60 year old Pardhi man dies protesting for a home
Apparao’s family is among close to 500 such homeless Pardhi families in and around Beed city alone.
On Sunday morning, 60-year-old Apparao Pawar, who hails from Beed’s Pardhi community, died while on a hunger strike in front of the District Collectorate for two days demanding a home. For Apparao, the fight for a home had begun around 14 years ago, when he claimed rights over the land in Vasanvadi, around 10-15 km from Beed, where his family had lived for decades. Apparao’s family is among close to 500 such homeless Pardhi families in and around Beed city alone, who have been waiting for the government to find them a home.
“We have lived on that land for around 30-35 years. We were waiting that one day, we will be able to build our house there. But Malak (Apparao) died before that could happen,” Kavita Pawar, Apparao’s wife said.
Apparao’s family had been living on the Gairan land in Vasanwadi for over three decades. Earlier, they lived in temporary homes made of cloth, plastic or wood. “No one bothered them until they lived there in temporary homes. It was when they began demanding that they get the right and resources to build a home there, a fight ensued,” Ashok Tangade of the National Dalit Movement for Justice (NCDHR) said.
Apparao and four others living on the same land applied for government funds to build permanent houses there under the government’s Shabari Adivasi Gharkul Yojana.
“They were given Property Tax Return (PTR) document for the land by the local Gram Sevak, which they used to apply for the funds under the scheme. A gharkul was approved for them under the scheme in 2020 and they even received the first installment for the same. But when they actually bought bricks, sand for construction and went to build a house, the villagers opposed,” Tangade said.
They were later told that the land cannot be allotted to these families for permanent housing citing a government order that gairan land cannot be utlised for individual purposes.
“Apparao and the families have since been fighting for home. The Collector's Office later said that the land had been reserved for police and hence could not be given to the families. How were the PTR documents given to them if the land was reserved, no one answers that,” Tangade said.
The said land in Vasanwadi is in close proximity to the expanding city of Beed. It has been suspected that these Pardhi families are denied the land, as their settlement would reduce the value of the land.
“They first gave us the land, but then when the land came under the city, they took it away,” Kavita says.
Tatvasheel Kamble, activist and former member of Child Welfare Committee (CWC) Beed, who has also been supporting the families in their struggle pointed towards the government's neglect and apathy towards the community.
He said, “It was after they decided to apply for gharkuls, that we helped get their AADHAR cards, PAN cards, other documents made. No one made them aware of the need for these documents before. These are the people who have to worry about what they will eat that day from the time they wake up in the morning. They do not have any time to think about documents. Their kids beg, some of them gather honey, some hunt in the nearby hills. They do any work that they can find to meet their daily needs.”
Beed has had five collectors since Apparao and others began the fight for homes 14 years ago. But the issue always remained unresolved.
“This time, the present Collector said that since it was not possible for him to grant permission for housing on the land in question, he offered to raise funds to buy around 2 acres of land for Apparao’s family to build the house and resolve the conflict,” Tangade said.
Kamble added, “We convinced the families and began looking for suitable land. But due to the stigma that the Pardhi community still faces in the society, in many locations, villagers refused to give land for housing Pardhi families.”
The hunt for a suitable land continued and so did Apparao’s longing for a home.
Two days before his death, he again went to the District Collector’s office and submitted a letter that he will start a hunger strike again if he is not assigned land for a home soon. When he failed to get any assurance, he began the hunger strike on Friday.
“He was ailing. His wife, scared for her husband’s life asked the police around the protest site to take a look at him, to take him to a hospital. But no one paid attention. He was found dead on Sunday morning. Is it not the government’s responsibility to ensure that those protesting are healthy? When Anna Hazare goes on hunger, doctors check him twice a day to make sure that he is alright. It’s only the poor and the Dalits that they ignore,” Tangade further said.
“I do not remember how many times we have protested, gone on hunger strikes in the last few years. All the struggle had affected his health, the doctors said it had stressed him. Now he is gone,” Kavita exasperates.
After all of this, the Collector has now agreed to find and buy land with the help of some NGOs and organisations like the Rotary Club for the family to build a house. But Tangade questions how can the government take aid from the NGOs for the work that it is responsible for. “What about the Shaabari scheme then? Why does the government not have funds for this,” he asks.
Kamble adds that the government has not allotted enough funds for building homes under the scheme and that there is no provision available to buy the land.
“Appparao and others had PTR documents for their land. They had approval under a government scheme to build the house on that land. The government should have provided police protection for them to build their houses. Instead, the government tried to remove them from there. When the government has to evict the poor from their homes, it uses police force without hesitation. When it comes to protecting the poor, it simply ignores its responsibility,” Tangade adds.
Even though Apparao’s family has been assured a house after his death, the question still persists. There are around 400-500 Pardhi families in and around Beed city alone. The question of providing them all with houses is still a huge challenge.
“It has been our demand for long that Beed district administration should form a Pardhi Development Plant on the lines of the programme chalked out of Ahmednagar district administration. Under this, a survey o the Pardhi population in the district is conducted. Based on the findings, provisions are made for the Pardhi families in the fields of housing, education, etc. Such a programme is required in Ahmednagar, Beed and Osmanabad, the three districts in the state with large Pardhi populations,” Tangade says.
Meanwhile, Kavita says that the collector said land will be made available to them in a couple of months.
“How can they still ask us to wait another couple of months? We have practically been living here for the past several years. Two of my grandchildren were born right here, on the protest site. A grandson died here of dengue. Now my husband is also dead here. We will not claim his body until we get home,” she said.
Even 35 hours after Aparao’s death, Tangade says his post morterm report has not come. “He died on Sunday morning. The collector held a meeting on Monday. The government's apathy has transcended his death as well,” Tangade says.
Watching Apparao sitting outside the district collectorate with a banner had become a 'normal' sight for the people in Beed. He sat there protesting for a home almost every 15 days for the last several years. He died protesting. But his family’s wait for the home still continues. Just as several others like him.