Written specially for Vikalp Sangam
Supported by: Atreyee Day
Indrajeet Misra is technically the watchman of the three storied house where my wife grew up. However, he is all-in-one caretaker of the house as his father Vishwanath Mishra called Pandit ji was for many years before Indrajeet took over from him when he became old. Indrajeet has been staying in the outhouse for the past 15 years. He is from an agricultural background from Beladar Village, P.O. Shivpur, Gorakhpur, Uttar Pradesh, owning 3 acres of land. We had a smooth conversation for nearly 2 hours with him which was recorded. He had so much to talk about his land, his family and the realities of the changing time in his context. He spoke mostly in a Bundelkhandi accent, breaking into an equally accented Bengali.
Most of the text below is the summary of what he shared with us
I have a younger brother who is unmarried and pursuing the profession of a priest in a temple. My father was the eldest among three brothers. Therefore, I am the eldest among all the cousin brothers. Although we are basically farmers, over the years farming has become quite difficult with irregular rains and the investment which is becoming unaffordable. My ancestors, seven generations back, migrated from Rohaniya Pipara to this land, which was donated to us by Goswami clan, very old settlers in this village. So, in a way my family was settled by the Goswamy Clan. The entire village is dominated by Brahmins although the presence of Yadav also is high. We are not landlords possessing large chunk of land. Therefore, whatever, yields coming from the land is not sufficient to support the needs of the family. Migration of the male members of families to cities has thus become a necessity to generate more income. Many people migrated long time back and settled across the world.
The village is economically rich as a lot of people have migrated to foreign countries like Singapore, Thailand, etc. During the Colonial period it seems there was an order to put the youth from the Yadav community in those areas behind the bars as they were notorious for criminal activities. Many youngsters ran away to other countries in fear and those who settled in foreign countries made fortunes in their lifetimes.
To the question why people do migrate to other places, he said that the houses are all built together in the villages and as families are multiplying there are no spaces to expand the houses. Unlike in the cities, they do not have enough resources to build multi-storey buildings unless they are really rich. Therefore, they migrate to newer places looking for space. However, it is important to have possession of some land to belong to. One’s identity comes from this connection to land. How can we live completely as landless? Particularly for us it is a matter of pride and identity. I cannot think of migrating from our village to another village, because when we shift to a new village we become strangers there, with no roots and identity-faceless in a new land. In an urban context it is not an issue as we are mostly living anonymous rather than known to our neighbors; moreover, one’s history is more attached to the profession and not necessarily to a particular area. People keep getting transferred from one city to another for various reasons, particularly one’s profession. One can easily move from one city to another if one has the financial resources. However, what makes one rooted in one place is the identity it gives to you through the attachment to land primarily, home, families and relations. Even those urban migrants have their heart connected to some land which they identify with.
No one wants to sell their land. Its only in a helpless moment people sell their ancestral properties like land and house. It is the attachment to a land that gives someone a sense of emotional security. Helplessness is multiple in nature. One, is to support oneself economically at necessary occasions. The other one is imposed by external force, say for example, constructing a public road, or a government institution or a factory, etc. the land is annexed.
With increasing shift to replace the traditional mud-houses with concrete houses the demand for bricks has multiplied. Thus bricks kilns have come up in large numbers around the region, demanding the top soil which is called noona mitti from the agricultural land which has the right consistency for building bricks. Several acres of land have been taken on an agreement with the respective landholders that the factories would take the top soil and in return they would give a particular amount of bricks for house constructions. The land is already lying lower than the village which is situated on a higher land. During monsoon, only when the agricultural fields get flooded one can identify the level of the geographical position of the land.
The mud house built by my father was 45 years old when it required major repair. We knocked down the house to build a ‘pakka makan’ /concrete house with the bricks from the kiln. We built a two room house surrounded by some land where we cultivate vegetables. The main farming field in low lying area faced a major setback as the removal of the top soil made the field deeper. The entire field is surrounded by road with no outlets for water to flow from the field. The rainwater of monsoon gets stagnant in the field which badly affects the wheat cultivation. Therefore, crop failure is quite likely to happen.
The reality is changing in the villages. People who have migrated to cities and making good fortunes have greater status. Whatever lucrative profession they may carryout, if they make good money in the city they are considered as wiser people. I don’t think I have made much out of my profession here in the city. Look at my cousin, the son of my third uncle. The uncle and my cousin sold their property and moved to Noida, Haryana. Although he was considered as a failure initially, later they somehow managed to get a plot in Noida and entered the land dealing and developing business with some financial support from my father. Today he is respected in the village, because he has money.
