THE INDIAN JOURNAL OF SOCIAL WORK Tata Institute of Volume 73,...
Tata Institute
Volume 73, Issue 4
Social Sciences
October 2012
dalit Access to Common Lands
A Case of Two Initiatives in Maharashtra
raJu adagale
The author explores the changing importance of marginalised lands in the face of in-
creasing scarcity and growing population and highlights two Dalit initiatives for access
and control over gairan lands, traditionally considered out of bounds for Dalits. The ar-
tilce also raises issues about equity and distributive justice vis a vis the denial of rights
to marginalised communities and how they are defending their traditional rights with the
help of Civil Society Organisations.
Raju Adagale is a Ph.D. Scholar, School of Social Work, Tata Institute of Social
Sciences, Mumbai.
…For ours is a battle of not for wealth or for power. It is a battle for freedom. It
is a battle for the reclamation of human personality. –Dr. B. R. Ambedkar, All-
India Depressed Classes Conference, 1942.
Access to Common Pool Resources (CPRs) for the marginalised sections
has become an area of growing concern in India as they contribute
significantly to the livelihood requirements of the assetless rural poor,
especially the Dalits. There is approximately 68.35 million hectares (Mha)
of “wastelands” in India. About 50 percent of this non-forest land can be
converted to productive use. In Maharashtra, eight percent of non-forest
land under the control of the government is designated as wasteland.
As per the land use classification, this land is otherwise categorised as
“uncultivated”. Government records indicate that around 1,47,000
landholders own about 2,06,000 hectares (ha) of Mahar Vatan land in
Maharahstra (Kamble 2002: 10). Data for the local level distribution
of Mahar Vatan land is unavailable. Similarly, there are 35,181 gairan
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488 Raju Adagale
holders spread over 1,609 villages occupying about 70,340 ha in eight
districts of Marathwada and one district of Vidharbha.
Grazing land is one of the categories included in wastelands. This land,
if allocated equitably among the marginalised can contribute significantly
to their livelihood security. Of course, the significance of Dalit access to
common lands goes beyond livelihood; it is an instrument for assertion of
their rights and dignity.
Many studies have explored CPR management through “institutional
rules” (Ostrom, 1998: 73–80). These studies have drawn attention to the
“heterogeneities” among different users in property rights, political power
and costs (Schlager and Blomquist, 1998: 102-109). Beyond this, their
focus seems to be inadequate to understand the complex nature of caste
dynamics and equity in access to common lands.
CPRs refer to natural or man-made resource systems comprising fishing
zones, ground water basins, grazing areas, irrigation canals among other
resources (Ostrom, 1991:30). Unregulated commons are not governed
by any rules or principles, thus making them open access commons
(Benkler, 2003: 7). Sustainable use of the CPRs is possible only under
certain conditions like sharing, equitable access, minimum number of
beneficiaries and reciprocal relationship among the users (Gadgil and Iyer,
1989: 241). Such commons create problems in terms of access to poor in
general, and Dalits in particular. Conflicts always compel groups—Dalits
and non-Dalits—to adopt ways to sustain their own interests. Habermas
focuses on “communicative rationality” (Habermas, 1984: 8–10) wherein
acts are based on communication for ‘mutual understanding’. Common
language is not only the source of personal identity, but is also a medium
through which groups understand themselves as part of a larger social
group (Habermas, 1987: 113–152). Symbolic interaction can be used to
apply Habermas’ theory of communication to construct the Dalit identity.
This communicative rationality energises Dalits to coordinate activities in
such a way as to enhance their self esteem and dignity.
Dr. B.R. Ambedkar had expressed that the cost of production increased
with small land holdings. He therefore suggested “consolidatation” as
remedy to reduce costs (Ambedkar, 1979: 459). He also maintained that
Dalits can live dignified lives only if they follow the pathway of “educate,
organise and struggle”. Following the same doctrine, Munagekar (1999)
proposed community farming as an alternative for Dalits who have very
small landholdings. Risks can be shared by Dalit communities if they take
up collective farming (Tupe, 1999: 406).
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Dalit Access to Common Lands 489
The present study explores two initiatives1 of Dalits from Maharashtra:
a) Arajkheda village in Latur district, and b) Nimgaon-Mhalungi village
in Pune district. These initiatives concern largely with the cultivation of
the gairan land (grazing land) and the Mahar Vatan2 land respectively. The
study describes the emergence of collective farming, how the initiatives
were managed, and the type of challenges faced.
