky that this plant would be coming up here, as it will create over 3000 jobs and bring prosperity to the entire district.” The villagers did not understand what was happening, when some clapped after the District Magistrate had finished, the entire village joined in. There was no electricity in the village, so in the darkness, the DM flashed the red-light of his car and left the village, reporting back to the Government that the villagers are extremely happy at the proposal.
After the outsiders had left, the village head-master began explaining to the 237 villagers who had gathered about the land which was being acquired. A sense of disbelief prevailed. Nobody asked the villagers if they want to sell their land, they were told that they would have to sell their land at the price decided by the buyier. Bhola Ram couldn’t sleep that night, next morning he went to his farm to see the standing crop and his land. Within a few days, it wouldn’t belong to him anymore. He thought of his days as a child, when his grandfather took him to the farm and when his father had taught him the art of farming. He thought what he could do, apart from farming. After a long thought, he realized-Nothing.
As the news of bulk cash came, so did many people like Insurance Agents and Bankers. Each one of them were ready to take away the money which was yet to come. People who owed money to moneylenders had to deal with the pressure of Goonda constantly monitoring their lives. Many people had always owned the land, hence there was no purchase papers, except that of Survey and there was a need for identification that he is the farmer of the land. Bhola Ram faced this problem and had to pay a high sum of INR 250 to get the certificate issued. There was a brewing discontentment but not much could be done. Discussions continued, night and day. Bhola Ram couldn’t even find time to visit his farm. The villagers decided that they want compensation and the equal amount of farm land elsewhere.
The District Magistrate was surprised on receiving the request. He wrote back, that they can get only land or money. They would get land in different places but not together. Bhola wondered, how he would set up his life again in another village without any money or what will he do with only the money.
One of the opposition parties organized a procession, taking the entire village in buses and providing them with food. Bhola was given a T-Shirt with pictures of the party symbol and leaders behind it. They were joined by a much larger group of party supporters. They shouted slogans in front of the District Magistrate office. The party activists who had joined the protesting villagers, pelted stones at the office. Lathi Charge was ordered to disperse the crowd. Bhola was hit on his back; he fell and then was arrested by the Police. The party activists got bail and were released. Bhola and fifty other villagers were locked in Jail for two days, before the women mortgaged some jewellary or sold cattle or available food to pay the bond amount for bail.
The portrait of Gandhi with numbers around it, in bulk again did the trick when the entrepreneur gave them to the Opposition party. The support suddenly disappeared and the media was looking at the bigger good of the industrialization and jobs. Bhola and his plight went unheard. The Political Representative did not give any support, while the Member of Parliament, a Minister in Union Government was in Delhi. The villagers were desperate, hungry and bruised. The Government set a camp to give the compensation. The village was did not have irrigated lands, hence compensation was abysmally low. This amount wouldn’t suffice to set up a shop or buy enough land elsewhere. There were others who provided services to the villagers, like the tea vendor, who would get nothing, but would have to find new place to set shop. The person giving the compensation took a commission from each villager, reducing the amount further. There was no one to hear their voice. Frustration was all around without a way to take it out.
Ram Kapoor returned and was happy to know that the land has been acquired and things were proceeding smoothly. The Government was happy as it basked in the praise of the media for the developmental activities. Life seemed happy and easy. Next morning, Bhola was prevented from visiting his farm as there were barracks preventing him from reaching his crops almost ready for harvest. This led to a duel with the Police and Bhola was beaten. He went back home and expressed his anguish to Sita Rani, his wife.
That night, Kripal Ganesh, a young man wearing ‘Military Uniform’ and carrying a gun visited Bhola at his house. He spoke about a revolution and how the Government had made people suffer, forcibly taking away land and giving it to the rich. His words matched with Bhola’s feelings. Bhola made no promises to join the revolution but next morning, the Police came and arrested Bhola for being a Naxal Sympathizer. They accused him of terrorism; he was tortured and then left to go. Bhola was even angrier at the state.
Ram Kapoor wanted the construction to begin hence the villagers had to vacate immediately. Ram Kapoor had a sense of shock when he discovered that a rival company had bought large numbers of shares for the venture. He rushed back to Mumbai and filed a complaint about the hostile take-over bid. He held large press conferences and spoke about the unethical move by the rival company. If democracy was a level playing field, even Bhola could complain about the hostile takeover of his land. While all sympathized with Ram Kapoor, no one bothered to hear Bhola Ram.
The Police came in large numbers to evict the villagers from their own village. The villagers blocked the entrance to the village and pelted stones. Rubber bullets were fired followed by the real bullets. Some villagers died. They sent a call for help to the Government and the people. Only the Naxalites responded. Hundreds of revolutionaries wearing chapels and carrying country weapons came to the village and began the battle against the state. This hit headlines, as several police personnel were killed. Amongst them was Ram Prasad, a Police Constable and the sole breadwinner of his family. His father was once a farmer, but due to desertification of the region, he had to take up other professions. His life almost mirrored the people who had killed him. Both came from Poor families and both were Indians engaged in a battle for India.
Looking at the challenges, Ram Kapoor announced that he would go slowly on the Land Acquisition. Within a few hours, a waiter in a restaurant and a taxi driver approached him as he left his office. They showed him the share documents in the ventures and said, “Sir, I have worked for over twenty five years for fifteen hours every day to earn and save this money. I have invested it all in this company. I have a daughter to marry and I need the money to increase in value. Please don’t stop the venture.” Ram immediately went back inside and flipped thru the details of investors in IPO. There were many small investors. He felt a great sense of responsibility and determination. He called the Chief Minister that something had to be done.
Additional troops were called in who used their might, burning down the village, killing several Naxalites and Villagers. Bhola Ram lost a child and was separated from his wife in the cross fire. They were forced to flee, while he fled with the Naxalites into the Jungle, Sita Rani went towards the city. She was able to take a part of the money and reached Mumbai. She now works as a domestic help at Ram Kapoor’s house in Mumbai and owns a small hut made of plastic sheets in a slum. Life is miserable and rife with fear of the Municipality, as it may get proactive any moment and displace her again. Since she cannot speak Marathi, she faces threat and intimidation from political parties thriving on the issue.
Bhola Ram became a Naxalite. He was a part of a team, who fought the Police, went into villages and threatened them to get food and money. He soon had a sense of betrayal, by the pain and anguish he caused the villagers. He constantly asked himself how he was fighting the people’s battle by harassing the very people he was fighting for. After a year of this, he left the revolution. This caused suspicion amongst the comrades that he would inform the Police and hence they began to hunt for him. The police knew that he was a Naxal and hence were also looking for him.
Bhola returned to his village to find a Steel Plant and it had an urban look and people in uniforms. He sneaked inside and recognized his land which was now a parking space for the trucks, by a tree which still remained. He sat under the tree in reminiscence of his farming days, when he used to have lunch under it and then took a nap too. The sound of birds chirping used to fill the air, now there was dust all around and sound of machines. He had tears in his eyes, he felt a sense of belonging and fell asleep, under the tree.
A truck bearing a name of the Large Company which had taken over his land drove over him, killing Bhola on the spot. Ram Kapoor later issued a statement in the media, “It was an accident though we take all precautions. He was trespassing over OUR land…”
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