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INDIA: Family struggles to provide for their livelihood as government continues to destroy homes in Ahmednagar, Maharashtra

In 2003, the Maharashtra State Farming Corporation (MSFC) destroyed the homes of Ramesh and many of his fellow villagers. As a result of these hut demolitions, Ramesh and his family now have no home, no food and no means to provide for their own livelihoods. They struggle as casual labourers to scrounge up enough to support themselves. They also now live in constant fear that their efforts to rebuild their lives will be destroyed again by the MSFC and other authorities. In the meantime, their struggle for land continues.

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ASIAN HUMAN RIGHTS COMMISSION - URGENT APPEALS PROGRAM

12 August 2005
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HA-18-2005: INDIA: Family struggles to provide for their livelihood as government continues to destroy homes in Ahmednagar, Maharashtra

INDIA: Malnutrition and hunger; denial of right to livelihood; indigenous groups; land rights
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Dear friends,

The Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) has been informed of the current situation of one adivasi (indigenous) family living in the Ahmednagar district of Maharashtra. Forty year-old Ramesh Lakshman Sonawne, who is landless, settled in the Rustapur village over 20 years ago. In recent years he and his family have been struggling to provide for their basic needs, which includes on the most fundamental level, food.

For the most part, the family was self-sufficient in being able to grow grains for their own consumption. In 2003, however, officials from the Maharashtra State Farming Corporation (MSFC) demolished his hut and standing crops. Since then, the family has continuously struggled to provide for their own basic needs, and while attempts have been made to rebuild the homes, the MSFC has consistently demolished these efforts. Currently, the family still has no home, no means to support themselves and no stable food source.

The AHRC urges you to write to the Chief Minister of Maharashtra and other relevant officials condemning the actions of the MSFC and requesting that a thorough and speedy investigation be conducted into the matter. Furthermore, immediate assistance should be provided to the victim, his family, and other villagers belonging to the community who are suffering the same plight.

Urgent Appeals Desk - Hunger Alert
Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC)
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DETAILED INFORMATION:

Location: Rustapur village, Rehata Taluka, Ahmednagar District, Maharashtra         
Persons affected: Ramesh Lakshman Sonawne, 40, his wife, two sons, a daughter and a daughter-in-law                     

In 2003, the Maharashtra State Farming Corporation (MSFC) destroyed the homes of Ramesh and many of his fellow villagers. As a result of these hut demolitions, Ramesh and his family now have no home, no food and no means to provide for their own livelihoods. They struggle as casual labourers to scrounge up enough to support themselves. They also now live in constant fear that their efforts to rebuild their lives will be destroyed again by the MSFC and other authorities. In the meantime, their struggle for land continues.

The following is Ramesh's story, as told to John P. Abraham, which tells of how his struggle to provide food and other basic necessities for his family arose and the latest developments surrounding the demolitions. 

Lives without livelihood 

"I, Ramesh Lakshman Sonawne, am 40 years old. I am an adivasi who has studied up to the seventh standard. I have two sons and a daughter. My married son and his wife also live with me. We live in the Rustapur village and have been living here for 20 years, cultivating government waste lands. I could grow sufficient grains for the entire year from these wastelands and occasionally I could sell a few bags if the rains were good and if I managed to sow two crops in a  year. Sometimes, I would supplement my income with casual labour if necessary. 

"I need four Pailee (approximately 7 kg) of grain every week for my family. We normally eat bajra (millet) in the winters and jowar (sorghum) during the hot seasons. In order to provide for my family's basic needs, I need to purchase about Rs. 200 per week of other items. 

"As a casual labourer, if I work, I receive Rs. 50 per day. My wife and daughter also work on occasion, if available, and receive Rs. 30 per day per person. But, employment here is rare and there are weeks when we do not get any work at all. 

"The Godavari River is located close by but only has water for 3 to 4 months every year. The river dries up because the water is diverted to the cities and the remaining water pumped up by landlords for sugarcane cultivation. Therefore, fishing as a source of food or income is not realistic. 

"Although several government schemes exist for the welfare of adivasis, most do not reach us. The government has not provided us with land needed to grow food even though it has declared that it will distribute land to the landless. Government-run ration card schemes also have not reached us as they are difficult to obtain and often we do not have the proper documentation. Many of the children in my hamlet are undernourished and famished. Yet, I read in the newspapers that the silos are filled with tonnes of grain, plenty of which rots every year. 

