Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Boratwada village decides to shell-out land for 6 Vansfoda families…..

The tragic conditions in which vansfoda families stay along
Some 6 Vansfoda families have been staying on the outskirts (1 km away on government wasteland)  VSSM has been trying to rehabilitate their livelihood and provide them dignified living.  The families now sell plastic home ware in the villages around Boratwada.  The outskirts of this village has been their home for years and yet the villagers have been refusing to allow them piece of land where they can build a one -room house.
of Boratwada village for many years now, last year when the families were stationed near the village lake the flash flood of July 2015 swept away their shanties and belongings. These families who barely managed to survive had been clinging to their traditional occupation of bamboo basketry.  Distraught with the massive loss they suffered during this natural calamity,

VSSM’s Mohanbhai had facilitated the process of issuance of Ration Cards and Voter ID cards from Boratwada village. Subsequently the families were to apply for allotment of residential plots as well and had been in process of accumulating the required documents. The need for income certificates brought them and Mohanbhai to the Mamlatdar’s office where they were shown a letter signed by 200 villagers opposing allotment of land to these 6 families!!!!

“My heart skipped a beat on hearing what the Mamlatdar had to show whereas the families’ faces turned pale with the looming uncertainties…” narrated a rather distraught Mohanbhai. 

Hard-working and persistent that he is, Mohanbhai decided to meet the Boratwada Panchyat members and try convincing them.

“ You are unnecessarily dragging the matter, we have decided we do not want to give any land to these Vansfoda!!” said a member. 

“Sir, they are just 6 families and they have been here for years. You all have helped them get ration cards, now if you could just support an bit more they would atleast have a decent roof on their head and protection from such natural calamities!!” explained Mohanbhai. 

“Don’t you get it, we said no and no means no!!  SO what if we supported with the ration cards, that doesn’t mean we will give away land to them. You shouldn’t be taking advantage of our goodwill,” was a harsh reply from another member. 

“Where will they go from here, they are so poor and this is the place they call home!”  tried Mohanbhai. 

“That is not our lookout. We allow them in our village and what if they become our  ‘Saheb’ tomorrow?”  argued one of the members. 

“Saheb!!” said Mohanbhai 

“Ofcourse. What if the government declares a reserved seat for this village during the panchayat polls. We will have to vote for them and call them Saheb!!”

“Sir, no such norms apply for these communities and they are just 6 families having 12 voters. Nothing like that can ever happen,” explained Mohanbhai.

“These communities have been pampered a lot by the government. Now if you can stop arguing and leave the office!!”  they said asking Mohanbhai to leave. 

Mohanbhai had no choice but to leave the office. It is heart breaking to experience such baseless and absurd reasoning from village elders who we expect to be wise and compassionate.  As for now, the struggle continues. 

“We stay in a corner of a village so that we do not become hindrance to anyone, we have never interfered in the matters concerning the village and yet the villagers are refusing our permanent settlement  in the village. Where will we go if all of them keep refusing our settling down??” lamented these families

“I was small when my parents brought me here, I have grown up here. The letter the Mamlatdar gave saying 200 people refusing to allow us to settle here! On listening to Mamlatdar I went and met the leaders, told them we aren’t asking land for farming, we just want small piece of it to build 6 houses.  I feel like I have been sacked out of my house.  I just do not want to go anywhere from here, have lived here and will die here!!” is what heartbroken Rameshbhai Vansfoda had to say after experiencing such dejection. 

Its either the rigid mindsets of the society or the utter sluggishness of authorities on acting upon the filed applications there is always some reason that keeps these and thousands of extremely poor nomadic families from raising their fundamental rights to this country…Amongst all such depressing events there is always that hope that keeps us moving and the families hoping for a better tomorrow. 


Families at collector office with their plea
 The apathy of local level bureaucracy is pathetic when it comes to implementation of policies that have been framed or reformed to benefit the nomadic communities. The trailing instances are excerpts from what happens at the grassroots as the team and communities strive to attain some basic human rights…….

We are here not to serve and support but to object and reject…. 

“How can you get residential plot, you are already settled?”

 “Sir, we stay in hutments and the land on which our huts stand is government’s not ours.”

“Yes, but the government is required to allot plots to only those nomadic families who continue to lead itinerant lives, if you have been living at one place means you have settled down so how can we give you land??”

Temporary residence places of nomadic community
“Sir, that land on which our huts stand is not on our names, it is government’s, we don’t own a house! What if we are asked to vacate the land on which we are staying, we will have to vacate the land, we will have to unsettle ourselves and you are saying we lead a settled life!!”
“That is none of my concern, we cannot allot you land based on this directive.”

“But Sir!!”