(Here one can see that people who have really remained stuck to land and values related to land may not have made much progress economically. His cousin brother has no attachment to land anymore. He looks at land only as a property to invest, to make profit out of. It is people who have really moved away from the sentimental attachment to land who are making ‘progress’. Indrajeet’s second uncle is still in the village, with minimum needs, happy with whatever his land produces. He may not be considered as a successful person even by Indrajeet. Unfortunately, no one who is doing small scale farming is considered as successful in our time.)
Indrajeet sounded a little disappointed with himself as he sees that most of his contemporaries have made fortunes. Apart from their land he is still stuck with this ‘simple’ job which gives him a basic minimum income. His main possession is his caste identity and he puts great trust in his son who his completing his Degree Course and hoping to pursue his Masters Degree Banaras Hindu University. “My son is very bright and potential to bring a good future to the family. He is pursuing his studies in Vedanta. My son has the intelligence to become a medical doctor and I blame the Reservation for the SC/ST as the reason for his son not getting the opportunity in competitions. Therefore, I think the Constitution of India has failed us. The nexus of the corporate houses and caste based politics has to be replaced by some dictatorship to save the people of the nation”, said Indrajeet.
Well, we clearly felt, not without some dismay that the current political situation is probably in favor of his aspirations. Though, two years later, he no longer is convinced about the government or it’s proclaimed people-first positions.
Indrajeet has seen major shifts in the property where he is currently working. This is Atreyee’s maternal grandmother’s house which is a three-storied building with an acre of land where her uncle used to do a lot of gardening and had a wild orchard of indigenous trees like blackberry, falsa, goose berry, papaya, guava, mango, coconut, fig, banana, custard apple, date palm, bottle palm, wood apple, ashwath, amaranth and champak while a strip had a garden fringed with nayantara and hibiscus flowers and shrubs of native roses, pomegranate, hasnahanah, tagar, shefali, rangan, marigold, tulasi, sanjeevani, neem, a variety of cacti. The pathways were not paved. There was a plant nursery in a shaded area. Eventually people from the Real Estate sector bought the land from them to develop the property. Four multi-storied apartments were built within the compound so now the land has become a concrete jungle with each house having a number of cars. To the current flat-owner it is after all a piece of property. Indrajeet and his father were occupying another outhouse with a thatched roof which was far more spacious than the current one which was knocked down to make the construction. Now he lives in a small room adjacent to the residence.
“My ancestral house in the village was spacious with 7 rooms. The mud walls protected us from heat and cold alike. Maintenance was much easier and cheaper. Even my new house has become smaller in size, because house construction has become unaffordable for ordinary people like me. We had more land and space, much more fresh air and water. Although the quality of air and water is not as bad as in the cities, things are changing in the villages also. I can see the loss of land everywhere. Loss of sentimental connectedness to land is deteriorating”, said Indrajeet.
It was a very enriching process talking to Indrajeet. This conversation allowed us to sit on the same platform and talk in depth. He spoke from his heart. He probably hadn’t shared his feelings in a long time. People need to talk. These unsaid stories alone can become the voice of the land. They need to be shared so it can find resonance across the world.
Background Note : From 28th to 30th May, 2015 Blaise and I participated in a 3 day free online workshop jointly hosted by Trimukhi Platform and Modern Academy of Continuing Education (MACE), Calcutta. It was called “The Vision of the Land In India and Elsewhere”. Our facilitator was Marc Hatzfeld, scholar anthropologist of French origin. People participated not only from Calcutta and other parts of India but Central America as well. The workshop required reading, fieldwork, writing and then sharing our respective finding with the online community. We carried out several interviews keeping in mind the guidelines Marc provided us. Discussion threads opened up. There was a variety of written material, some poetic, others intensely personal. Collectively it created a patchwork quilted vision of yearning, lost childhood and vivid memories powerfully simply evoked by the word ‘land’. It was an unforgettable experience. Here Blaise has tried to keep the interview as true in spirit reconstructing the stories from memory, notes and recordings, but giving urgent voice to concerns which deeply resonate within himself personally since he, too, has grown up on a farm and family owned farmland. Atreyee Day