"I feel that even if the government does not provide us with anything, we can still mange our lives if let alone to cultivate the land which we have lived on and cultivated for so many years. The government neither protects its citizens nor allows us to look after ourselves. The livelihood options normally available to people like myself are also denied. Sometimes I feel that the government wants to decimate us all, one by one."

My struggle for land

"My struggle for land is a long and strenuous one as I am a landless adivasi. Many years ago, I occupied government wastelands which had been lying idle for the last 30 years. The state government had acquired this land under the Ceiling Act of 1961, but instead of distributing it to the landless, it formed a corporation to cultivate this land. About 80,000 acres of land was given to this corporation. Initially, the corporation cultivated the land but soon afterwards it could neither cultivate the land nor could pay its workers. The land was covered by thorny bushes when I arrived.

"I first began to make my living by collecting firewood from these thorny bushes. Then, since the land was not being cultivated by any one, I began to cultivate a small portion of this wasted land. There were also other adivasis who were cultivating similar lands in the same village. Over the years, we have made a number of appeals to the government to get the land regularized. However, the state government decided to give the land back to the landlords from whom the land was acquired from instead of giving it to the landless adivasis. This occurred partly due to the powerful lobbying and intense pressure of the Maratha community.

"Meanwhile we managed to get a High Court order which directed the government to look into our demands and not to be dispossessed of our holdings until our case is ruled upon. However, on July 21, 2003, the MSFC, with the help of the police, demolished my hut and standing crops. I lost about 2 acres of bajra and almost all my belongings during the demolition. I was hopeful of putting up my hut again because we were not given any notice of eviction and the high court order was still standing. But, the next day, several officials came to the village and set fire to all that remained of my hut. Many other people's homes and crops were also destroyed.

"At the time of the demolitions, it was the rainy season and I had to remain in nearby bushes without much cover. Fortunately, the rains were not very heavy but, it was still very difficult for us to protect our few remaining possessions. Also, I came to know later that earlier court orders had prevented evictions in the rainy season. However, the government officials had no concern for our pathetic conditions. Even now, they still do not consider us as human beings.

"Since the eviction was not done in the proper manner, I filed a complaint at Rehata Police station. But, nothing was done after the complaint was filed. We then sent a letter to the District Superintendent of Police and still no action was taken. I also filed a private complaint at the Kopergaon Court. I feel that the case however, was not properly pleaded by our lawyer and therefore, I lost the case on grounds that the eviction was indeed legal. The ruling also stated that since the demolition was carried out by government servants, we had to get permission from the government to file cases against them. I then filed an appeal stating that the documents regarding the demolition were not opened in the court to show that the demolition was in due process of law.

"Now, the place where I have set up a temporary shelter does not have drinking water. The land belongs to the Rustapur village and there is no vegetation, it is simply meant for housing. However recently, the landlord whose ancestors used to live in this are is now claiming the land belongs to him, not the village. We now fear that this is yet another ploy to get us evicted from this place of refuge."

ADDITIONAL INFORMATION:

On May 26, 2005 at 6:00 pm, workers from the MSFC, along with Babasaheb Ganapat Vani and Mr. Manjre, demolished at least 40 huts that had been rebuilt and took many of the villagers' possessions. Ramesh, as well as fellow victim, Sravan Sadhu More, were both present at the time of the incident.

Ramesh filed new complaints at the Puntamba outpost, but the police there were unwilling to take up the matter. He also filed a complaint at the Rehata Police Station but until today, has not received a response.

After these demolitions, the villagers continued to rebuild their lives and put up an additional 15 huts, but they were again destroyed by officials from MSFC on June 8, 2005.

BACKGROUND INFORMATION:

Ramesh is just one of many victims of the constant demolitions occurring in the district in recent years. Please see the following urgent appeals and hunger alerts for more background on the demolitions and current hunger situation plaguing the victims. 

UA-35-2003: Two hundred Adivasis made homeless over land rights; UP-32-2003: Enquiry into the shooting of Adivasis in 2001; UP-34-2003: Landless people stand firm against continuing government attacks; UP-40-2003: Hunger strike of Adivasis calling for right to land and UP-13-2004: Please send a letter to the Chief Minister of Maharashtra calling for right to land for Adivasi people; HA-08-2005 : Adivasi community unable to grow food, asserts their right to land in Maharashtra

The following website also describes in detail the events leading up to the current hunger situation in Rustapur village. http://bhumi.foodjustice.net/ 

SUGGESTED ACTION:

Please write to the Chief Minister of Maharashtra and other related officials urging them to investigate the matter and ensure that the Maharashtra State Farming Corporation (MSFC) and other authorities do not interfere with the rebuilding of Ramesh's community so that they can secure their homes and cultivate the land. In addition, please ask that Ramesh, his family, and many of the other affected villagers in the community be provided with the necessary relief and food rations in order to sustain their livelihoods. A sample letter follows.

