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Santals: Culture, discrimination and landloss

Santals: Culture, discrimination and landloss
From Silent Forests By Tone Blele with Logen Kisku
Culture, environmental degradation and poverty among the Santals of Bangladesh
Chr. Michelsen Institute



Introduction

During our preliminary survey in 1996 the issue of both ongoing and past landloss came up as a likely central cause for pauperization in the Santal community at large extent. We also realized that we had to pay close attention to the links between discrimination as an ethnic minority (including access to state provided resources) and land loss. We became increasingly concerned about a couple of important research questions :

Is it possible to estimate the landloss from the British Period until presently?
What are the main causes of landloss, have these changed throughout the last 50 years?
Is it possible to estimate the relative amounts of legal sale versus illegal transfers?
Are really always Santals the victims and Bengalis the culprits?
Is there any difference in land loss amongst Christian and non Christian Santals?
How much land can still be prevented sold to non Santals and possibly how?

Research strategy, methods and constraints
We decided to conduct a fairly comprehensive survey throughout our research area. The survey form was developed in collaboration between Bleie, Kisku and the local resource person Mr. Rubia Toppo, who was earlier working for CARITAS Legal Aid Project. Toppo an experienced farmer, community leader and social worker was of valuable help in both designing the land survey form and during the subsequent training in survey methods and tools.
The survey form was developed to enable very detailed recording for two periods; 1947-1972 and 1972-1997, specifying what we found to be appropriate and well defined categories of land transfers; amount of Mortgaged Land (to Bengali/Santal, when, reason), Enemy Property (amount, when, to whom, reason), Land Sold with Permission (amount, to Bengali/Santal, when, reason), Other Landloss (amount, to Bengali/Santals, when, reason) amount of Khas Land (when), amount of Forest Land (when, reason). The form also contained tables for recording of land purchase between 1971-1997 and for redeemed mortgaged land within this period from Bengalis and Santals. A Commentary Sheet was attached allowing for more detailed information than allowed in the tables.
To reduce errors in the interview situation and in the filling out of forms the coordinator developed a detailed Instruction Sheet spelling out the research questions and how to fill into the tables and the commentary sheet. The instruction sheet was planned to accompany all research teams during field trials and the survey.
The trials and the first round of the survey was conducted by all teams between July and late September 1997. We conducted then a quality control on an occasional selection of 50 of the 700 submitted forms.
There are of course several sources of errors here at different stages in the process of design, survey taking, recording and computerization of the data. Let us briefly describe some of the major sources of errors. The first critical stage is in the translation of the draft form and instruction sheet from English to Bengali. By two ways cross checking we found some errors in translation of categories also two columns had been left altogether. These errors were not discovered before a first set of survey forms had been printed and circulated to two of the teams. The teams who had already received these forms had to correct the errors manually. The other teams got the corrected forms.
The field trials were conducted under close supervision, aided also by the Instruction Sheet. Here another logistical failure resulted in that two of the teams were not supplied with the instruction aid. It seems though that this has not significantly hampered the field trials. During trials considerable attention was paid to presentation of purpose of the land survey, search for reliable informants, modes of posing the questions, note taking, cross checking methods in the interview situation and after during full recording of survey interviews.
The quality control conduced on a selection of the submitted forms in September 1997 revealed that in spite of the efforts made in training and trials some serious shortcomings were found in the test materials. One major problem was completely lacking and very incomplete data for the period 1947-1972. The major reasons reported by the supervisors were: time pressure which made the VS prioritize the period 1972-1997, since more reliable and comprehensive information was available and frequent absence of elderly informants at the time of the survey interview. Another detected major problem was inaccurate or partly unreadable filling out of forms, which could create new errors during computerization of the data.
After difficult discussions we decided to reject the submitted forms and go for a second round of survey taking. This decision was at first felt very discouraging by all the teams. We decided to learn as much as possible from this failure. We decided to use much time in the upcoming training on reviewing the shortcomings in the survey and find ways to ensure more complete and accurate recording in the second round. The decision to redo the land survey also had consequences for the progress of other pending research work for the rest of 1997 as well as financial consequences. These were gradually sorted out and a new round of survey taking was conducted in early December, but for a reduced sample (399 households compared to 700 in the first round). The data collected in this second round were significantly more complete and accurate. Tabulation of the survey and computerization was done in January, and February 1998 by a professional statistician. We have not been able to detect any major errors in this phase.
In addition to these errors we have detected other related to our research questions and the resulting definition of time intervals. We have found it virtually impossible for us to document even roughly the amount of land lost during the period 1947-1997. The problems are immense, both due to unavailability of reliable elderly informants and to memory lapse among quite a few of those elders we were able to interview. Another major problem hindering any comparison of reliable quantitative data on full land loss (through legal or illegal means) between 1947 and 1972 is created by the major changes in the land laws within that period. This would have made it problematic to compare the legal landholding situation in 1947 and 1972, even if information on tenancy forms and the amounts of transfers had been available. We present below our findings about different forms of land transfers, their relative importance and the major underlying causes.