The study adopted a case study method and is mainly based on primary data.
In-depth interviews of stakeholders from various groups such as Dalits,
upper castes, the shepherd community, government officials, and CSOs were
conducted. The respondents were above the age of 35 years. Data collection
was done between October to November 2010. For maintaining anonymity,
the names of the respondents have been changed. Most of the Dalits involved
with the Nimgaon Mhalungi initiative had migrated, thus making it difficult
to track them down. This was a limitation to data collection.
Area of the study
Maharashtra is spread over 307.6 lakh ha with a gross cropped area of
226.6 lakh ha. The area under forest is 52.1 lakh ha, land not available
for cultivation is 31.5 lakh ha, and other uncultivated land is 24.1 lakh
ha. Agriculture and allied activities contribute to 11 percent of the State’s
income, though about 55 percent of the population is dependent on them
(Government of Maharashtra, 2010: 84). According to the Census of India
(2001): 10.2 percent of the population in Maharashtra are Scheduled Castes
(SCs). The incidence of ‘landlessness’ among SCs is 24.31 percent in the
state (Tiwary, 2006: 92-93). The gairan land was brought under the Gram
Panchayat’s (GPs) management in 1956. Prior to that, especially, during
the Nizam’s rule of Hyderabad, rights to the gairan had been conferred on
the Dalits in Marathawada (NCAS, 2005: 12).
Arajkheda village is situated 20 kms from Latur (Figure 1). Latur district
is an important market place in Maharashtra due to its connectivity and
location. Merchants come to this district to buy udid and other agricultural
commodities. More than 78 percent of the workers are directly engaged in
agriculture (Government of Maharashtra, 1995). In Latur district, 2,181
gairan holders from 118 villages are agitating for legal entitlements over
2,232.87 ha land (Awad, 2010: 40–44).
The Nimgaon-Mhalungi village of Shirur Tahsil (Figure 1), is situated
30 kms from Pune (Government of Maharashtra, 1995). Pune district
mainly produces crops such as rice, jowar, bajri, and maize.
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490 Raju Adagale
FIGURE 1: Arajkheda and Nimgaon Mhalungi villages
Though Nimgaon Mhalungi is substantially larger, both in terms of
geographical area and population, Arajkheda has a higher proportion of SC
population (Table 1). Arajkheda also reports slightly higher proportion of
irrigated land, cultivable wasteland and area not available for cultivation.
Both the villages have no forest land.
The Arajkheda village has 38 ha gairan land. The land is situated on the
banks of the Manjara river and is very fertile. The first attempt to grab
the gairan lands by the older generation of Dalits was made in 1978. To
secure their claim over the gairan land, some of the Dalits cut down a few
trees and shrubs and started cultivating for a period of one year. The forest
department, however, reclaimed the land by undertaking afforestation
activities. Subsequently, the Dalits again attempted to cultivate it. However,
the upper caste community of the village reclaimed access to the land from
Dalits in 1991. The struggle for establishing rights to the gairan has been
continuing since then.
The land had been under the control of the Department of Social
Forestry from 1990–2000. Over a period of time, the upper castes gradually
encroached on the gairan adjacent to their farms. The Dalits again asserted
their traditional rights and encroached on 14 ha of the land after 2001.
The conflict between Dalits and non-Dalits erupted when the upper caste
aggressively opposed their claim over the land. The Dalits were threatened
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Dalit Access to Common Lands 491
with dire consequences and ultimately the upper castes perpetrated various
atrocities against them. They destroyed the standing crops on the gairan
and deliberately started grazing cattle on the land. Police protection was
provided to Dalits during these sensitive days.
TABLE 1: Demography and Land use of Arajkheda and Nimgaon Mhalungi
Demography and Land use
Nimgaon Mhalungi
Total households
Total population
1312 (100)
4413 (100)
Total SC population
250 (19.05)
260 (5.89)
Total ST population
5 (0.38)
66 (1.50)
Geographical area (ha)
639 (100)
2675 (100)
Forest aand (ha)

Canal irrigation (ha)
5 (0.78)

Well irrigation (ha)
14 (2.19)
68 (2.54)
Tube well irrigation (ha)
15 (2.35)
15 (0.56)
Other irrigation (ha)
30 (4.69)
101 (3.78)
Total irrigation (ha)
64 (10.02)
184 (6.88)
Total unirrigated area (ha)
461 (72.14)
2208 (82.54)
Culturable waste (ha)
18 (2.81)
73 (2.73)
Area not available for cultivation (ha)
96 (15.02)
210 (7.85)
Source: Census 2001
Note: The figures in brackets indicate the percentage.
