The Warli tribal people in Dahanu and Thalassery areas of Thane district are today engaged in a new phase of struggle centered around land. The Red flag, which led them in their historic revolt for re-claiming of their lands from absentee landlords in 1945, is once again their main weapon today.
The case of Sakharam Ramji Tamda, a 65 year old tribal peasant from Sarani village in Dahanu, captures this bitter struggle. His family of eight siblings had got 17 acres of land as a result of the movement led by the Communist Party in the late 1940s and early fifties under the leadership of Godavari Parulekar and Shamrao Parulekar. His share of it today is 2 acres. The heirs of the absentee landlord, from whom this land was reclaimed then, are leaving no stone unturned to grab this land back. They are being helped in this endeavour by the corrupt revenue administration and local NCP-Congress leaders.
It is not hard to understand why. These areas in Dahanu and Thalasery are abutting the 6-lane Mumbai-Delhi Expressway and is reachable from Mumbai within a couple of hours. The real estate speculative boom has ensured that prices per acre here have shot up to a range between Rs 30 lakh to a Rs 1 crore. The notorious Mumbai land mafia, with the support of ruling parties leaders, has taken over such tribal lands in Virar, Vasai, Nala Supara areas in the district using force and murder. This mafia, with the help of the heirs of landlords and sahukars, is now eyeing the lands of Warlis in Dahanu and Thalasery region.
After the usual fudging of land records with the help of local tahasildar, this mafia physically evicted Sakharam from his land in 2010. They fenced the land and built a cowshed to assert their possession. But then these are Warli adivasis who for generations know how to sangharsh and achieve their rights. After all they have fought through from being total bonded labourers of landlords – where there were instances of they being tied along with cattle to prevent them from escaping – to being the proud revolutionaries who drove away the landlords from the region in 1945 under the leadership of the red flag.
It is the same red flag that is standing by Sakharam and many others like him in Kasa, Charoti, Bharad and other villages whose lands are sought to be snatched away. During the last five years alone, around 1000 acres of tribal lands are under such occupation or litigation. The CPI(M) Dahanu taluka committee held morchas in front of tehasildar office and police station seeking action against such land grabbers. When the administration obviously did not act, the CPI(M) led a mass rally of Warlis into the occupied land and physically demolished the cow shed and fencing around it. The mafia had to flee and Sakharam is now back in possession of his two acres of land. He was there with a red flag in hand to welcome the jatha in Dahanu and hear the message of struggle it brought.
Veteran CPI(M) leader from the region, L V Dhangar, who is the last surviving leader of the team that worked with Godavari Parulekar among the Warlis, told INN that this sort of effort to grab land is limited to around 20,000 acres of Warlis that are in their physical possession but in records still in the name of absentee landlords. He recalled how after the revolt the Communist Party waged a patient and hard struggle to get around 2 lakh acres transferred to the Warlis in official records. The enactment of the progressive Land Tenancy Act in Maharashtra after independence was a result of the Warli revolt, he said.
The 13th session of All India Kisan Sabha was held in Dahanu in 1955 and the slogan of 'Land to the tiller' reverberated at that time. It is the red flag that ensured its implementation in this region and it is very clear from its actions now that it would not allow those gains to be sabotaged by the heirs of landlords and sahukars.
N.S. Arjun, INN