The period 1947-1972
In 1947 the Santals, like other adibasis, held various kinds of tenurial rights under Zamindars who were the owners. The adibasi inhabited areas had sub feudal systems with the Zamindars and sub zamindars. They in turn rented the land to ryots with occupancy rights. These ryots had to pay rent either to the sub Zamindar or to the state directly.
Besides ryots, there were other tenure holders such as jotadars who often did not had the right to claim a substantial portion of the produce besides different kinds of land tax, some of which were in turn paid by the Zamindars to the government. The Zamindars subleased land to sub zamindars and jotadars who leased their lands to cultivators on different terms.
When the was abolished in 1952, many Santals and other adibasis did not get their tenurial rights converted into legal ownership to the land. There are many reasons for this. There different tenurial rights. Some were much more legally complicated than others, some granting the cultivator residency rights and security against eviction, others granting no residence rights and hardly any protection against eviction. At that time nearly all Santals were illiterate, which of course also meant that they were effectively legally illiterate, both in terms of knowledge of the legal intricacies as well as in terms of ability to directly examine, write and make use of written legal documents. The tenurial arrangements sometimes varied in the same hamlet. In other places the systems varied from village to village. We can still say today that one reason why significant differences arise between Santali communities in current land ownership was a community's ability to get their tenurial rights converted into ownership rights in the early 1950s. Tragically, many who did ensure control over a huge property have lost most or all of their land over the last 45 years.
We cannot give any approximate numbers on how much of the land previously cultivated by Santals was granted full ownership rights in comparison to how much land they hand cultivated on tenurial terms, which for several reasons did not get registration. A number of testimonies, which are also supported by earlier research (Bleie 1995), indicate that many unsuccessfully tried to gain ownership rights in 1952. Many others relinquished this legal opportunity due to ignorance and indecisiveness. It seems that many Santals trusted that they would be able to maintain tenurial rights to land on a sharecropping basis and that such cultivation rights would ensure their livelihood for the foreseeable future.
Instead of cultivating the land, they leased it to under tenants who had to make cash payments in advance for getting the land on lease. Moreover, the ordinary ryots could have sub tenant korfa ryots who had different rights. One category held occupancy rights and could not easily be driven off their land. Another category had very weak cultivation/lessee rights. Another type of cultivator was adhi ryots, who were sharecroppers who had to pay a sizable portion to the landowner. Protesting the unreasonably high portion claimed by the landowners, many adhilborga cultivators including, many adibasis rose against their landlords in be Rajshahi area in the early 1940s. A number of Santals from Rajshahi were in the forefront of this movement (known as the Tebhaga) and were mercilessly killed by the armed police.
The rather sweeping changes in legal land ownership in East Bengal the early 1950s were preceded by other losses of land control which were the result of communal tensions stiffed up in the wake of independence in 1947, which resulted the partition of Greater Bengal. In the violence which rapidly escalated, many Bengali Hindus felt their lives were directly threatened in the new Muslim East Pakistan. They hastily sold off all unmovable property or simply fled, leaving their homes and properties largely unattended or in care of adibasi tenants. Many of the big Hindu landlords who left had offered various kinds of patronage to the adibasis. When the adibasis observed that their own patrons were leaving, they felt more insecure in an already volatile situation. Their fears were not unfounded. The Muslim Bengalis knew of course about long­standing Hindu adibasi patron client relationships in their own communities. Also, many Muslims had observed the "Hinduized" religious practices of many adibasis and suspected that the adibasis were staunch Hindu loyalists. In the years which followed the partition, many Santals fled from their homes and their villages after both direct violent attacks (including also rapes) and other forms of threats from local Bengali Muslims. Many Santals who fled collected in refugee camps set up by the mission stations or took shelter in the homes of relatives in West Bengal and Assam. Some of the refugees settled in India, while many others returned to East Pakistan after a couple of months. Returning home, many found their land occupied. Many of them were not able to claim back their land.