Criminal cases against the upper caste community was filed under the
Schedule Caste and Schedule Tribe (Prevention of Atrocity) Act 1989
(PoA Act). A cross complaint for destruction of trees on the gairan was
filed against the Dalits. Consequently, the Dalits were asked to report to
the police station daily, which was situated at a distance of 15–20 km from
the village. The Aurangabad High Court passed an order on the issue of
regularisation of gairan land in November 2004 (NCAS, 2005: 13). This
judgement seemed to have strengthened the claim of the Dalits.
The upper castes of the village announced a social boycott of the Dalits,
who continued to agitate for retaining their rights over the gairan. During
the social boycott, Dalits were denied work (and wages) in the fields of the
upper castes. The Dalits retaliated by refusing to work in the fields of the
upper castes. As most of the agricultural labourers belonged to the Dalit
community, this move affected the agricultural operations of all upper
castes. Getting labour from outside the village turned out to be expensive,
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492 Raju Adagale
and very often the upper castes could not afford to pay for transportation
and other allied costs. This led to the weakening of the social boycott.
Along with land development, organic farming had also been introduced
in Arajkheda. Prior to the grabbing of the gairan by Dalits, the dulating
topography of the land discouraged tilling. The Dalits started cultivation
after levelling the land. Collective farming was started to counter the
hegemony of the upper caste Marathas and the state government. To meet
the initial capital expenditure for cultivation, the Dalits received financial
support from Anik Micro Finance Company (Khunte, 2010: 88–90). The
company provided financial assistance up to Rs. 50,000/- to three Self
Help Groups (SHGs). This credit facility improved the fall back options
for Dalits in the region.
Profile of the Movement
The 1990s witnessed the struggles for redistribution of wasteland in
Marathawada. The Jamin Adhikar Andolan (JAA), meaning ‘Land Right
Movement’, had emerged as an umbrella organisation for Dalit and non-
governmental organisations (NGOs) in Marathawada working on Dalit
land issues. The JAA has since been organising struggles and negotiations
with the Maharashtra government for legalising the Dalit title over gairan
land (Awad, 2010: 13–14). Kalapandhari, an NGO working mainly in
Latur, Osmanabad and Nanded districts of Marathawada, is one of the
partner organisations of JAA. While the JAA undertook various activities
like mobilisation of the landless, promotion of land ownership, facilitation
of land verification, and agitation for regularisation of land titles,
Kalapandhari also worked in Arajkheda on various Dalit issues. During
the 2004 state assembly elections, JAA released a manifesto demanding
the regularisation of the gairan. A written consent supporting this demand
was obtained from the candidates contesting elections (NCAS, 2005: 13).
Also, the Civil Society Organisations (CSOs) worked towards protecting
Dalits against the atrocities perpetrated by the upper castes. The Dalits were
also given financial assistance through the SHGs formed by Kalapandhari.
In 1982, about 27 Dalit farmers came together to cultivate 48 ha of Mahar
Vatan land. Gramayan, an NGO based in Pune, encouraged the Dalits to
take up joint farming (Gramayan, 1985: 10–12). Some of the Dalit families
had approached the Late Mr. Narayan Phadtare, a non-Dalit local activist
of Gramayan. This led to the idea of developing a cooperative farming
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Dalit Access to Common Lands 493
society. There was, however, one hurdle. Some of the Dalits had migrated to
Mumbai about 25 to 30 years ago and were staying in slums. Subsequently,
a series of meetings were conducted with the Dalits in Mumbai to motivate
them to return to Nimgaon Mhalungi. The exposure visit to Mhaisal3 helped
them understand the benefits of collective farming. About six families
returned from Mumbai. Out of the total twenty-seven families, eight families
ultimately joined the experiment. It was decided that the other remaining
families could join later. Lack of educational facilities discouraged the
remaining families from returning. Gramayan had planned to start a hostel
to take care of this; however, this plan failed to materialise. Those who came
back did not have accommodation initially and had to put in a considerable
amount of labour to build houses on the farm land.
The technical support, agricultural inputs and irrigation facilities during
the implementation phase of the project were provided by Gramayan. The
foodgrain and wages were provided to the Dalit families during the initial
critical period. An annual remuneration of Rs. 1,500/- for per acre of un-irrigated
land, and Rs. 2,500/- for per acre of irrigated land were given to Dalit families.
