Karahal is a Tehsil in the Sheopur District of Madhya Pradesh; it is about 400 km north of Bhopal on the Madhya Pradesh-Rajasthan border and the nearest big town is Gwalior which is at a distance of about 160 kms. The Tehsil has under it about 114 villages and a geographic area in excess of 200 Sq kms. It is inhabited by a rural and rain dependent agrarian society for which reason large portions of the Tehsil remains drought prone. Under conditions of drought entire villages, especially Tribals, are known to migrate to nearby Gujarat, Uttar Pradesh and Rajasthan in search of work.
The Sikh community, ever known for its enterprising hard work, and especially so, in the field of agriculture took on the challenge of cultivation the waste land in Karahal. More than three decades ago, a few families migrated to the region from Punjab and Haryana and acquired the land legally. They worked very hard to make it cultivable. These hapless families had to leave their new found home and hearth in 1984 in the wake of the anti-Sikh riots post the assassination of then Prime Minister, Indira Gandhi. Almost a decade later such families and some more, once again went back to Karahal and reacquired the lands. Now their land holdings are productive agriculture units; they have the potential to give employment to locals and boost the economy.
The small, hardworking community that has done so much for local development in this remote rural area is now facing eviction for the second time. The Kamal Nath led Congress government in the state has targeted the small community under its so-called drive against “encroachments in tribal areas.” The holdings of about 11 Sikh families in Karahal have been declared illegal. In the most brutal and insensitive manner their farm houses have been razed to the ground and their standing crops destroyed over ten days from December 21 to December 31, 2019. Everything that they worked so hard for has been wrested away from them.
Most of the families have legal documents like registries of land sale and that too by non-Tribals, the entries have been made in land records; there is adequate documentation available in the revenue offices. The administration, however, is immune to all such pleas. Right from the Tehsildar to the highest office in the administration everybody is adamant to push the Sikh out. They are quoting ancient laws for protection of “aboriginal land” as a reason behind the drive and terming the Sikhs as illegal outsiders. The Sikhs have been accused of buying tribal land on the basis of forged papers and also encroaching upon forest and government land.
It is behind the veneer of such obnoxious misuse of power and authority that the demolition drive is being carried out. No notices have been served and no chance has been given to the people to put forth their case. In fact, the families were not even allowed to remove their personal belongings before the bulldozers were put into action. Instances have been reported where the demolition teams have used force and very harsh words against the Sikhs, they have been called Ugarwadi (militants) and asked as to why they have come back after having been driven out in 1984.
Even the locals have been organising protests and openly raising slogans for expulsion of the Sikhs from the villages. In their slogans they are threatening that “whosoever will support Sikhs will be given beating with shoes” and calling to “throw out Sikhs from Karhal” in a manner akin to what happened in 1984. It is said that the protestors are enjoying the patronage of the administration.
There are certain cases where some revenue, forest and Tribal land is being cultivated by the Sikhs, but this too is beneficial for the Tribals who are paid an annual rent of Rs 5,000 to Rs 6,000 per acre and also employed in their farms for daily wages of about Rs 150 per day.
Several Sikh leaders and organisation have intervened in the matter, delegations from the Shiromani Gurdwara Prabandhak Committee (SGPC), Shiromani Akali Dal have visited the area; all have blamed the government for “persecution” of Sikhs. The intervention of the central government has been sought by all such delegations.
The Punjab chief minsiter, Capt. Amarinder Singh, has spoken to his counterpart in Madhya Pradesh on telephone and has followed this by sending a fact finding team to the area led by Punjab Revenue Minister Gurpreet Singh Kangar and MLAs Kuldpeep Vaid and Harminder Singh Gill. Amarinder Singh has, however, given a window of opportunity to Kamal Nath to extract out of this problem by saying that if it is not possible to rehabilitate Sikhs in the same area then alternate land should be provided for their resettlement.
Under pressure from many sides, Kamal Nath has gone into damage control. He has stopped the anti-encroachment drive and four revenue department personnel, including the SDM, were removed. He has further ordered a probe into the alleged high handedness of the Sheopur district administration. He has also directed a delegation of the government committee of Sikhs to visit Sheopur and talk to all the affected parties, including the district administration, the locals and Tribals. The delegation would be led by the convener of the government Sikh committee Narendra Saluja.
