Kerala landless tribals’ stir enters third year

Pathanamthitta (Kerala), Aug 3 A protest by nearly 5,000 tribals demanding land at a rubber estate near here completes two years Tuesday. The group heading the strike has slammed the Left-led Kerala government for not resolving the issue.
The landless tribals have been staying in tents pitched in the Kumbazha rubber estate of Harrisons Malayalam Ltd (HML) in Chengara, about 120 km from Thiruvananthapuram, since Aug 4, 2007 to mark their protest.
Led by the Sadhu Jana Vimocha Samyukta Vedi (SJVSV) headed by Laha Gopalan, the protesters have been demanding land from the government. Gopalan lashed out at the Left government, especially the Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPI-M), which he termed as a party that had no regard for the poor.

“The CPI-M has proved beyond doubt that they have no concern for the downtrodden. Otherwise, would they have allowed this genuine strike to enter the third year. They have let us down very badly,” said Gopalan.
On the other hand, around 170 families of plantation workers, who have lost their livelihood due to the tribals occupying the estate, are opposing them and staging another protest at the entry point of the estate.

Leader of opposition Oommen Chandy, who is to partake in a meeting near the venue of the protests Tuesday, said the state government has failed to settle this dispute.

“We have time and again said that we are prepared to cooperate with the government but they are silent. We are very clear that the government should find out who among the protesters don’t have land and they should be given land. The ball is in the government’s court,” Chandy told IANS.

State Minister for Backward and Scheduled Communities A.K. Balan said the tribals cannot be given the land they have encroached upon as it is not government land.

“The state chief secretary has now been served a contempt of court notice for failing to evacuate the protesters. We just cannot use force to evacuate them because then it could turn ugly… But we are confident that we will find a way out soon,” Balan said.

“Certainly those who are protesting have a rightful demand and we are not ignoring them. There are genuine problems we are facing in finding suitable land to be given to them. The government along with the help of the opposition will find a solution to this problem soon,” the minister added.