Caste discrimination and Dalit Rights over natural resources is one of the most complicated issues that the country is today faced with. As such this is not a new question; however the current format is a relatively newer one. There are specific reasons and compulsion for raising this question at this juncture of history as the betrayal of the betrayed continues for centuries unknown till today. Raising this issue would unfold the conspiracy of the upper caste rulers of this country to which they may be obliged to answer.
This traditional order was not merely an ideological construct but an economic and political structure too. It articulated and encapsulated an entire system of production that existed over centuries with only minor alterations within its confines. The economical and political realities of inequalities were justified, defied and glorified through religious pronouncements based on the purity - pollution divide. Traditionally, ritualistic compulsion and coercive oppression ensured their compliance in providing virtually free labour for the upper caste land owners. The fact that they had been denied right over land or territory only compounded the matter by making them completely dependent upon the owners and controllers of the means of production and livelihood.
The subsequent consequences had been drastic. All forms of resources, (both productive and natural) including land, water, forests and other sources went out of the hands. The belief system that evolved over the course of time told the indigenous people time and again that they were not supposed to owe any property, lest lay claims over it. They were reduced as slaves and labouring class on their own land. Land and forest turned to be alien to the Dalits. Yet the cultural history speaks volumes about their closed relationship with nature and natural resources and its mutuality with human beings. There are traces of Buddha’s Sanghas in several forestlands which was mostly inhabited by lower caste people. Many untouchable communities had been living in forest areas and forest fringes for hundreds of years as weavers, bamboo weavers/workers, yet they haven’t been recognized as the original inhabitants in most of the cases.
Today land, forests and other natural resources are not free from public debates. However with caste become the key constituent and the centre of power it also developed as a social system in resource control and management. The very character of control and management shifted from a community oriented “sangha” to production, accumulation, surplus and so on. As relation of property in the means of production drifts, the nature of relations among people in the process also alters.
The fact that Dalits have been denied any permanent right over any land or territory has only compounded that matter by making them completely dependent upon the owners and controllers of the means of production and livelihood. It is an undeniable fact that Dalits have suffered displacement from land through the ages. The land occupied by them has always been seized at the flimsiest excuse, forcibly or through economic strangling. The right to hold land - even homestead land - of these groups, has always been tenuous at best.
The continuous process of expropriation of resources, particularly land, from these sections takes on a new dimension today. The pasture and fallow lands were developed by the labour of particularly the Dalit toilers in the hope that they would at last acquire a piece of land to call their own. However, once the land is developed and made cultivable, however, they are forced off it through various measures, covert and overt, legal and illegal, economic and extra-economic. Debts and mortgages, denial of other vital resources like water and agricultural implements and inputs, social boycotts, upper caste violence, rapes, mutilations and killings throw them off the land. Their labour invested in the development of land is expropriated, at best at a pittance.
It is under this context that Dalit Mukti Morcha has taken up the responsibility to organise a convention at the national level to debate the question of Caste Discrimination and Dalit Rights over Natural Resources.
2.1. To provide a space for Dalit communities, organisations, movements and NGOs from different states to come together on the common issues.
2.2. To evolve a common understand and agenda on the question of Dalits Rights over Natural Resources.
2.3. To identify the different issues and its linkage at the grassroots level in terms of Caste Discrimination and it’s connection with Natural Resources
2.4. To think of different modalities of resistance against usurpation of Land, Forests, Water and Other Natural Resources.
2.5. To build a common strategy and tactics at the national as well as state level.
2.6. A common agenda will emerge out of this process as a part of the future action plan, which could be taken up at various levels in future.
2.7. To find ways to strengthen, intensify and consolidate Dalit struggle in the context of Natural Resources.
2.8. To follow up with the various aspects that comes up during the convention.
III. Some Questions to be explored through this process
3.1 What are the immediate threats and challenges Dalits and other marginalized communities are confronted with?
3.2 How does the entire fatigue of Caste Discrimination align with the question of natural resources?
3.3 What are the new forms and incarnations of casteism in the context of Rights over Natural Resource?
3.4 How far does it influence Dalit women?
3.5 What are the models of resistance at local level? How could we learn from it? Can these local models be used to deal with the larger question of Dalits at the state and national levels?
3.6 What could be a possible strategy to go ahead at the local, state and national level struggles after the Convention?
3.7 What are the roles to be played by the national, state and grassroots organisations?
3.8 Over the period of time what could be the possible means and mechanisms of expressing support and solidarity towards the struggles of each other in different states?
Convention Organising Committee
Dalit Mukti Morcha
September 17, 2011
Venue: Raipur, Chhattisgarh.