A coercive atmosphere had been built up over the summer, and many of these farmers – treated as no more than squatters by the government – signed up for the Land Pooling Scheme.
The fields of Thullur have been overcome by weeds and shrubbery since the last crop was reaped here in the summer. Since then, farmers and labourers in the Amaravati capital region had put away their sickles and hoes and turned their thoughts to the future.
The owner farmers of Thullur, those that had cast-iron documents to prove that they were indeed the husbands of this earth, had something to look forward to. Under the Land Pooling Scheme, they stand to be given ‘developed plots’ and annuities for giving up their land for Amaravati, the mystical citadel germinating in the minds of unknown Singapore consultants.
For the landless labourers, who won’t have work in the gleaming citadel, there are monthly pensions to fall back upon while they find their bearings in the brave new future. But for the marginal farmers who cultivate assigned and ceiling land — which they technically do not own, whatever their passbooks say – nothing concrete has accrued. Ministers came by and made promises, that they too would be given something.
The promises remained in the air and never made it to the babus’ paper.
A coercive atmosphere had been built up over the summer, and many of these farmers – treated as no more than squatters by the government – signed up for the Land Pooling Scheme along with the owner farmers, convincing themselves that the ministers meant well. When the June rains came, they gave up tilling their land, perhaps for the first time in decades. Now wiser after frequent trips to the Capital Region Development Authority produced nothing, these farmers who fall in the grey zone between owner farmers and landless peasants have decided to go back to their fields and do what they have done all their life: till, sow, reap and harvest. To media personnel who come by to document their plight, they breathe defiance, but it’s a defiance tinged with doubt.
On Thursday, ceiling land farmers resumed tilling in defiance, venturing out in rented tractors, leading a gaggle of labourers wielding sickles. Their fallow fields have become home to sundry thistles, stolons, creepers and reeds. There were barely 20 of them, hardy farmers all. There were a good many acres to clear. The tractors cost a pretty penny.
Each squatter farmer contributed Rs. 200 for the rent of the tractor. None of them were sure whether their defiance would last till the harvest in the autumn, uncertain whether the government would send its minions to claim the land. But defiance was something to do. “We are farmers. We cannot sit idle,” said Veerlanakaiah, a Thullurite.
“We will plough our fields as we’ve done for three generations. We’ll make our living from these fields.” The farmers say they blindly trusted the Ministers’ promises that they too would be given the benefits extended to owner farmers under the Land Pooling Scheme. Now they think it was sweet talk. The CRDA officials looked away when they visited the offices, not willing to contradict the Ministers. Then the entreaties became more desperate. “We even staged a protest with begging bowls. The government hardly responded,” said Sankuri Mariamma.
They organised meetings in the village, to give each other support, if nothing else. Soon policemen turned up at the meetings. They did nothing, but there seemed to be a message in it. Farmer Kanteti Israel got it. “The government tried to silence us. Even (Tadikonda MLA) T. Sravan Kumar had no patience to listen our woes. And he’s a Dalit.” Mariamma sums up this learning experience: “The government bulldozed green fields and promised us the moon on earth.”
Sixty-five-year-old Ramulu adds, “We were happy with whatever we had. We forsook our fortune trusting them.”
These farmers of Thullur now have a lot of time on their hands to contemplate who they are. They aren’t owners. They aren’t tenants. They aren’t landless labourers. So who are they, tilling this land for three generations and believing that the passbooks they kept in plastic covers meant something?
We will plough our fields as we’ve done for three generations. – Veeralankaiah, a farmer