How Yogi Managed To Turn The Tables For A Marginalised Tribal Community In UP That Didn’t Even Have Voting Rights

by Swarajya Staff - Jun 24, 2021 11:10 AM
How Yogi Managed To Turn The Tables For A Marginalised Tribal Community In UP That Didn’t Even Have Voting RightsYogi Adityanath at a ceremony to distribute 'revenue village certificates' to Vantangiya villages (Twitter)
Snapshot
  • Starting with an early decision of the UP government in 2017 itself, the benefits of government schemes in particular and democracy in general have started reaching the Vantangiyas of north-eastern Uttar Pradesh.

As soon as Yogi Adityanath government came to power after the landslide victory of Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP) in Uttar Pradesh, it took policy measures to help one of the most marginalised communities in Adityanath's constituency Gorakhpur — the Vantangiyas. Today, according to Adityanath, there are 1,625 Vantangiya tribal community villages in the state.

Vantangiya tribals were brought to the region in early 1900s by the British Raj to cary out forestation on the government land. The ‘van’ in their name stands for ‘forest’. The British were expanding the railways in India at the time. They brought landless, poor labourers from across the country to take care of Sal tree plantations — one of the most important sources of hardwood timber in India.

The ‘tangiya’ technique of hill cultivation from Myanmar was used to plant the trees. Therefore, these communities came to be known as ‘Vantangiya’. They were not paid for their services by the British, instead, allotted a small plot of land for survival.

In the 1980s, when the Sal forests matured and the job of Vantangiyas was supposedly done, there were attempts to expel them from their lands. Since they didn’t have land titles, they were seen as encroachers of the land of the forest they had helped grow!

In July 1985, a team of forest officials arrived in the Kusamhi village and asked the residents to evacuate the site. The officials opened fire. Two Vantangiyas reportedly lost their lives, and 28 others were injured.

After this, the forest department softened its approach to the forest dwellers. However, the Vantangiyas had to live in constant fear of displacement, as well as restrictions on activities like collecting forest produce, installing a pucca roof, or even leaving their villages.

Yogi Adityanath started his political career from Gorakhpur in 1998, and from the very beginning, raised the issues of Vantangiyas in both the state assembly as well as the Parliament. He also played an important role in bringing the Forest Rights Amendment Act in 2006.

Since the Vantangiya villages were not revenue villages, there was a total lack of development. There were no permanent schools, no roads, no electricity. The tribals even lacked voting rights. At Yogi Adityanath's behest, a temporary school was started in 2007, and teachers from Gorakhnath Vidya Peeth went there to teach.

A revenue village has definite surveyed boundaries but it may comprise several hamlets. Each revenue village is a separate administrative unit with separate village accounts.

The state government has to provide facilities like schools, hospitals, power, and water in revenue villages. The residents can also get patta, or land title, so that their claim on the lands they live on is no more precarious. This itself makes them eligible for benefits under various schemes. For the same reason, in 2016, the central government had asked the state governments to convert all forest villages into revenue villages.

According to the FRA, forest villages are “the settlements which have been established inside the forests by the forest department of any State Government for forestry operations or which were converted into forest villages through the forest reservation process and includes forest settlement villages.”

While Vantangiyas’ villages were officially categorised as forest villages, they demanded them to be declared as revenue villages.

In 2015, five Vantangiya villages, which fall in Tinkoniya forest area, had received the right to participate in panchayat elections, but their status as revenue village had remained pending.

Soon after taking over the reins of power in the state in 2017, Adityanath directed the officials to initiate steps for bringing members of the community to the mainstream. In 2017 itself, 23 Vantangiya settlements were accorded the status of revenue villages, followed by ‘recognition’ to another 47 under the Forest Rights Act, 2006, (FRA). In 2017 itself, Yogi Adityanath took part in an event in Barhava Chandanchafi village where he also distributed land patta to 3,779 Vantangiya families.

With the revenue village recognition, the Vantangiyas who had been deprived of roads, potable water, healthcare, livelihood opportunities, BPL cards, employment guarantee projects, education, electricity connections, pensions, loans and permanent housing — even voting rights — could get them all.

Employment opportunities were also provided. For example, leaf pressing machines were installed and villagers were trained to operate them. The village women now press leaves into plates for sale. Others pickle different vegetables and sell them. This has increased cash in hand of the villagers.

Yogi Adityanath also laid the foundation stones for Anganwadi centres in these villages, and set in motion the process to set up primary schools, junior high schools, houses under Pradhan Mantri Awas Yojana, toilets, ration shops, solar panels and extending pension benefits to the widows and the aged.

For over 10 years now, Yogi Adityanath has been celebrating Diwali with the Vantangiyas in their villages. He used to bring toffees, pencils, sweets, books, copies, and other gifts for the children, hence his name ‘Toffee wale Baba’. Even now, while helming the state, he takes time out to spend Diwali evenings with tribal children. The occasion is often marked with announcement of several welfare schemes.

Professor Badri Narayan sees this as a success story of the democratic experiment in India. In his book Fractured Tales (2016), he has analysed how only a few Dalit communities in Uttar Pradesh acquired visibility, despite a relatively long Dalit-Bahujan regime under Mayawati-led Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP), while most of them remain invisible.

He notes how RSS is working among some of these communities, in certain zones of Uttar Pradesh, to provide them access to education and cleanliness and to support their dreams of social mobility.

He writes: “Some government schemes, such as the Ujjwala Yojana, the Awas Yojana and support under Right to Food, have provided them sustenance.. Uttar Pradesh CM Yogi Adityanath has initiated work on various policies that can help the most marginalized communities, such as the Vantangiya who are settled in Gorakhpur region. The villages where they stay have been granted the status of revenue villages, which makes them eligible for government schemes,”

“The BJP’s political strategy for 2022 elections includes these non-dominant marginal communities. As a result, one can see the benefits of democracy—however little—reaching them,” he adds.

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