Friday, November 20, 2015

Ex-Gujarat farmer uses RTI to seek his land back decades after family migrated to Rajasthan fearing reprisal

By Pankti Jog*
Abdulla Akelbhai has crossed 70. Yet, he decided to travel all the way from a village called Faikaron Ka Nihaan, from the border areas of Barmer district of Rajasthan to our Saturday legal clinic in Ahmedabad. The Mahiti Adhikar Guajrat Pahel (MAGP) had just returned from its campaign, with Right to Information (RTI) On Wheels, in the area from where Abdulla hails.
“I had gone to Jaipur the day your van visited our area”, Abdulla said. “I got your RTI pamphlet that you had left on the tea stalls and dhabas, which were useful. I came to know that I can track my forefathers’ land in Gujarat using RTI.Thus, I have come here”.
On returning from the border areas of Rajasthan, we were somewhat familiar with a dialect of Sindh area. Miyana, Vagher and Sandhi communities of Gujarat, and people in the boarder villages of Barmer, Bikaner, and Jaisalmer, speak this language. It is also spoken in the entire Sindh area, which now lies in Pakistan.
Abdulla told me, “My grandfather Abdulla Maulena used to live in a Mankol village of Sanand State. I got my name after him. Ruler Prabhatsinh Vaghela, known as Darbar, gave him 52 bighas of land for tilling (tenancy). He used to cultivate wheat, which was famous in this area.” He didn’t know the exact year, but said it was certainly about years ago. Maybe 1915..."
He recalled: “My grandfather and Prabhatsinh Vaghela were more like a friend, There were not many Muslim families in my village. Once villagers asked the ruler why he had given this fertile land to a Muslim family. Prabhatisinh was very angry. He pointed his gun towards the villagers. This land-related issue was sought to be turned into a sort of Hindu-Muslim conflict in the aftermath of Partition.”
“It was against this backdrop that my grandfather decided to shift to the border area Rajasthan, a Sindh area”, Abdulla went on. “With time, our families spread out to several villages. A few of them went to Pakistan, while others remained in Rajasthan. Till 1995, the borders were not wire-fenced, and people did not realize the difference of being in two countries. Times have changed. Now we can’t meet our brothers.” Abdulla was in tears.
The 1946 receipt on the basis of which Abdulla is seeking information
“Did you ever try to locate your land after migrating to Rajasthan?” I asked Abdulla. His reply was: “My grandfather died in 1955. In 1954, we remember visiting Gujarat to meet our ruler Prabhatsinh and his son. They welcomed us, and asked us to stay and continue tilling the land. But by then, we had heard very scary stories of relationship between Hindus and Muslims in Sanand State, and were were scared to return.”
“How come you thought of tracking your land now, after almost 60 years?” I questioned. Abdulla replied, “After settling down in Rajasthan, which is a dry area, my grandfather always missed his lovely wheat fields and the area with ample of water. He use to tell us stories. It was his wish that we should once again cultivate that land. I did not inquire about it because we were apprehensive.”
“But now I am old, and my sons, too, have settled down in their life. Hence, I decided to find my own way, return to farm. When I heard of RTI, the first thing came to my mind was to locate documents of my land”, he asserted.
Abdulla has studied up to 4th standard, but has very good understanding about laws and policies. He already has read our small booklet on RTI, and I was surprise to find that he knew exactly which documents he should seek from the government. He had receipts of the rent paid to the then Inamdar – Ambalal Sarabhai – for tilling this land, which was to become the basis of his RTI query.
“In the year 1946, my grandfather paid 8 rupiya and 12 ana towards ‘vighoti’ (rent for tilling). He told us that he paid in silver coins”, Abdulla quipped.
Abdulla’s RTI application was drafted for seeking copies of the documents of the land from 1915 till 1947. Land records of pre-Independent time are in the archives, and can be sought under RTI. It is also possible to know the current status of the land, by getting access to documents VII and XVI from the block revenue officer.
“What you will do, after knowing the status, your land must have been transferred to many people by now”, I queried. He replied, “After independence, during the first survey, the powerful person from the village put his name as the owner, and today his family is cultivating it. But If I get access to documents, I will be able to tell your government that ‘this land belongs to us’.”
He regretted, “I could not come here for tall these years to get my land due to to family responsibilities.” But now he realises that “forgetting your farmland is like forgetting your mother.” Ha adds, “It’s my duty to come back to my land. I will give those documents to the heir of Prabhatsinh – Tikubapu.”
Abdulla may have planned to put up a case against the new owner, but does not have the time to fight a long battle the court. But he is sure that RTI will help him fulfill his grandfather’s dream, of locating the land, and proving their ownership… He has begun the process of locating 100-year-old document of his farm through RTI.
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*Senior activist, Mahiti Adhikar Gujarat Pahel, Ahmedabad

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