It is notable that both Punjab and Madhya Pradesh are ruled by the Congress party. This apart, Kamal Nath and Amarinder Singh are old friends being from the same school. The reaction of the Punjab government has, therefore, been muted. The findings of the team sent on ground have not been made public.
There is no talk of any compensation being provided to the Sikhs whose houses have been demolished and no indication of their being allowed to cultivate their lands as before. Despite the so-called intervention by the chief minister, Pratibha Pal, the District Collector of Sheopur is adamant in her belief that no wrong has been done. “The anti-encroachment drive which is aimed at freeing government land and land belonging to Tribals from the “land mafia” is part of the larger drive ‘Shudh Ke Liye Yudh’ initiated by the state government across the state. All such illegal occupants of land were first identified and the encroachments removed after following the due process,” Pratibha Pal is reported to have said to a Sikh delegation.
On the allegation that only Sikhs were targeted during the drive, the District Collector said, “Action was taken against 23 people belonging to several castes. More than 326 acres of government land was freed from encroachers. As many as 34 SC/ST persons were restored possession of their land. In 12 villages, more than 657 acres was identified which was occupied with the help of fake lease papers.” No details have been given about the “several castes” against whom action has been taken. Surprisingly, it is only Sikhs who are agitating.
The Government of Madhya Pradesh was, in November 2019, questioned by the media on allegations and rumours of “permission being given by the government for sale of Tribal land to non-Tribals.” This matter was brought up in November 2019 and has been reported in the Free Press Journal. The Government had given a clarification that “only time limit for diversion of non-tribal land, in case it is sold to non-tribal, has been abolished.”
The probable explanation to the fiasco that is taking place is that the Congress government attempted to legalise transfer of Tribal Land to non-Tribals and when questions started being raised it went to the other extreme of showing itself as the biggest protector of Tribal rights by removing what it is terming as illegal encroachments by “land mafia.”
All delegations have come back but the findings remain abstract, the present situation is not known and is not being spoken about. Have the Sikhs been given back their land holdings? Are they being compensated for the loss that they have incurred? If the land cannot be given beck than what alternative has been offered to the devastated community? These and many other questions remain unanswered even as it seems that the matter has been put under a media clampdown.
Bona-fide agriculturists of the Sikh community who have been tilling the land for decades on end have suddenly been called “land mafia” and an evangelist drive has been initiate to remove them. The locals and Tribals are happy because they will get for themselves highly fertile land that has been prepared and nurtured by the Sikhs for decades on end. The land where only maize and barley used to grow started producing wheat, paddy and mustard. It is then that certain local elements provoked the Tribals to try getting back their land which is as good as gold now. In fact, it is now that land mafia will come into play!
Chief Minister Kamal Nath, is an experienced politician. He is also involved in a large number of controversies. His name was prominent among those alleged to be involved in the anti-Sikh massacre post the assassination of Indira Gandhi in October, 1984. In the botched up investigation, the Nanavati Commission was instituted 25 years after the incident took place; it “fully absolved” Kamal Nath due to lack of evidence.
In recent times, on February 12, 2015, following a recommendation by the Home Ministry appointed Justice (Retd) G P Mathur committee, another Special investigation team (SIT) has been instituted to look into riots. The SIT comprises of two Inspector General-rank IPS officers and a judicial officer. The SIT has so far re-opened around 80 out of the 650 cases registered in connection with anti-Sikh riots.
In September, 2019, the SIT has decided to reopen seven cases in which Kamal Nath is accused of giving shelter to five people who have been accused of being involved in the rioting and murder of innocent Sikhs during the riots. The seven cases were registered at police stations in Vasant Vihar, Sun Light Colony, Kalyanpuri, Parliament Street, Connaught Place, Patel Nagar and Shahdara. The SIT has already issued public notices asking individuals and organisations to provide information related to the seven cases.
If this drive is extended to the entire state them hundred of Sikh families that are doing sterling service by cultivating almost 30 percent of the agriculture land in the state will bedevastated. One would hope that the chief minister will deal with the present crisis that Sikhs are facing in the state in a righteous manner that ensures justice for all those who are involved. An inability to do so will possibly be seen as an indicator of a malaise against the community that continues to persist.