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Dear Mr. Deshmukh,

Re: INDIA: Family struggles to provide for their livelihood as government continues to destroy homes in Ahmednagar, Maharashtra

Location: Rustapur village, Rehata Taluka, Ahmednagar District, Maharashtra
Persons affected: Ramesh Lakshman Sonawne, 40, his wife, two sons, a daughter and a daughter-in-law  

I am writing to you to bring to your attention the plight of Ramesh, an adivasi who has been struggle since 2003 to provide food and other basic necessities for his family. Since his home and cultivated land was first destroyed by officials at the Maharashtra State Farming Corporation (MSFC) on July 21, 2005, along with many other homes in the Rustapur village, Ramesh now depends on casual day labour to earn enough income to provide for his family. Further attempts on Ramesh's part to redevelop the land he was living on in recent years have all been squashed by the MSFC and related authorities.

Without land to cultivate, Ramesh and his family find themselves in a desperate hunger situation. Ramesh now struggles to buy the family's meals, which mainly consists of bajra (millet) in the winters and jowar (sorghum) during the hot seasons, with his meager daily income. Moreover, not one family member is under any government-run food schemes. Food had never been an issue for Ramesh when he was cultivating land, and on occasion he could even grow enough to sell his surplus. Now, however, food has become a primary concern for the family.

The land dispute in the area has been previously brought to your attention on several occasions. The adivasis had been living on the land for several decades and were in the process of fighting for their legal rights to this land when the huts were first destroyed. The villagers continue to press for legal claims to the land and only wish to be able to provide for their own livelihoods.

I am extremely disappointed that despite persistent pleas from the victims, and national and international attention, no progress has been made towards granting the adivasis land entitlement. Instead, all attempts at rebuilding their homes have been met with more demolitions. Ramesh is just one of many adivasis from the village who struggle to provide food and other basic necessities for his family.

I urge you to intervene in this matter and ensure that the local authorities do not interfere in the adivasis' efforts to rebuild their community. More importantly, I request that you investigate the current living situation of Ramesh and his family, and provide the appropriate assistance needed to end their suffering and maintain their livelihoods.

Yours sincerely,

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PLEASE SEND YOUR LETTERS TO:

1. Mr. Vilasrao Deshmukh
Chief Minister of Maharashtra
Office of the Chief Minister
Mantralaya
Mumbai 400 032
Maharashtra
INDIA
Tel: +91 22 2202 5151 or 5222
Fax: + 91 22 2202 9214
E-mail: chiefminister@maharashtra.gov.in

PLEASE SEND COPIES TO:

1. Justice Anand Mane
Chairperson
Maharashtra State Human Rights Commission
9 Hajarimal Somani Marg
Near CST Railway Station
Mumbai - 400 001
Maharashtra
INDIA
Tel: +91 22 2207 1155
Fax: +91 22 2207 3434

2. Justice A.S. Anand
National Human Rights Commission of India
Faridkot House, Copernicus Marg
New Delhi - 110001
INDIA
Tel: +91 11 2338 2742
Fax: +91 11 2338 4863
Email: covdnhrc@nic.in, ionhrc@nic.in

3. Mr. Kunwar Singh
Chairman
National Commission for Scheduled Tribes
Lok Nayak Bhawan, 5th Floor
New Delhi 110 003
INDIA
Tel: +91 11 2462 4628
Fax: +91 11 2462 4628
Email: ksingh_chairman.ncst@indiatimes.com

4. Mr. Jean Ziegler
UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food
c/o Mr. Carlos Villan Duran
Room 4-066, OHCHR, Palais Wilson,
Rue des Paquis 52, Geneva
SWITZERLAND
Tel: +41 22 917 9300
Fax: +41 22 917 9010
Email: sect.hchr@unog.ch

5. Mr. Miloon Kothari
UN Special Rapporteur on adequate housing
Att: Ms. Cecilia Moller
Room 4-066/010
UNOG-OHCHR, CH-1211, Geneva 10
SWITZERLAND
Tel: +41 22 917 9265
Fax: +41 22 917 9010


Thank you.

Urgent Appeals Programme—Hunger Alert

Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC)
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