Chengara and the media blackoutBy Kishore Budha • Sep 3rd, 2008 • Category: Special Feature
Chengara is a little known place in Kerala that symbolises the perverse logic of “reforms” in India. So while the west celebrates India’s ascendancy and middle class fawn over its arrival on the global stage, the manner in which “reforms” are being delivered demands culpability from every educated, middle class citizen of shining India.
According to blogger Sudeep, “Over 5000 families of landless Dalits, Adivasis and other marginalised people started this protest on 4th August 2007 claiming 6000 acres of land (you read that right — six thousand acres) that is illegally kept by Harrison Malayalam Private Ltd in Pathanamthitta district, Kerala. Around 24,000 people from different parts of the region have moved to this area, with tents with poles and plastic sheets.”
The Indian Express has framed it as an issue of “land grab” and “encroachment” while other major newspapers have blacked out the news entirely. Even the local media has blacked out the news completely.
This is Indian Express framed the issue:
March 27, 2008 Thursday
NOW, LANDLESS OUT TO GRAB MUNNAR LAND
After its much-hyped demolition drive and half-hearted bids to drive out corporate land encroachers, the LeftGovernment in Kerala is now yet to firm its approach to organised large-scale land grabbing of another kind, now rapidlyassuming a pattern. The latest is in Parvatimala of Munnar, where over a thousand families carrying the flags of theCPI(M), CPI, Congress and even the Tamil Nadu-based AIADMK and DMK have pitched camp over the past four days, hogginghundreds of acres of prime Government land. Claiming to be landless, they have refused to budge from the area until the state Government gave them appropriate land in lieu, even if the Government used force. Attempts by the localadministration to get the sponsoring political parties to ask their people to vacate have had little effect – localleaders of all parties, without exception, had claimed that they were not in the know and that they did not endorse the land grab. But even afterwards, no party has attempted to get its flags and symbols removed from the encroachments,either. With hundreds of more people now streaming into the area with home-building materials to join the encroachers,the only thing the local police have been able to do as of late evening on Wednesday was to seize some vehicles thatfetched them. Local officials said the Government had been apprised of the situation, and the decision to use force toevict needed to be taken “at the highest level”. Parvatimala follows Chinnakkanal in Munnar itself, where the local CPI(M) had trucked in hundreds of its workers who grabbed a 1,500-acre stretch of Government land, after shooingoff some 200-odd landless tribal families that had originally encroached there. The comrades later had to back off undermedia glare, but the tribals remained, and the Government did not want to use force. No different has been theGovernment’s approach to the encroachment of the Kumbazha plantation of a private company, the Harrissons MalayalamLimited at Chengara by a local outfit, the Sadhu Jana Vimochana Samyukta Vedi (SJVSV), for which the Congress, the BJPand the CPI-ML have endorsed support. The outfit had grabbed over 6,000 acres of land using some 1,200 workers some ninemonths ago demanding five acres of arable land and Rs 50,000 for each landless family. Last fortnight, the Kerala HighCourt ordered their eviction without bloodshed, and the encroachers promptly took up position to deal with the cops: thewomen carried cans of kerosene threatening to self-immolate and the men climbed up trees with nooses around their neck, declaring they would jump to their death if the police were sent in. The cops promptly gave up and told the high courtthat a peaceable eviction was not possible.
See photos by Ajilal here: http://ajilal.blogspot.com/2008/08/changara-boosamarm.html
Kishore Budha is one of the co-founders of Subaltern Media and the founder-editor of the peer-reviewed Open Access journal Wide Screen. He holds a PhD in media and communications studies from the University of Leeds, UK and has professional experience in print journalism, internet news, and public relations industries. His interests include Critical Theories of Media and Communication, Semiotics, Transnational Communication, Film industry & production, Film theory, Film and history, Communications Policy, Visual Culture, Communication Technologies, Web media and Communication
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