It took 10 long years for the recorded bargadars (sharecroppers) of the Jamargram village of West Bengal’s Burdwan district’s Galsi block to reclaim their lands from the jotedars who had usurped their land in 2011, after 35 years of the bargadars tilling the land after land reforms were initiated in the state in 1977. In 2011, when the Mamata Banerjee-led Trinamool Congress (TMC) government came to power in the state, Gopal Maddi, Ram Maddi and 10 other residents of the village had lost their lands to jotedars .
On Wednesday, July 28, a total of 23 bighas of land were reclaimed from jotedars Fakir Dari and Tarapada Dari by the activists of All India Kisan Sabha (AIKS). 51 recorded bargadars took part in the operation of planting red flags in the fields which were handed over to the jotedars illegally by the local level Panchayat functionaries, police, and administration .
In 2011, the first lot of 12 farmers were ousted from their lands, allegedly because they were supporters of the Communist Party of India (Marxist). They were told that they do not have the right to till their land and the vested land belonged to its erstwhile owners. Then, in 2016, with the support of the local TMC administration, the jotedars ousted 39 bargadars and agricultural labourers from the land . The police and the local administration allegedly sided with the jotedars, in spite of repeated requests to interfere in the matter.
When the helpless bargadars went to the police, they maintained that the land belonged to its erstwhile owners. Interestingly, when the first lot of 12 bargadars were ousted, the rest of the bargadars were told that it was only because they had been CPI (M) supporters.
When in 2016 the remaining 39 bargadars and pattadhaaris were ousted from the land, they went to the block’s TMC leader Naba Hazra, who allegedly told them that their land now belongs to the erstwhile landowners, and they had no ownership over the land they had tilled for decades.
Bargadars Sridam Bagdi, Bipadtaron Bagdi, Ganesh Ghorui registered their protest, but Naba Hazra did not pay any heed to it. After not getting any help from local TMC leaders, the 51 pattadars and bargadars ultimately contacted the CPI(M) leadership, and highlighted how both BJP and TMC had cheated them.
The poor people of the village organised several rallies in the area, however, every time, the jotedars took help from the ruling party and promulgated section 144 on the land. In 2021, after the TMC won in the state, the erstwhile land owners violated the Section 144 that they themselves had helped impose, and started agricultural work in the land and broke the borders of the arable lands. During the previous week, the exploited poor people of the village came out on the streets and forced out the goons hired by the Jotedars .
When police finally went to the area, they were informed that it was the jotedars who had violated Section 144 . A large number of local people sided with the 51 bargadars. AIKS Burdwan’s district secretary Saiyad Hossain said that their battle is not over, it will continue until the paddy is cultivated on the lands, harvested, and taken to the homes of the bargadars who till the land.
First published by Newsclick.