The Marathwada region of Maharashtra is known for its drought-stricken conditions. Farmer suicides have been on the rise and families of the farmers are always on the fear that they would be losing their loved ones to the drought.
To add to plight, if the farmer belongs to the Dalit community, the struggles of the individual are more pronounced. The story of Kantabai Ichake entails similar struggles – a 70-year-old Dalit woman who is among many who have spearheaded the fight of Dalit women across Marathwada.
These women, under the leadership of Kantabai, have claimed rights of the ‘gairan’ (common grazing lands) for cultivation. They were ridiculed at first. However, all those who had made fun were proved wrong. With sheer hard work, they turned the barren patches into lush green fields.
When Kantabais of Marathwada question the status quo
The success story of the Dalit women was not taken in a good light by the upper castes villages. Mobs destroyed crops, burnt Dalit houses and attacked women and children. Still, they were unable to stop the Dalits from tilling the ‘gairan‘ soil.
Kantabai, a land rights activist in Marathwada region, recalls how the upper castes in the village have perpetrated violence on them through humiliation and physical violence. She is carrying on the struggle that was started by Eknath Awad in the region.
Speaking to The Times Of India, Kantabai said, “What people do not realise is that it is not just about our livelihood, it is also about our rights and dignity. We will continue our fight. We are not scared of the struggle. We will continue to demand that the government transfer land titles to our names. The government says ‘gairan’ land belongs to the village, and it must be kept for grazing cattle.”
Ownership of the ‘gairan’ lands
Activists of the Jamin Adhikar Andolan (JAA) had claimed that the grazing lands historically belonged to Dalits, even when Marathwada was part of the Nizam of Hyderabad’s empire.
After independence, these lands came into the hands of the gram panchayat during 1956.
In the 1990s, the JAA was set up to seek legalization of the Dalit title over ‘gairan‘ land – they want the land title to be made jointly in the names of husband and wife.
Ashok Tangade, an activist of JAA, has pointed out how the ownership of land bears the connotation of status with it. The fact that Dalit women have started cultivating on the grazing lands have given power and made them less vulnerable to exploitation.
However, Kantabai and many other women in the area are facing a lot of problems due to the loans that they had taken from self-help groups and microfinance institutions, as has been pointed out in an exclusive article by Scroll.
The Logical Indian salutes the work that Kantabai and her team of Dalit women have been carrying out in Marathwada with the help of Jamin Adhikar Andolan. We hope that they bring about more positive changes for the Dalits in Marathwada and elsewhere in the country.