Technical experts prepared the development plans for the land and irrigation
facilities. An old wel was rejuvenated and a new wel excavated. Around 10 ha
of land was brought under horticultural plantation. A comprehensive watershed
development programme by the government was also started (Gramayan,1985:
10-12; Gramayan 1994: 3–5, Gramayan, No date:12).
Formation of the Cooperative society
The Nav Chaitanya Samyuktaya Sahakari Sheti Santha (meaning: New
Energy Joint Co-operative Farming Society) was formed in 1982 and
formally registered in 1985. The joint farming project was implemented
during 1983-1993. The guidelines of the Nav Chaitnya society included:
1) common control and management of all augmented resources; 2) no
agricultural produce sharing without prior permission from members; 3)
facility for buying agricultural produce; 4) production to be considered as
CPRs; 5) accountability in financial matters; 6) maintenance and repair;
and 7) annual remuneration.
In a bid to fulfill the livelihood requirements of Dalits, Gramayan
considered the possibility of replicating the Mhaisal experience. One
of the experienced activists from Mhaisal also joined the project team
of Gramayan to provide guidance (Gramayan, No date: 12). However,
when Gramayan withdrew from the project in 1993, the joint cooperative
farming lost momentum. The project was unable to fulfil what it promised.
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494 Raju Adagale
The Dalits eventually migrated elsewhere or took up other sources of
employment. The reasons as to why the initiative stopped functioning, is
discussed in the following part of the article.
Primary stakeholders
The stakeholders include Dalits and non-Dalits—Marathas and Dhangars
(shepherds). The primary stakeholders, involved directly or indirectly
in the initiatives, had differing perceptions as to why these initiatives
succeeded or failed.
Vithoba Patil, an upper caste (Maratha) farmer of Arajkheda, says:
“We were arrested under the PoA Act as we destroyed the crops cultivated by
the Dalits. Our intention was to prevent them from grabbing the land. If we had
succeeded in that, then they would not have got permanent rights over the land
and hence, could not have coped with their livelihood problems.”
It was felt that if Dalits became prosperous and lived a dignified life,
the upper caste community would be deprived of labourers for agricultural
operations. However, the fundamental issue at stake was that the Dalits
should not cross certain ‘social limits’ and that they should not defy the
orders of the upper castes.
Vithoba further expressed that the GP basically intended to deny Dalits
their claim to the gairan land and therefore decided to utilise the land for some
other purpose. With this purpose in mind, the GP passed the resolution to set
up a sugarcane research centre. This was also promoted by one of the co-
operative institutions in the district. The Maratha lobby was averse to Dalits
establishing rights over the land. Since a criminal case was pending against
the Marathas under the PoA Act, none of them wanted to be imprisoned
again. Apparently, some of the upper caste men imprisoned earlier were
treated very badly. Food and water was given only after obtaining permission
from other Dalit prisoners. It was, thus, propagated that the Dalits could use
the gairan for the time being only, but not permanently.
According to Tanaji, the Arajkheda village leader, the upper castes
wanted Dalits to remain slaves forever. He stated:
“The situation has changed and the Dalits are more aware of their rights. They
are educated. When there is an atrocity, they unite and resist. In the era of internet
and mobiles, the news on atrocities against Dalits can be easily spread outside
the village. The Dalit community and NGO activists could help us to fight
collectively against the oppressions. This gives more strength. Since 2002, Dalits
have started aspiring to live with dignity and self-esteem and decided to resist the
upper caste hegemony.”
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Dalit Access to Common Lands 495
To resist the upper caste hegemony and retain the access to the gairan,
certain innovative ideas had been introduced in the village. For example,
Tanaji says:
“If Dalits have to sustain their access to the land, they have to pursue collective
farming. In future, fencing would be done. We are going to form 2-3 different
groups among Dalits who can cultivate the farm collectively. A single Dalit
family cannot carry out agricultural operations on such a grabbed land.”
Dalits reported that if the Marathas were ready to surrender their portion
of the encroached gairan first, then the Dalits would also give up their
claim on the gairan. However, the prevailing “caste prejudices and social
status” of the Marathas is a socially inhibiting factor imposing constraints
in accepting this proposal in a peaceful manner. If any institutional
arrangement for the management of the gairan comes up in future, the
Dalits would get involved in such an initiative.
Vasant Jondhale, Arajkheda’s Dalit farmer says:
“The gairan belonging to Indarthana4 village had been excavated completely. If
the Dalits had not grabbed the portion the land, which is adjacent to the excavated
area, we would have had the same fate also.”