The injustices committed against adibasis in these parts of East Bengal after Partition and Independence are documented and investigated. Future studies should collect documentation of the scale of forced right of adibasis, scale and forms of atrocities (by whom) and the amounts of land loss that resulted from the exodus.
What then have we found through our survey are main causes of land loss? And is it possible to come forward with any estimates on land losses in the period between 1952 and 1971? Since our information is indeed incomplete and not very reliable, we can at the most suggest some major tendencies.
Throughout the 1950s and 1960s, many Santals who had lost land in 1952 or who had not claimed their ownership rights continued share cropping the land of Bengali landowners. These were then mostly Muslims, due to the exodus of the wealthy land owning Hindus. There was in this period a fair number (it is impossible to suggest any meaningful numbers on this) wealthy Santals. Communal tensions burst periodically in the open in 1956/57,1962, and during the war between India and Pakistan in 1965 reminding the Santal villagers of their vulnerability as a small minority whose loyalties were easily questioned by their Muslim neighbours.
Our survey contains a very limited number (12 of 399 households) of mortgage cases from this period. Our numbers undoubtedly suffer from some under reporting, but perhaps not very significantly so. We know that mortgage arrangements were much less important in this period than they later became in the post liberation period.
In the same period we have registered 22 instances (out of 399) of "other land loss" to Bengalis via various illegal means. We have learnt that in many of these instances the occupation was often enforced through various kinds of physical threats and direct assaults. Some of the cases are reported to have occurred due to faked land records. In some instances, the Santal brought his case to the court. Due to lack of proper judicial support and often corruption, most Santal litigations we have recorded were lost.
In the same period we have recorded 10 cases of land loss to other Santals. In 3 of these the land transfers had illegal elements, such as the use of threats and land occupation. In the other recorded cases the stated reasons were the need for a considerable amount of money (prompted by accumulated debt, medical expenses etc.). As per our record about 207 acres went to Bengalis and 22 acres to Santals. The relative proportion of land under this category which went to Bengalis compared to Santals is approximately 10 to 1.
The East Bengal State Acquisition and Tenancy Act (EBSATA) of 1950 should restrict transfers of adibasi land to non adibasi. Yet it opened land for such sale in case of "serious reasons", which had to be certified by the District Commissioner. In our survey we have recorded 26 cases of such legal transfers. Interestingly, in all the instances the land was sold to non adibasi, which implies that the transfers officially met the requirements of "serious reasons" as set in the Act. It is notable that most of this land was not sold to private Bengalis. It was expropriated by the government for the establishment of government farms. Of the recorded 124 acres sold by permission of EBSATA, as much as 106 acres were expropriated by the government against negligible compensation rates. Most of our recording of legal sales stems from our surveyed hamlets in Galbanda District. We have come to learn from for various informants from this survey area that much the fertile land of the huge sugar cane farm in Mahimaganj (Rangpur Zila) was previously owned and tilled by local adibasis. Their descendants are currently poorly paid day labourers on the land once owned by their parents and grandparents. The juridical basis for this government appropriation should in our view again be looked into.
We have recorded 4 instances of Santals who had their land declared as government khas land. Again we can safely assume based on various testimonies by leaders that this number is underreported. In some of these cases taxes had not been paid, in other instances the Santal tillers were ignorant about how to document legally a land claim on the basis of their long standing cultivation rights to the land.

