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Phool Kali : Activist forever

Apr 03, 2014

If the Musahar community is known the world over as a deprived community that survives by eating rats caught from burrows in paddy fields, then Phool Kali will go down as that doughty Musahar activist from Bihar who gained ownership of land from upper castes and the government through single-minded tenacity.

Phool Kali

New Delhi: Farmhand Phool Kali’s story is a remarkable story of courage and persistence.

The genesis of her story lies in that piece of paper that the Bihar government issued to landless people in 1978-79 under the Land Ceiling Act, giving her and 65 neighbours plots of land. For 35 years, those pieces of paper remained mere paper as the land continued to remain with the upper castes and the ownership was never transferred. Still, people like Phool Kali in the Siswa Mangalpur village kept those papers safe from floods, rats, weather and damage.

With the help of activists from the Samagra Shiksha Evam Vikas Sansthan (SSEVS), a local NGO, Phool Kali, who is about 50 years old, called a meeting of villagers and resolved to get ownership of land in their lifetime. The next step was a cycle rally to mobilize villages; meet senior police officers and district officials. But senior officials threatened to throw them into the prison.

Finally, the activists decided to take over the land through a peaceful march and form a human chain around the promised land on January 26, 2009. The significance of the date, a Republic Day, was not lost on the administration that immediately promised to grant them the land in three months if the villagers deferred their agitation. Meanwhile, Phool Kali recalls, the upper caste people started getting nervous about the agitation and began threatening them.

Meanwhile, as word had spread, people began gathering on January 25 in Phool Kali’s village. “Over 10,000 – 15,000 people collected in the village and we walked seven kms to the spot in a peaceful protest march. We kept following up with the administration for the next three months, but nothing happened,” says Phool Kali.

Activists from the SSEVS went on a hunger strike in front of the district magistrate’s office. Still nothing happened. Finally, people led by Phool Kali told the officials that they will take over the land in June. Word was sent out to villages to gather once again on June 4, 2009 and take possession of the land in a peaceful protest.

“We put posters across the length and breadth of villages about the final protest. And by 8 am on June 5, more than 15,000 people gathered. They brought food as well as flags. We also prepared ourselves for bomb attacks and violence from the upper castes. The atmosphere was tense. The police began camping in the village.”

On the eventful day, thousands of people marched and formed a human chain around the land. Tractors were brought in from neighbouring villages and the land was tilled. If the village people were at work, activists too were getting orders from the Patna High Court about a legal transfer of land.

Recalling the landmark day, Phool Kali says: “People asked me to till the land. We sowed seeds and spread out fertilizer. We sang songs and blessed the activists of SSEVS. It became our land.”

The feisty Musahar woman is not the one to sit on her laurels. Her fight continues. There are three more things on her priority list – better implementation of MGNREGA; getting a homestead for and homeless and a pucca road to her village. Once an activist, always an activist – that is Phool Kali – mother of five children, activist extraordinaire and an inspiration to other Musahars.

This story has been done under a PACS-OneWorld partnership on MGNREGA

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