An Ideal Village and the End of Peasantry / Some days in a Village in Haryana

The south of Delhi’s industrial belt is connected to the vast village hinterland of Haryana. And there is no calm in the hinterland. We spent some days in Mandkaula visiting friends – you can read the travel diary below. It is followed by news items about recent semi-rural unrest.

Mandkaula, Haryana, India

Mandkaula is a village near Bawal, with about 15,000 inhabitants. It borders poor Muslim dominated Mewat district, situated close to the planned Manesar-Kundli Expressway. Mandkaula is an ‘Ideal Village’ meaning that it is chosen by Haryana government to get several crore Rupees for investments into road works, street lamps and so on. Mandkaula is an ideal Indian village in many senses. It has been in the centre of the Green Revolution, it has ‘benefited’ early on from irrigation and electrification. It is within the catchment area of the industrial labour market of Faridabad. The land-holding is more or less equally distributed between those who have land. Despite, or may be because of, being an ideal village we can see the social death of peasantry. After hundreds of years of ‘agricultural tradition’ the current older generation of peasants in their 60s is probably the last ‘peasant generation’ of this village. Their are few families who might continue farming, but the social domination of field work is gone.

Out of 15,000 inhabitants about 7,000 are landless, mainly ‘castes’ engaged in handicrafts like pottery and weaving, some street cleaners. This is a quite typical ratio for India. Less typical is the quite equal land-distribution amongst the landed peasants, belonging to the Jat caste. About 80 per cent of them have around 5 acres. Out of the 250 potter families around five people still work with the stone-wheel and clay – they have no apprentices for the future. There are only one or two hand-looms left, the nearby industry has undermined the market position for hand-woven goods. There are about 400 acre common land, which basically means land taken-over and used by the state. The government built a stadium and a university department for agriculture studies on the common land.

Mandkaula was in the centre of the Green Revolution. Electricity arrived in 1964, largely replacing hand or bullock-driven wells with electrically operated borewells. Irrigation was improved through a nearby bigger canal. In the mid-1960s the government ordered a structural program to ‘unify’ land-holdings. Individual farmers used to own scattered land, after the reform most of them had a single unified piece of land. Then came the tractors. Nowadays there are more than 300 tractors in the village. Crop pattern changed since the 1950s and 1960s. Where there used to be millet and other rough crops, there is only wheat left. Rice production only started with the development of the canal and the tubewells. A lot of the harvest and wheat thrashing work is done by machines plus wage labourers. A gang of wheat thrashers from Rajasthan travel with their diesel-fuelled thrashing machine. They take about 800 to 900 Rs per acre. They provide the labour force, around ten workers. It usually takes them about one hour for an acre. After the wheat harvest in Haryana they drive on towards the soy bean harvest in Madhya Pradesh. Thanks to mechanisation, the wheat harvest takes about seven days, the rice harvest not longer than 15 days.

The living standard amongst the peasant is decent, much better than the living standards of industrial workers in town. The houses and inner-yards are airy, no feeling of crowdedness. You are more likely to find more televisions, coolers, fridges here, than in workers’ homes. But life is traditional. Women wear their faces covered when around strangers. The houses of the landed are spacially detached from the houses of the potters and the cleaners. ‘Caste’ live amongst ‘caste’. Without land and without jobs the former artisans are much harder hit. They complain that the National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (NREGS) is not implemented. There are about 150 people in the village who got a job card. There are 80 NREGS jobs, but they ran out. Instead of creating NREGS jobs, the panchayat engages outside contractors for road works and other infrastructural jobs, because he can cash in commission. Most of the farmers in Mandkaula are in debt, often for non-agricultural expenses like family houses, dowry or education.

The sons born in the 1970s and 1980s were not to become farmers. Most farmers tried to get them into government jobs: the police force, the army, the administration. The family of our comrade is no special case. His father owned 50 cows for diary production. In the early 1970s all his labourers left Mandkaula in order to work in the factories of nearby Faridabad. Contractors of Escort, Goodyear and other companies came to the village offering higher wages and a life in the urban. Our comrade himself left the village and worked in factories for some years. He returned to the village to keep the family farm going, but all his four sons have become office workers. Two of them commute every day between Faridabad and Mandkaula, which is about 40 minutes by train and another 30 minutes by three-wheeler. Living in the village is cheaper and better – but the younger sons want to leave the village soon.