The period 1972-1997
In the early years after the liberation war, the Santals of our surveyed households held according to our survey result 137,593 decimals of land. This amount might be somewhat under reported: we have found there is a tendency amongst informants to underestimate size of landholdings held more than a decade back. When compared with the survey data on total landholdings in 1997, 83,454 decimals, we get a fairly reliable indication about land loss in the period from early 1972 until late 1997.
A key question for us is: through which mechanisms and trajectories was this land lost? And are there any significant differences in trajectories (relative land loss by economic position, religious affiliation, by districts etc.)?
We consider that we have enough evidence from key informant interviews, focus group discussions and the household land survey to argue that mortgage is very often the first act that often becomes an irreversible step towards complete land loss by illegal or legal means. It is one indication of this "law of land loss", that our data indicates that out of the recorded total land given out on various kinds of mortgage terms, which is 16,361 decimals, only 2,678 decimals was reported redeemed in the same period (1972-1997), which is no more than around 15 per cent. We can also fairly safely assume that the amount of mortgaged land is seriously under reported compared to the data on redeemed land.
We could have ideally minimized this error by having requested to see land registration documents, including deeds. However, we decided not to ask for deeds, since people for good reasons become very suspicious. We had in other word to weight better reliability in terms of land ownership data against the perceived risks of jeopardizing the trust we had been able to build between the villagers and us.
Out of the recorded "instances" in the period 1972-1997, 19 occurred in the 1970s, 23 in the 1980s and as many as 119 in the 1990s. Methodologically speaking we have to be aware of the following errors behind these numerical results. It is realistic to assume that memory lapse also have intervened here, the actual amount of redeemed land might be way below 10 per cent. We have strong indications of that much of the land reported mortgaged during the 1970s and 1980s was sold illegally or legally. This previously mortgaged land thus reappears in our data on "land sold legally" and as "other land loss". Some of the land, though, was obviously redeemed, but not much. We did not register in our survey case by case whether the mortgage finally resulted in sale of the land (and by legal or illegal means), and can therefor not state exactly how much was sold later.
We have calculated that a total of 11 per cent of the reported landholdings owned by the surveyed population in 1972 was mortgaged out during the period 1972-1997. Of this 11 per cent, 3 per cent was mortgaged by Santals and 8 per cent by Bengalis. Particularly policy relevant are our findings about the frequency of mortgages, the amount of current mortgages and to whom it is leased (to Santals or Bengalis). A substantial quantity of this land (again we have no figures for the exact amount) has probably already been lost. More importantly, some of this land is still leased out on mortgage terms and it should still possible to regain full control over much of it if an appropriate programme combining social motivation, legal literacy and technical advice could be launched. It is important to note that a considerable portion of this mortgaged land is controlled by Santals.
Before proceeding in our discussion of the role of mortgages in land loss and possible land retrieval, let us look at our aggregate figures on the relative importance of all the defined categories of land transfers which are categorized as enemy land, forest land, kash land, sold with permission (the EBSAT Act) and lastly other land loss (illegally or without full formalities).
While the total amount seized as enemy land was minor (3 percent of the total land holding in 1972), it is important to stress that such seizure occurred in a limited number of hamlets (13 of 60) of our particularly for the more distant period, the 1970s and the early 1980s. The actual numbers must have been much higher than what we have been able to record, might be as much as the double. Even with this in mind it might seem that the frequency and amount of mortgagees were relatively high, but stable in the 1970s and the 1980s, but rose to new heights in the 1990s. Another methodological problem is that the recordings are not individual transfers as such. The same plot of land are in some cases mortgaged out two or more times. Thus some of the recorded "transfers" from 1980s are second or more transfers of the same plot. This duplication error is however countervailed by what we think are a quite large under reporting from the period 1970s and early 1980s.
There are about obvious reasons for caution while analysing this figure. Considerable land was sold in this period, less was bought in. As remarked already, this figure does not reflect that the same plots are frequently mortgaged out more than once in this period. 11 per cent of land owned in 1972 was mortgaged out between 1972 and 1997. These hamlets are not clustered in any particular administrative unit. Most seizures occurred in the 1970s, 15 of 19 recorded cases. 3 occurred in the 1980s and 1 as late as 1995 in Dhanjuri. Most of the cases from the 1970s occurred in 1971-2 right after the end of the Liberation War. In most instances the Santals had fled to India under the already described circumstances and found their properties sized and controlled by Bengalis upon their return. There are also cases of Santals who did not leave but still some neighbours were able to succeed through forgery and threats in get the land confiscated.
We have only registered one single case (from Phoolbanda) of seizure as government protected forest. Land loss via governmental proclamation of the land as Khas land also played a rather marginal role. Less than 3 percent of the land owned in 1972 was lost this way. The most frequent reason was unpaid land tax.
