“I was left with no choice. I begged them not to destroy the crop but they did not stop. They did it last year too and my debts have gone up. One more round of destruction, and I knew I would have nothing to feed my six children,’’ says Rajkumar Ahirwar, lying on one of the beds in the medical ward of Guna district hospital, going over the events of July 14.
That day, Rajkumar, 38, and his wife had consumed pesticide as an anti-enchroachment team of the police and revenue officials began destroying their soybean crop. As the unconscious couple were being bundled into a police van to be taken to hospital, Rajkumar’s brother Shishupal had blocked the way, leading to a lathi charge. Videos of the policemen raining blows on Shishupal and his mother Geeta had led to widespread outrage. On Thursday, the state government suspended six policemen. A day earlier, it had transferred the District Collector and the Superintendent of Police.
Lying on an adjacent bed, Savitri is in stupor, only to be occasionally woken up by relatives as a steady stream of politicians and media personnel call on the couple. She can barely speak so relatives prop her up for photographs. The IV stand is occasionally shifted to make space for the visitors.
Images of the couple’s six children crying next to their unconscious parents had gone viral on July 14. Today, the children adjust themselves on the beds, clinging to the father who does the talking or the mother who can’t.
Back on their disputed land, the soybean crop lies partially destroyed. In one corner of the field is a tarpaulin shack, in another a semi pucca house, both of which the Ahirwar family shared. Standing outside the tarpaulin shack, Rajkumar’s younger brother Shishupal and mother Geeta show the injuries on their bodies from the police beatings of three days ago.
On the police claim that Shishupal attacked them, leading to the lathi-charge, he says, “I did not assault anyone, I only pushed a constable because they were dragging my unconscious brother away. I told them not to do that and lift him properly,’’ says Shishupal. “I got angry because they not only hit us with lathis but abused us and called us criminal Pardhis,’’ he says.
Shishupal has a prominent limp from the police blows on his legs.
“We folded our hands and requested them to wait at least till the crop was harvested in about two months. We did not say we own the land or that we will not vacate it,’’ says Geeta, showing dark purple bruises on her legs. She had rushed to protect Shishupal, one of her nine children, from the police. Her husband Mangilal is so frail, he did not attempt to intervene, she says. Today, too, he speaks nothing.
When asked why the administration couldn’t have waited for the Ahirwars to harvest their crop before evicting them, Gwalior Divisional Commissioner M B Oza said a magisterial inquiry was on and facts would become clear after that. The administration has been saying that the land is owned by the government and is reserved for a model college.
Before his transfer, Guna collector S Vishwanathan had said that any further delay in clearing the land would have meant that the college project would have been shifted to another district.
The Ahirwars say they have no complaints against Gabbu Pardhi, the man who has claimed ownership of the over 40-bigha land in Jaganpur Chakk, on Guna’s outskirts, on which the Ahirwars work as sharecroppers, growing, besides soybean, maize and jowar. Last year, say the Ahirwars, Pardhi had loaned them Rs 1 lakh, an amount they will now have to adjust against a larger share of the crop to Paridhi.
Pardhi, in his 60s, and his wife Nagkanya were Bahujan Samaj Party councilors, he from 2004-2009, and she from 2009-2014 in the local municipal body. The district police said there are 13 criminal cases, including some of murder and attempted murder, against Pardhi. The couple live in a two-storey house, not far from the disputed land.
Last year, Pardhi moved the Madhya Pradesh High Court to challenge earlier orders of the Gwalior Additional Commissioner, a sub-divisional officer and a tehsildar, all of whom had rejected his claim to ownership of the land.
“The petitioner belongs to a Scheduled Caste. His ancestors did not have any source of livelihood and therefore they occupied some land situated at Jaganpur Survey No 13/1 to 13/5. The total area 8.36 hectares (more than 40 bighas) was not appropriate for cultivation but with hard work of the petitioner’s ancestors, it became fertile and they are in possession for 40 years,’’ reads the petition filed in the High Court in 2019.
With the matter still pending in court, the Guna administration had tried to take possession of the land in November 2019. While the administration claims the Pardhi family did not allow the operation to take place, the Ahirwars claim their entire crop was destroyed last year.
“We have been in occupation of the land for decades. We started cultivating when this was a jungle. We worked hard to level the land. How can the government take away the land from us,’’ says Pardhi. “Patta se bada kabja hota hai (ownership is determined by occupation, not a revenue document),’’ he adds.
Talking of the suicide bid by the Ahirwars, Pardhi says, “They consumed pesticide. If they take away our land, we will either lie on the railway tracks or hang to death.’’
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