Whose Land is it Anyway ?

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…”

Ayush Prasad - Archives:

by Ayush Prasad
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Comment on this article

  • Rajesh-kumar, Udupi

    Fri, May 28 2010

    Very true to every word. compact listing of happenings, the facts and emotions of every farmer in India who stands to face the fate (?) in the face of Industrialization. Can`t Industires and Agriculture grow side by side? Does ithave to be that fertile land is earmarked for Industrial corridors? India has ample land along side the fertile agricultural (inhbited and runningfarms) lands that could benefit the land owner and industries as well. But no the Posco has to take over Fertile farm lands, Tata has to build on vast rice fields.

    Isn`t it exactly supposed to happen when Ram Kapoor from Bombay / Delhi decides on the land of Bola Ram or Bolanna in remote karnataka for a MNC setting up a plant hiring chinese labour? As always an Axe could not cut down the forrest without the help of that 1-2 feet wooden handle as does our noble politician who sells his near and dear ones so that his children can study ina western university and he/she have all the pleasures life can give because of course SOME ARE MORE EQUAL even in communism and comrederie.

    Days are not far when machines and industrial plants will grow rice and grains because my brother says it is not worth ploughing the field this year as his health does not permit and all he gets is rice to feed mouths and for fish and spices he needs to borrow... The politician is behind Ram Kapoor planning Business park on his paddy and grain fields... what can Bola Ram give the noble politician except his dear life? any ears ??

  • Langoolacharya, Belman/USA

    Sat, May 22 2010

    Nancy, Belman,

    I fully agree with you, you said what I wanted to say, thank you.

  • Janet D'souza, Mangalore/Abu Dhabi

    Fri, May 21 2010

    Bingo! You have hit the Bull's Eye Ayush!!
    Our farmland is quagmire d in the name of industrial development. Something, seriously needs to be done, somewhere! Can anyone pass on this article to our P.M., President please? Help! Somebody... anybody...pleeeaaase.

  • adshenoy, mangloor

    Fri, May 21 2010

    Superb piece Ayush that reflects today India reality. In the name of development, the poor bread winners pay the price in a nation that supposed to uphold Mahatmas dream- Agricultural sustainability.
    Mahatma Gandhi would have cried once again has he did when India was devided into Pakistan and India.
    Naxals in a way are perhaps following Gandhian principles except they have resorted to violence and bloodshed, perhaps they know that non-violence will not work in today. Naxal movement will be a success only when the naxals become a political party, giving up violence and massing the people for a movement that will defeat the current scenario in India- making wealthy wealthier by steaing the poor farmers and the like.
    Many in India want India to be Shangai but at what cost?
    We are a nation of 80% of people live on farms and agriculture. That is being killed everyday with the so called development.
    Corporate agriculture and mega malls are taking place- is this transformation or just exploitation through capitalism.
    The western educated leading the nation with western thoughts but look at the west now they are perahps bankruptand looking to India and china for their economic and social survival.
    Can the Western edcated prime Minister of India Man Mohan Singh and others realise that the current policies just make india another sweatshop like China and perhaps bankrupt one day just like America and western nations.

    can wesave india from Ram Kapoors or all be Bhola Rams?

  • Ronald, Mangalore

    Fri, May 21 2010

    Very well written Ayush. Keep it up. Surviving in Counties like India for poor people has become very difficult. Everywhere there is cheating. Big fish survives by eating small fish.Corrupt politics in India.

  • Muneer, Mlore/Bahrain

    Fri, May 21 2010

    very well written article, hats off..

  • Eulalia D'Souza, Bijai / Mangalore

    Fri, May 21 2010

    Well written Ayush. Very true in todays' world. Porr " Father of Nation " gets carried away from hands to hands and events happen, like what you have written. I really appreciate the way you have expressed it & wish we could be of some help to few Bhola Rams in society. Keep up the good work of exposing reality in the form of story telling..!!!

  • Wolly James, Mangalore/Germany

    Fri, May 21 2010

    Wonderful and pin-pointed article written by you. I would have prefered that you also lead the way to fight against these Ram Kapoors and the greedy ministers. There are thousands and millions of people like me who would join this movement. We are only missing a few dedicated leaders.


  • Ethan, Florida/ Mangalore

    Fri, May 21 2010

    Disputed quotations of Sir Winston Churchill
    "Power will go to the hands of rascals, rogues and freebooters. All Indian leaders will be of low calibre and men of straw. They will have sweet tongues and silly hearts. They will fight amongst themselves for power and India will be lost in political squabbles"
    Don't you see the truth in that even though the qoute itself was polictically incorrect !!!

  • Nancy, Belman

    Thu, May 20 2010

    I had tears in my eyes after reading this.

    The person like Bhola Ram only knows the pain, when the land of farmers grabbed by others.

    As for me, since childhood playing, working in farms, playing with neighbours while cows grazing in the farmland was a nice and beautiful lifetime experience to cheris with. But if some one coming and asking for the piece of land also it will creat distubance in my life. People never bother when it is dry and baron land but once it is developed all are coming for the share... So much greedy people...after having a lot still asking from others....Here I am not only refreing the Government but also family memebrs. Once they tell We dont want anything from this land. But after few years they come saying "our ancestoral property and we also need our share in this property"

    The person only knows how difficult it to digest when he has put in all the swetting in that land to protect and suddenly others are coming for its share.

    May be the goverment, Big enterprnuers or our own family members does not know the suffering, hard work of a Farmer. But after all The Creator-God is there to look after everything.

  • Reena Rosario, Mangalore/Bangalore

    Thu, May 20 2010

    Hats off Ayush for bringing out the reality in this Article..Appreciate your sense of writing..Straight to the point without much explanation needed. Hope to bring about a change...All the best.

  • Patrick R Braggs, Bejai,Mangalore

    Thu, May 20 2010

    A poignant tale,but very true in today's circumstances.Come june we shall see more Ram Kapoors in our state and more Bhola Rams loosing their land.Rs 300,00,000 will come into our state coffers.Half will disappear in the ministers pockets.Development will go on the same speed as our roads today.But why should i care as long as i am not affected.Well written Mr. Ayush Prasad.Want many more.....

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