"Other land loss" is a heterogeneous category of both illegal and legal yet not fully formalized land transfers to other Santals. In total, other land loss accounted for as much as 27 per cent of the land in the hands of Santals in 1972. Of the 37,740 decimals sold, 17,593 went to Santals and 20,147 to Bengalis. We have considerable information about the (il)legalities and actual circumstances under which these transfers took place. The transfer to Bengalis were illegal and have never been submitted for approval under the EBSAT Act. The numbers of total instances of transfer are 61 to Bengalis and 53 to Santals. Of the 61 registered transfers to Bengali, as many as 25 are specifically reported to have involved faked records/court cases (by Bengali) or occupation by force. Another 20 illegal transfers occurred under circumstances not reported to have involved force and legal pressure. Most often the Santals have taken high interest private loans to finance particular investments (purchase of cattle or marriage celebration) or acute medical expenses. If we analyze the circumstances for transfer to Santals, it appears that use of illegal means such as faked records threats and court cases is much less than in the case of Bengalis. In only 7 out of 53 registered instances have such means been reported. In most instances it seems that loans for consumption or investment could not be repaid. These lands were eventually given as repayment for long accumulated debt. It is nevertheless important to note that our data demonstrate that relations between Santals are not untinged with exploitation.
An important question remains: what are the main reasons for this massive transfer of agricultural land? We have attempted in our survey to record reasons for each and every transfer of land on mortgage terms. We have not computerized any frequency profile on the recorded reasons due to variations in degree of specificity in the answers given by our respondents. Sometimes also our village researchers have interpreted responses and stated them in a diffuse manner. For example, factors such as "poverty" are very general, while reasons such as "sickness expenses", "coverage of marriage expenses", "getting cash for new land purchase", "need for cash due to a crop failure (often drought)" or "machine purchase" state concretely what at least a major portion of the realized money was used for.
We consider many of these stated reasons to convey some of the main cause effect factors in a vicious poverty cycle that has trapped many Santals and still traps those Santals who still own some agricultural land.
Other factors are more hidden, and are generally not stated by the landowners themselves. Obviously very few indeed state that much was lost due to their massive and regular alcohol use, which affected their sense of judgement and ability to care for their property, heavy alcohol use is often one factor which starts off pauperization, including land loss. In other instances heavy alcohol use enters into a cause‑effect chain, where it exacerbates poverty. The critical driving forces are: disproportionate use of household resources on alcohol instead of meeting basic reproductive needs or for investments; inattention to agricultural work and management of property. Mortgaging land as a response to acute cash needs: food, sickness etc. is frequently followed by new debt accumulation due to chronical income deficits, which also make impossible retrieval of the land. After some time, when there, is some urgent new need for a substantial amount of cash, the land is ultimately sold. The pauperization process over time might in many cases partially be accentuated by conventional pauperization related factors (low income, lack of access to common property resources, inheritance laws), cultural factors (the value of leisure and collective consumption, where drinking is central), and social discrimination due to an extreme minority situation. Social discrimination is evident in non‑optional reliance on Bengali patrons and intermediaries, since very few Santals get access to such intermediary roles. Fully realizing the marginality and powerlessness of the Santals, Bengalis can, largely unsanctioned, use various methods of cheating and harassment to acquire control over land owned by Santals.
The role of Santal chiefs in approving and certifying land sale under the ESAST Act deserve more scrutiny. We have documentation that it has been common to accept bribes and to certify transfer (to the District Commissioner), knowing that the actual buyer is a Bengali rather than a Santal as commonly stated on the deed.
In the trajectories of previously wealthy households the reinforcing combinations of excessive alcohol use, poor land management and careless use of mortgage to realize acute cash needs have resulted in gradual land loss. The final outcome of many of the trajectories is extreme deprivation.
Let us consider in more depth the common trajectories for wealthy Santal farmers who were affluent landowners 25-40 years back. It is important to understand that Santal cultural notions of abundance and affiliation to the land impact on early land loss. Santals' notions of wealth and affluence are based on the assertion that the wealth of the land should cater for the cultivator's daily needs and also enable them distribute wealth in the forms of beer, and food, thereby realizing the cherished Santali ideal of hospitality. The peasant household deems it undesirable and harvest more than what is required for these basic consumption needs. The owners will consider how to relieve themselves of the surplus land by sharecropping out some portion of it, by less intensive farming or by letting some land fallow.
There are some different frequent steps in the next phase of the trajectory. One step, with a less disastrous outcome, is that moderate land loss and minimal fragmentation through inheritance (only one or two heirs in two successive generations) result in the household still owning and controlling some land. Let us say that the households of two brothers and coheirs now control each bighas of what was only a joint 30 bigha property. Some land might be on mortgage due to capital needs for purchasing some, new land. In another frequent outcome the combination of circumstances occurring over a 10-20 year period are massive due to land litigation, other debt accumulation due to high recurrent living expenditures, eventually resulting in a series of mortgages ending in land sale. The accumulated outcome is a current asset situation where out of a 5-10 bigha land, only 2-3 bighas are actually cultivated by the household.

