As Jansatyagraha Samwaad yatra was moving from one state to another, we were constantly adding to the list of issues that are somewhat new to our own conceptual clarity. In Karnataka people have started speaking about three major issues that are new in our list.
- The problems of HIV affected people. Never before was I able to link land-struggle with HIV affected communities. I am told that in majority of the cases the women affected by HIV are driven out of the family. Especially when their husbands are dead. “Where do we go with our children?” is the question that is repeatedly asked. Imagine that suddenly you are on the road with your children. How can anyone face such a situation. This is being done in order to take the right over property away from that particular person. We do not have a huge legal system in this country to protect their interest and on their own they will never be able to approach the court of law for justice. They are asking for land. If not agricultural land, at least homestead land is something they urgently need. Protecting the interest of this new group of people, giving them dignity and security is a big challenge. They know they carry a disease that will kill them soon. They can feel that their body is weak and that they cannot do hard work to make a living. Yet, they want to live a dignified life and feed their children. I am getting more and more convinced that this matter is not receiving the attention that it deserves. This is a disease introduced by the modern world. The modern world is responsible to find a solution to this problem.
- 2. The problems of sexual minorities: The second group that came to argue their case are called sexual minorities. Included among sexual minorities are gays, lesbians and transgender communities. It is shocking to hear their stories and learn about the discrimination they face. First of all, parents ask them to leave their family. It is difficult to find a job. In the work place they are sexually harassed and finally, many of them end up as sex workers. This makes them vulnerable le to all kinds of abuses and diseases. “Give us land” some of them said in a meeting, “we want shelter and a decent life. Without land, how is it possible to live a dignified life” added others. Larger society hasn’t really understood the pain and sorrows of transgender communities. For many years it was a taboo to speak about sexual identity or to even admit one’s sexual orientation. Luckily, more and more people are coming out openly but when they do so, they face serious consequences. Their issues need to be addressed with greater seriousness. The government has come out with some small schemes but not enough to cope with a serious problem like this one. Like the dalits, they are also socially and economically marginalized. People generally look down upon them. Police harass them. They do not have a strong organized community at the local levels to protest when injustice is committed on them. Even qualified people among them are jobless. “Please understand that we also have a heart with a lot of feelings” pleaded one transgender person who participated in our meeting.
- The problems of devadasis. The third group of people who came in big numbers are called devadasis. The agenda of land-reforms will be incomplete without addressing the problem of land-alienation of devadasis who are present in large numbers in some parts of Karnataka. A society that is so much caste conscious has no problem in sexually exploiting dalit women. This is almost like making a statement “I can take you to my bedroom but not to my kitchen”. How can a society tolerate such irrational behaviour built on selfish motives. Devadasi women who are young are able to survive based on the support of their patrons but once they grow older they do not even have enough food to eat. Children of devadasis are always discriminated and harassed. In Indian society, it is difficult to admit that you are without a father. You will be rejected in the schools, workplace, marriage market if you do not have a father. All those devadasis are mainly depending on wages that they earn as farm labourers. They need land. They can feel confident and make a living if they get some land.
Government of India and various state governments will have to seriously think about including devadasis, sexual minorities, HIV affected people in their list which should have adivasis, dalits, nomads, fisherfolks and urban poor as mareginalized communities who desperately need land for survival. Generally muslims are not seen as farmers but during the Jansamwaad yatra, we found that large number of muslims are agriculturist and among them landless muslim labourers are also asking for land as a source of livelihood. Before we transfer one more inch of land for profit and growth, we have a moral responsibility to act first in the interest of these communities.