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Odisha tribal, Dalit rally asks gram sabhas to takeover community land, demands housing

By Our Representative
Hundreds of landless and homestead-less people from different gram panchayats, including Kharadi, Ampolba, Sukinda, Dudhjori, Lembo, Sansailo, Haripur, Hathibari and Kuchika, coming under of Sukinda tehsil, staged a protest rally and dharna on March 11 before the tehsil office of Jajpur district demanding land rights. The protest rally began at the Sukinda Cricket Stadium giving the slogan “Patta Nai to Vote Nai”.
Geetanjalii Mohanta, president, Odisha Manavika Adhikar Manch (OMAM), speaking on the occasion, said that landlessness among local tribals, Dalits and other people, was the main reason for their suffering. She added, people were being deprived of Indira Awas, caste certificate and other basic benefits under different anti-poverty programmes and schemes.
“While the government is handing over hundreds acres of land to private companies, local people living for generations in villages are being deprived of small patches of homestead land patta”, she asserted.
Narendra Mohanty of the Odisha Bhoomi Adhikar Andolan and Insaf, recalling the Kalingnagar “homicide” by the police and the Nagada episode of Jajpur district, alerted the community to be more conscious about false promises being made by different political parties in the upcoming general and assembly elections, and not to fall in the trap of money and liquor, being offered by them.
He said, people should keep high the prestige and dignity of common man while casting their votes. He called upon the people to be more organised in future and to continue their struggle for land rights.
Manohar Chauhan of the Campaign for Survival and Dignity(CSD) said, “After the Forest Rights Act (FRA), 2006, was enacted, all gram sabhas (village councils) have become “gram sabha sarkars” and are the real owners of common property resources, and hence the community should understand what power FRA has given to them.
He said, “No community land (forest or revenue) belongs to the Odisha government or the Central government; it belongs to the people of gram sabhas, who are settled in villages, who have named these villages and have been conserving resources for generations.” He added, “Let gram sabhas do public settlement of land, recognize land rights of the landless and take resolutions, asking tehsilads and collectors to obey the law.”
Chauhan emphasized that if gram sabha is sarkar and has the right to govern forest land under FRA, it is equally empowered to decide on revenue land. He called upon protesters to stop saying that community land is “sarkari jamin”, insisting, gram sabhas should take over all community and forest land, using FRA. He demanded scrapping of the February 13 “anti-tribal and anti-forest dweller” order of the Supreme Court.
Pramodini Pradhan, convener, Odisha People’s Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL), addressing the protest rally, said, “It’s a matter of shame that we say we have a democratic socialist state but reality is that even after 72 years of Independence, common people are still struggling for a piece of land and to have a house of their own.”
She wondered, “When the BJD government in the state is asserting rights before the Central government, giving the slogan ‘Hak Mange Odisha’, and when the BJP government at the Centre is asking for ‘Jawab Manguchhi Odisha’, whom should the common citizens address their demands when their basic rights are denied?”
Organised by a local organization, Gaa Ru Andolan Abhijan, those who addressed the rally included its president Susanta Mallik, and senior activists Sushanta Mallik, Lambodar Mohanta, Munnu Bhai, Biswanath Patra, Jagabandhu Dez , Susanta Mahanta and Pintu Mallik.
Following the rally, over 1,000 claim forms for homestead land were submitted in the tehsil office and acknowledgment receipts were collected. The organisers have decided to have gram sabha meetings in the coming days to make communities aware of land and forest rights recognized under FRA.

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