Are the Christians better off than the Adi Santals?
distribution of surveyed households by landholding categories





no land


0.1-0-5 acres


0.5-1.0 acres


1.0-2.0 acres


2.1-4.0 acres


4.1-8.0 acres


8.1+ acres

PSS survey


8 %


27 %


14%


17 %


19%


10%


5 %

BNELC survey


8 %


57%


10%


25%










National survey*


11 %


38%


12%


39%











* Bangladesh Statistical Pocket Book, Agii-Census, 1994

We have designed the Table which shows the distribution profiles by landholding categories resulting from our PSS Survey (1997), BNELC's Survey (1997) and the National Agri-Census (1994). A comparison of the BNELC with the Agri-Census shows that on average the Lutheran Christian Santals (members of BNELQ) are generally worse off compared to the average Bengali. Particularly striking and worrying is the considerably larger proportion of marginal farmers, small holders who own between 0.1-0.5 acres (57 per cent against 38 per cent). If comparing cultivatable land 53 per cent of Santals from BNELC have no such land, compared to 27 per cent of the Bengali.
Our survey results have to be compared with the other two studies with caution, since we have included homestead land. While any exact comparison thus is impossible, an approximate comparison is still of interest. Our survey shows that 8 per cent of the households have no land, 27 per cent own between 0.1-0.5 acres and another 14 per cent hold between 0.5-1.0 acres. A significant portion of these marginal and small holders are agricultural landless. We feel confident that the number of agricultural landlessness is really somewhere in between the numbers found among BNELC families (53 percent) and Bengalis (27 per cent). It must not be forgotten that we are here talking about formal ownership rights. We have found that a sizeable portion of the households have mortgaged out most or all of their agricultural land.
The rather surprisingly large portion of surveyed households who hold 1.0 acres or more land (if compared to the two other studies) has similarly to be adjusted, granted our inclusion of homestead land. We hold it justified to assume that the proportion of our surveyed population who own 1.0 acres or more lies close to the national average (39 per cent) and thus above the 25 per cent found in BNELC's Survey.
This difference is fairly significant and deserves commenting. The most obvious explanation is religious affiliation; since our survey contains a more representative selection of Santals it appears as if Lutheran Christian Santals for some reason are poorer in terms of landholding, and apparently must have lost more land in the past.
Such an assertion runs no doubt contrary to common sense for two reasons. Firstly, Lutheran Santals have a larger proportion of literates and indeed of adults with higher education than our survey population. Secondly, Lutheran Santals are members of a modern church institution. We may presume that BNELC have been assisting its members with political and juridical support in cases of land disputes. The first presumption builds on a chain of assumptions; that literates are automatically legal literates and thus able to manage their landed property better than legally non-literate people. The second presumption asserts that the Church actually intervenes on behalf of its members, either via its development wing or directly by. legal services.
It seems to us that both these chains of assumptions - on the face of them logical - do not hold what they may promise.
Judging our evidence there might not a clear direct cause-effect relation between literacy and size of landholding. Households with some literate and even well-educated members are at least nearly or perhaps as prone to use land as collateral for loans as households without formally educated members. Households with formally educated members seem also to be nearly as prone as others to cheating/pressure and ultimately to land loss.
Scrutinizing the other chain of assumptions, we have found that BNELC has not really been actively supporting church members involved in land disputes. We also find that the development wing (BNELC-DF) has put little emphasis on legal assistance and strategies for retrieval of mortgaged land.
Among a number of collected cases documenting land loss among, BNELC-members, this story from Rameshorpur (Adampur Circle) illuminates a precarious situation:
