Surajpur: Aagar Sai, 45, a resident of Pando Nagar is busy measuring the length of an iron bar for making a permanent tin shade at the Rashtrapati Bhavan in their village.
The tribals of Pando Nagar are doing preparations for the Rajendra Prasad Jayanti which falls on December 3, and Pando people from across the state will attend the grand programme in memory of the former president.
The Pando Nagar village is situated 26 kilometre away from Surajpur , towards the Ambikapur district of Chhattisgarh, and is home to around 200 families. Former President Dr Rajendra Prasad had visited this village on November 22, 1952, and had adopted the Pando tribe. The villagers then constructed a Rashtrapati Bhavan in his honour at the place where he had sit.
The Pando tribe, which is scattered across the district of Surajpur in Surguja division, is all set to ‘not vote’ in the upcoming state assembly elections in Chhattisgarh.
Aagar Sai, who has also held the post of sarpanch of the Pando Nagar village says that the tribala always participated in the elections with great excitement and enthusiasm, but they have always been ditched by the representatives.
“Last time, the residents of Pando Nagar even went for campaigning with leaders from different parties, and in return, no one ever came back after the voting was done. It is like using us for their interest. The one who got elected never turned to listen to us, and we had helped him get elected. There are issues of employment and land rights in our village, but no one in the government either has time, or gives importance to our demands. Everyone is so busy,” he says, adding that now the tribals are too busy, and they will totally boycott the elections.
The former village sarpanch told Newsclick that despite being educated, the youths of Pando tribes hardly get employed in any of the government departments, and this is even after the people of this tribe have got reservation in government jobs.
“There is not even a single youth in our village who has not studied up to eighth standard, but how many of them have got the job? Only two. The rest of them are doing agriculture, working as labourers, and doing whatever job they are getting just to earn livelihood for the family,” said Sai.
Banarasi Pando, 60, the district president of the Pando tribe in Surajpur district says that absolutely no work has been done for the Pando tribe after 1952, when President Rajendra Prasad had visited the village.
“Earlier, there were only 35 families in the village, and now, there are around 200 families, but only five families have got the lease of the land. The people from our tribe are struggling for land rights, and this is even after the government gave us the forest rights,” says Pando, adding that the government is double-faced.
“On the one hand, the government says that the tribals have forests rights, land rights, this right and that right, but in reality, they are constructing godowns for FCI, building nurseries, and doing other things just to harass the Pando tribe. Not just this, the government is also doing its best to ruin our village, as now, all the coal for Adani's work is taken down from the goods train outside our village due to which the air quality has degraded,” claims Banarasi, adding that the dust coming from the coal has blackened the Rashtrapati Bhavan, and a meeting of all the Pando people from the district will soon be called to protest against this.
Vishun Pando, 58, the gram patel (head of the village), says that the biggest problem in the village is of the land rights, and government hardly pays any heed to it. “Every family in the village has acquired a portion of land for farming, as there is no other option to earn livelihood. This is a fact, but not even one per cent of the families hold lease of the land despite laws made for it. This was the responsibility of gram sachiv, revenue officer, and the department specially made for the welfare of Pando people. The reality is that no one ever tries to solve this problem, and whenever the tribals protest against this, they are given a reason that the land, where they live and practise agriculture, does not either belong to the forest or revenue department, and in that case, the government is free to construct godowns or nurseries. But, this is not anyone's land, and it is totally ours. We cleared the forests, and came here to live. Earning our livelihood from this land is our right, and we need it anyhow,” he says.
“This is simply a case of government’s apathy. We have seen Congress also for a long time, and we have also seen the BJP for the last 15 years. This time, no voting from Pando tribe,” says Vishun.
“Nahi mila hume patta hai, chunav ab khatta hai (If no land for us, no election for us),” is the slogan with which the Pando people will be protesting in coming days.
Ganga Ram Paikra, a well-known tribals’ rights activist from the Surguja division says that he was not aware about any such election boycott announcement by the tribals, but there is nothing wrong in saying that Pando tribe is not getting the land rights.
“It is the duty of the government and the revenue department to give the lease of the land to people who have acquired the land before December 13, 2005, but the fact is that panchayat secretaries and the government have turned a blind eye to this major issue of the Pando tribe,” said Paikra, adding that the problem is also with the Pando tribe, as they are not aware of their rights and they sit idle when someone promises something to them.
“See, these people are very innocent, and they are not very much aware of their rights. So, they do a lot of mistakes while doing the paperwork. Another thing is that even the government also does not want to work for the tribals. Otherwise, some action would have been taken by now. Last month also, we had called for a big sit-in protest for the tribals, but nothing has been done,” he said.