If the Kundli-Manesar Expressway develops according to plan about 27 villages will disappear in the ‘special corridor’. Two kilometres on both sides of the expressway are dedicated for industry and real estate. The state starts to offer money to the land-owners, but people wait and see how prices develop. In that way the farmers always relate to the government: they need the government for jobs for their sons, they need it for the procurement of their harvest, for the subsidies and village development, for the final sale of their land.

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The longer lists about ‘village protests’ is random and arbitrary. The village is everything else, but not a ‘proletarian community’. We know to little about the background and class position of the farmers protesting against land acquisition for a nuclear power plant or against lack of electricity. We don’t know who blocked the street and attacked police posts. As we can see from the short report from Mandkaula – the villages are crisis ridden and they are divided. Social tension is increasing, and it finds many different channels, some of them seem to reflect the old inter-village oppression. For recent conflicts between Dalit and Jats in Mirchpur, a Haryana village please read HERE

Protesters halt traffic
Jind, July 28

The district witnessed traffic blockades at three places to highlight their grievances on various issues.

A large number of shopkeepers blocked traffic at Patiala Chowk by sitting on dharna on the main
crossing for an hour to express resentment over the increasing number of thefts in the locality in the past few days. The blockade was lifted after the intervention of the ASP, who assured them of a proper action.

Meanwhile, residents from Pouli village here blocked traffic on National Highway-71 linking Jind with Rohtak in protest against inadequate supply of drinking water in the village. The villagers claimed that there had been no water supply for the past three days. The third such incident was reported from Braha Khurd village located on the Jind-Gohana road. The villagers held protest after an elderly person was run over by a speeding vehicle this morning. Alleging delay and inaction on the part of the police to chase and arrest the accused driver, residents of the village blocked the traffic by laying down wooden logs and parking their vehicles across the road.-

Furious villagers attack police post
Sirsa, August 2

Irked at the merciless thrashing of a vendor by the police, villagers attacked a police post at Kulan village in this district last evening. Such was the fury of the mob that the in charge at the police post had to run for safety. The villagers, including women, later sat on dharna outside the post till senior officers reached there and made the policeman apologise for his act. The police had yesterday raided certain places to check gambling and rounded up five gamblers. Puran Singh, a vendor, out of sheer curiosity, went towards the police post to see what was happening. Prem Kumar, in charge of the police post, beat him up with a stick, dragging him inside the police post situated on the main crossing of Kulan village. The police action incensed the villagers and shopkeepers in the vicinity, who raised slogans and against the police and freed the victim. In the meantime, some women members of the family of the victim reached there with sticks and barged into the post, forcing the cop to flee. Additional police force from Tohana and brought the situationunder sat on dharna outside the police station with the victim and his wailing children. The villagers demanded an apology from Prem Kumar and that the police should bear the expenditure of victim’s medical treatment. They blocked the crossing halting traffic towards Bhuna, Ratia, Tohana and Jakhal.

Power Pangs – Villagers lock up school, anganwari
Sirsa, August 10

After the alleged beating up of a power nigam SDO by some villagers and subsequent arrest of an accused, residents of three villages today adopted a tough posture and decided to withdraw their children from schools and anganwaris. Villagers from Dhigtania, Chouburja and Rangrikhera today blocked traffic and locked the village school and the anganwari in protest against the erratic supply of power to their villages.

In Jind village, substation closed
Jind, August 10

Residents of at least three villages in the district locked a power substation and blocked traffic at two separate places here today to highlight their grievances over short supply of power in rural areas. The protests were lifted after intervention of the officials concerned. The villagers locked the 33 kV substation at Singhana village following an altercation with the staff posted there.