Mr. D.M. Murmu was a middle class farmer who together with many of his villagers became Christian in BNELC. Mr. Murmu also became the leader of the new congregation. Some of his sons got education and were later employed by BNELC-DF. Later on, W. Murmu faced harassments and threats from a Bengali Muslim neighbour. Part of his good land became occupied. His crops were destroyed by cows and goats let loose on purpose by the Muslim; it is clear that religion is a significant factor and we have disaggregated (by Christian and Adi Santals) our landholding profile and our data on quantities of mortgaged land and land sold with permission between 1972-1997.
Examining the distribution profile of Christians and Adi Santals we find that more Adi Santals than Christians are fully landless, or marginal landowners (0.1-0.5 acres). 11.2 percent and 28.9 percent of the Adi Santals belong to these categories, whereas 5.2 per cent and 25.5 per cent of the Christians. Christians and Adi Santals are nearly equally represented in the category poor farmers (0.5-1.1 acres), with 13.2 and 14.4 per cent respectively. Among small farmers there is a relatively larger representation of Adi Santals, 19.8 per cent versus 14.4. Among medium farming we find 18.7 per cent of the Adi Santals and 19.3 per cent of the Christians, a minor difference in other words. Among the farmers (surplus farmers) about equal proportions of Christians and Adi Santals falls within this category, 10.4 versus 10.2 per cent.
Among the rich farmers the proportion of Christians who fall in the group are significantly over the proportion of Adi Santals, the numbers are 6.6 per cent and 2.1 per cent.
If we look at the relative per cent wise proportions within each of landholding categories the picture becomes even more imbalanced (in favour of the Christians) in the landholding categories - No land, marginal farmer and rich farmers. Let us now attempt to analyze this evidence of the impact of religion on landholding situation.
All our registered rich farmers are from Dinajpur or Thakurgaon. Out of the totally 17 registered rich farmers 14 are Christians and 4 are ADI Santals. By studying our basic descriptive household data we have identified the denominational status of these really wealthy (in terms of land) farmers. Out of the 14 Christians, 10 are Catholics, 3 are Lutherans and 2 belong to other denominations. This predominance of Catholics among the new remaining really affluent, Santali farmers, may indicate that they have had greater access to legal advice and other institutional backing. This seems very necessary, as many as 5 of the 14 households report of having lost land after cheating and forceful pressure. As many as 10 of the 14 have sold land (in the period between 1971-1997) with permission. Very importantly, most of the surveyed households state as their reasons cow purchase, tax payment dues, crop failure and educational costs. These stated reasons are telling that rich in land does not necessary mean rich in liquid capital to pay running household expenses. The causes these farmers told us demonstrate that there is too little access to institutional credit among the affluent Santals. Apart from this many signal a certain distrust in the available credit institutions. Wealthy Santals farmers often resort to sale of land instead. It is noteworthy that nearly all have also purchased land in the period 1971-1997. Most of the land was bought from other Santals. All these findings are relevant for future strategies for land management and land retrieval.
The finding that Adi Santals are over represented among the landless and marginal farmers might indicate that the Christians' higher literacy rate might be one causal factor. But there are other factors too. At least as important is our finding that Christians have had some better access into non-agricultural income sources, which may have prevented those households from mortgaging and selling out as rapidly as many of the Adi Santals.
Lastly we like to again remind that the above examined data documents legally owned landholding, not actually controlled landholding. Our data documents that out of the total land area owned by our surveyed population in 1997, somewhere between 15-20 per cent is currently mortgaged out. This land is under acute risk of being sold by illegal or illegal means, if mot massive a well-conceived and massive effort is made for land retrieval.

Source: https://sites.google.com/site/bdguiber/home/6-english/bangladesh/adivasy/santals-culture-discrimination-and-landloss
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