Semra Villagers Rebuilding Their Lives

Monday, 22nd October 2012

Village Semra is in the Mohammadabad block of district Ghazipur and was facing the changing embankment of the river Ganga. As the village is situated on the bank of river Ganges, its powerful current ruined a large part of agricultural land and threatened to enter the village cutting the embankment. Many of the villagers left the village and those who did not have any option moved out because their houses collapsed during this.

A team of Social Development Foundation (SDF) activists led by Ramapati Shastri and Radhey Shayam had been working in this village for past three years and decided that it was time to mobilize people and demand for rehabilitation of the people. They lobbied with the district officials and also used the printed copy of the report published on Halabol with photographs. The officials were under pressure and felt that the news may internationalize further if the action was not taken. At the ground zero, the team has been activating people and assuring them of solidarity and support of people outside their town, through internet and social media.

It gives me immense pleasure to state that 12 people, whose houses collapsed completely, were given land to build up their structure by the government. They have already started working on it and putting their huts in place. While government provides emergency aid to people, it is perhaps for the first time, that within a month’s period, the authorities actually handed over legal entitlement to 12 people mostly belonging to the Dalit community but from other communities too. An average of 1935 square feet land was allotted legally to build up their houses or huts.

SDF team was lobbying in this village for long and it had already identified the communal land. Ghazipur is historically a violent district where land related matters often resulted in bloodshed. The historic Sherpur village known for Dalit resistance against upper caste feudalism is just 5 kilometer from here. The land was identified but was already in the possession of a powerful high caste person who had annexed it for agriculture purposes. But with media pressure at the local level as well as using Halabol’s national-international presence, our team convinced the officials to act fast. They met the district magistrate, local revenue officials and finally on September 24th, 12 people got complete possession of their land along with their legal documents.

On October 6th, 2012, another 32 people who were completely landless got their land entitlement papers by the district authorities. Though this does not compensate the loss of agriculture land because of the flood but it is important to learn a few lessons here, how we can use mass mobilization and social media to spread information and become a pressure group. Social media will become a pressure group when social movements use it as a tactic and not depend on it thoroughly. The impact will be powerful and felt all the way.

As I visited Semra again to meet people, I could see the impact had been devastating. Though river Ganga has subdued now but it has sent an everlasting impact on the village. The village was always under the threat and requested the government to build up a concrete wall to protect it from furious river. Lakhs of rupees went into drain as the so-called stone bund was built for photos to be published in the newspapers, and officials in connivance with local contractors, made the money. The threat to the village persists once rainy season revisit next year and hence for a permanent solution, a concrete bund needs to be built there.

In the meanwhile, a visit to any new place where people are located gives you their minds. They are pleased and happy with it but definitely loss is enormous and life has to be rebuilt. The winters are approaching. Bhola Nath Yadav has lost everything. He had about 6-7 bighas of land. It is marooned in Ganga now. His sons have migrated to cities. He lives with his wife. Worried about future particularly when winters are approaching, he requests for support from friends.

“We know government help does not come on time. Though I am happy that we have got this plot but we lost everything. We request for blankets and winter stuff for us. We want support for our survival”, he says.

Villagers acknowledge that the act was fast, yet, they are worried about future. Now, they do not have anything to till and work on. Life is miserable. SDF’s team was able to get them government assistance but it is too meager. People got financial help in the range of Rs. 2.500/- to Rs 7,500/-. One can assume what will one do with it. People had built up cemented homes and lost everything. Now, they cannot rebuild the same with this peanut amount.

Many of them lost even their beddings and charpoys in the flood. Life is tough, yet, uncertainty of being encroachers on others land is not there as, at least for their living, the people have got land entitlements.

SDF’s team leader in Mohammdabad, Raj Kapoor Rawat says that they feel encouraged and motivated with this development and will be focusing on much bigger causes of land rights movement in the district. They have built up huge network of local landless people.

“We are doing our survey of landless people and marking village Panchayat lands in each village we are working. Focus is on providing evidences to the authorities so that they are forced to act”, he says.

Many of these friends are being honored today in a special program of the organization in Mohammadabad today. The message here is clear that internet activists can actually enhance the success rate of civil society movement if they just publicize the issue, spend a little time sending the mails or writing letters to the authorities as well as even expressing solidarity with the struggling masses.

In the struggle, every small contribution matters and that is where social media remains extremely important and relevant; even when government authorities may not give credit of success to   organizations working on the ground or social media, but they remain afraid of both. That is a well understood official contempt for the social movements. But let us continue to work irrespective of credit given to us or not, as at the end of the day, if things are moving even without acknowledging, that gives us strength and courage to work further.