Irate villagers damage buses
Karnal, August 11

Incensed over the alleged failure of the authorities concerned to regulate power supply, residents of Tahkhana village blocked the National Highway No. 1 near Tarawari, 15 km from here, for about two hours today. The protesters, comprising mainly children and women, pulled down hoardings and went on the rampage, damaging three Haryana Roadways buses of the Panchkula, Ambala and Chandigarh depots. Hundreds of vehicles and commuters remained stranded on the road and foreigners, who were on their way to Chandigarh, got scared of the protest. The protesters alleged that power supply was erratic for the past over five months, but nothing had been done in this regard.

Gorakhpur farmers oppose acquisition
Fatehabad, August 17

Farmers from Gorakhpur village in this district, where the Nuclear Power Corporation of India Limited (NIPCL) is to set up a power plant soon, are up in arms against the government move to acquire their land. Hundreds of farmers met District Revenue Officer Om Prakash Verma today and submitted a memorandum asking the authorities to acquire alternative land for the plant. The villagers, whose land has come under this notification, have started filing individual objections with the authorities. They held a meeting in the village chaupal yesterday and decided to oppose the government move, threatening suicide if the government did not budge. The state government had recently issued a notification under Section 4 of the Land Acquisition Act-1894 for acquisition of 1,313 acres of the village for the plant. “We are not going to part with our agriculture land at any cost,” declared Dana Ram, a farmer, whose 52 acres fall under the land selected for acquisition. On 25th of August the media reported: The farmers’ agitation against the acquisition of their agriculture land for the proposed nuclear power plant at Gorakhpur has picked up momentum with villagers from 14 neighbouring villages coming out in their support.

For more: http://www.wsws.org/articles/2010/aug2010/indi-a26.shtml

Power-less, villagers clash with cops damage substation; police fires into air; sarpanch among 300 booked
Jind, August 19

Sans power for the past three days, hundreds of irate residents of Nagura village in the district resorted to violence, which lead to a clash between them and the police last night. The police fired several rounds into the air, besides resorting to a lathi charge, to disperse the mob. The violence resulted in heavy damage to the 132 kV substation and disruption of power supply to several villages in the region. Several persons, including some policemen, were injured when protesters resorted to throwing stones. A large number of policemen have been deputed at the substation and in the village. The police has booked about 300 persons, including the sarpanch of the village, Rajesh Kumar, in this connection. According to reports, hundreds of villagers assembled on the Jind-Assandh road last night in connection with the power supply problem. The police then opened fire into the air and resorted to a lathi charge to disperse the violent mob. At least six policemen, including Krishan Kumar, SHO of the Alewa police station, were injured in the violence. Property and machinery worth about Rs 8 lakh was damaged at the substation, said an official.

Villagers make team beat a hasty retreat
Fatehabad, August 22

A team of officials of the Food and Supplies Department from Fatehabad had to beat a hasty retreat when they went to Nadel village near Jakhal for “door-to-door checking” of some records of foodgrains supplied through the public distribution system (PDS). Villagers, who suspected that the officials had come to the village to tamper with the records, snatched ration cards from them when they were allegedly making some entries in the cards of the villagers. The Tribune had published a report, “Rotten wheat finds way through PDS”, in these columns yesterday and highlighted the fact as to how fungus-infested wheat was sold to poor families in the village. Gurjeet Singh, a former member of the village panchayat, entries in whose ration card was allegedly tampered with by the officials, called villagers, who asked the team to leave their village.

3 killed as farmers go on rampage near Aligarh
August 16, 2010

Three persons, including a PAC jawan, were killed and nine injured in a village near Aligarh when farmers, demanding higher compensation for land acquired for a township, fought pitched battles with police who opened fire to restore calm. The violence broke out last night in Jikarpur village when the farmers went on a rampage vandalising a police post, indulging in heavy brickbatting and setting afire a bus and another vehicle. The trouble erupted after rumours flew thick and fast that a farmer leader had been arrested near the village which lies close to Uttar Pradesh-Haryana border. Over 2,000 farmers on Sunday staged a sit-in at Jikarpur, the epicentre of yesterday’s violence. The protesters also tried to block traffic at several places on Aligarh-Tappal road. Vijay Prakash said the farmers this morning destroyed machinery for construction of the Expressway. The farmers are on the warpath demanding higher compensation for land acquired for a township project along the Delhi-Agra Taj Expressway.