While in Kerala at a World Council of Churches meeting, I visited a landless community at Areeppa. A group of Dalits have occupied some land within a rubber plantation. The land on which the rubber plantation is situated is illegally held by a wealthy individual. The Government does nothing to challenge his illegal possession of the land, possibly because through corruption it is a beneficiary of the situation.
Meanwhile the large community of 600 people have no land on which to raise their crops and make their living. They insist that they have the right to own some land. Though they have been offered accommodation in flats they do not believe that this will give them a sustainable life. Therefore they have opted to live in flimsy huts on the rubber plantation until their demand for provision of land is addressed. They will not be moved.
They believe that they are struggling, non-violently, for justice. They are determined not to give up until they succeed. Land is being used as a commodity for the wealthy while the Dalits lack the land they need to ensure their survival.
The need to deploy natural resources for people rather than just for profit is apparent in many places – especially in regard to distribution of land. But it is especially acute for the Dalit people of India who have been systematically dispossessed and now find themselves lacking the means to make a sustainable life.
It was inspiring to meet this community in their solidarity, dignity, discipline, hospitality, determination and commitment to justice. They brought to my mind the words of a celebrated daughter of Kerala, Arundhati Roy:
Our strategy should be not only to confront Empire, but to lay siege to it. To deprive it of oxygen. To shame it. To mock it. With our art, our music, our literature, our stubbornness, our joy, our brilliance, our sheer relentlessness – and our ability to tell our own stories…. Remember this: We be many and they be few. They need us more than we need them.Arundhati Roy, The Ordinary Person’s Guide to Empire, 77.