“Now do not argue any further, just leave we have many other things to attend.”

A regulation Dated 06/06/2003 No. JMN-392003.454 Para 3(A) by the State Revenue Department States permits allotment of land for the purpose of building a house 
to Nomadic and Semi-nomadic communities leading wandering lives but now wish to settle down. Since the nomadic communities haven’t been aware of the existence of any such directive they have never requested benefits under this regulation. VSSM spread a word on this directive in the settlements it works encouraging the families to file applications under this regulation. And ever since we have initiated this process the applicants are countered in the manner reflected in the above dialogue.  

A similar incident also occurred during a meeting chaired by Mehsana Collector. One of the officials mentioned to have rejected a similar application requesting for land.  And it was not just him there were quite a few to join the chorus including an Additional Collector and other senior officials, all agreeing to the fact that these families cannot be allotted any land.   The members of the nomadic communities present in the meeting were shattered witnessing such an approach. VSSM’s Tohid was quick to argue, “Sir what if we get a bulldozer and erase their huts and shanties, they will be homeless and vagrant again will that suffice??”  How does one make such senior official understand the difference between a nomad and settled human being?  

Each official interprets the rules, directives, modifications to the original rule etc. in a different manner, but there is one understanding that remains common amongst most of these officials and that is to collectively work towards denying the entitlements. They make sure to try their level best towards reject any application bringing forward one or the other objection.  There have been instances when the Collector, Additional Collector, Mamlatdar or Taluka Development officer all trying to escape from their duty to allot the land and sign the papers, what they choose to do instead is to forward the application to the next officer!! How can we escape the situation and pass on an application to make it someone else’s worry is what they are always looking for!!

The Dafer families of Vijapur are awaiting the allotment of plots allocated to them since past 8 years. The Mamlatdar is a very supportive and compassionate individual but still awaits permission from the villagers to allow allotment of land to Dafer.  While he also keeps saying that the land in ours (government’s) we will give it to anyone whom we deem fit!!  We fail to understand such contradictory approach of officials.  

In 2015 the Prant Officer asked us to submit applications for plots to the nomadic families living in Diyodar. The applications had to be attached with a caste certificate so few families went to the office of the Mamlatdar for the same.  “Saheb, we live in hutments near Bora road and we want to file applications for residential plots and hence require caste certificate,” answered one of the community men when asked by the Mamlatdar what brought them the office. During the talk the Mamlatdar asked who was giving them land, “We are asking the land under the government’s regulation for communities like ours.”  They were asked them to come over the next day. So by next day the Mamlatdar must have briefed himself on what the regulation was because when the community members came over he said, “the regulation is for those who haven’t settled as yet, you have Voter ID cards, Ration card all bearing the address of your Bora road hutments, so you aren’t eligible to benefit from that scheme and hence there is no need for caste certificate, you may leave!!!”  

Each application for residential plot has to be accompanied by VoterID card, Ration card, Adhar Card, an affidavit stating that the applicant does not have own even a tiniest piece of land in whole of India, a document from Panchayat, official documents of the land requested and much more. So how is someone who is constantly wandering with his bag and baggage supposed to acquire and no application is entertained in absence of a single document!! 

Our efforts, the continuous struggle and advocacy can influence change in policies and regulations but they cannot influence change in the mindsets of officials and authorities, how can we bring about that kind of change??  “Ben, even the hardcore Dafer amongst us have given up robbery and adopted honest means to earn living, we have began to understand what is good for us and look at these officials they just do not want to do their duty of serving and helping the poor like us!!” says Umarbhai Dafer who has been struggling to acquire land since last 8 years.  Education and authority should be used to serve others and the government officials are in that position just to serve the poor and needy while what they are doing right now is exactly the opposite of it…..

The relentless resentment to permit residency to nomads…..

Article (19) (1) (e) of the Constitution of India guarantees the Fundamental Right in the nature of fundamental freedom, or right to freedom to reside and settle in any part of the territory of India, of course the right to settle does not allow to trespass into homes or restricted areas and the state also may restrict this freedom to protect the aboriginal tribes. Barring these clauses, a citizen of India therefore ideally should not encounter any challenges to reside in a city, town or village he/she wishes. But when it comes to the nomadic and denotified tribes the hurdles of permanently settling in a village or town of their choice seldom cease to exist. The awareness on the challenges these communities endure on everyday basis should have changed the mindsets of the villagers who persistently oppose the presence of these communities in their villages.  Inspite of all our efforts  we have yet to experience this complete change in the mindsets and approach towards the nomadic communities. And the relentless resentment to allow the nomadic communities to permanently settle down in their requested villages is proving to be a traumatic experience for the petitioner families as well as the team of VSSM.