Though the GP is responsible for protection and maintenance of the land,
it gave permission for permanent destruction of the land. This damage can
never be rectified. Thus, the point arises: if Indarthana’s gairan had been
occupied by Dalits, an ‘ecological damage’ of this type would not have
Mr. Balu Shinde, a shepherd,5 was total y dependent on the gairan for
grazing his cat le. He reported that the Dalits had grabbed the gairan and
free grazing was not al owed as the land was converted into crop land. For
the shepherds, the common land was the main source of fodder. They had
to occasional y fetch fodder from other lands. According to him, the gairan
belonged to the government and nobody had the right to restrict its access.
Only a smal portion of the gairan land now exists for common use. Many
years ago, the land had been grabbed by the Marathas. Thus, they have no
moral right to oppose the Dalits. However, Dalits are always physical y
assaulted when they try to stake their claim over the gairan. He added further:
“If the gairan disappears in future, we would be losing the grazing land. In that
case, we have to sell our cattle for other occupations.”
The shepherds’ concerns have never been raised in the village assembly
as they comprise a small percentage of the village population.
The Nimgaon-Mhalungi’s case is different from that of Arajkheda.
Ganpat Kasbe, a Dalit from Nimgaon-Mhalungi, reported that the project
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496 Raju Adagale
could not sustain as there was no continuity in wages. Also, the income
from the sale of agricultural produce was inadequate. The members could
not even get their annual remuneration, especially after Gramayan’s
withdrawal in 1991. The lack of cooperation and conflict among the Nav
Chaitanya members jeopardised all attempts to revive collective farming
among the Dalits. Moreover, some members secured jobs in industries set
up close to the village. The society has remained non-functional since the
last few years.
Kasbe added:
“Rohidas Kasbe, a member of the cooperative farming society, created conflicts
within the society. He was also involved in corruption under the project.”
It was reported that Rohidas created major hurdles in the implementation
of the project. As a result, many members withdrew their individual
portion of land from the project. There was no common interest binding
the members in the latter period. It was stated that some of the members
sold 18-19 acres of their shares of the Hadki-Hadola land. The rest of
the members wanted to sell their land and were hence interested in
redistribution of the land. Kasbe further adds:
“Individual farming needs more investment of capital. Instead, joint cooperative
farming is economical y viable. But, on the condition that it should be managed wel .
It also requires unity among its members and they should be firm in their aims.”
secondary stakeholders
The secondary stakeholders considered here are government officials and
representatives from CSOs. They were directly or indirectly involved in the
initiatives. During the study, the resident tehsildar of Renapur was reluctant
to share his views as the issue was very sensitive: a) the atrocity took place
against Dalits and b) the government’s unwillingness to give the Dalits the
land rights to the gairan. He stated that the gairan in the taluka was allotted
to the forest department for implementation of forestry programmes. Out
of the total available gairan land, around five percent is still not under the
control of the forest department. The forest department has done some
remarkable work in a couple of villages—they did splendid work in terms
of restoring the ecological balance of Poharegoan village in Renapur tehsil.
According to him, the problems in Arajkheda emerged because of the nature
of local politics and the distinct “groupism” in the village.
It was observed that the government apparatus was unable to explain
any specific policy related to the gairan. Sakharam Gaikwad of the JAA
explained that the movement works across caste groups. Advocate Eknath
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Dalit Access to Common Lands 497
Awad, the leader of the movement, had been playing an important role in
this process. The government would not sanction any collective rights to
the gairan holders. Government policies indicate that the gairan holders
might obtain individual rights. In the case of Arajkheda, the Dalits opposed
the hegemony of the upper castes, the administration and the political class
through collective farming.
The Nimgaon-Mhalungi initiative was unsuccessful. All agricultural
profit was used to meet the operating costs of the project. Sunil Kulkarni of
Gramayan stated that the aim of the project was to enhance Dalit economic
empowerment. The Dalits would thus be able to stand on equal terms with
other castes, as was seen in the case of Mhaisal. Kulkarni states:
Through this experiment, we leant that all rules and procedures of cooperative
farming should be well formulated and managed. Along with the cooperative
initiative, the local leadership should emerge and develop, so that they could take
care of the entire governance of the properties in future. If, after the withdrawal
of the Gramayan, they had invested capital and time, there would have been
a very optimistic picture. And it is proved through this experiment that it is
possible to achieve this.
He also added that the cultivated land did not yield sufficient
produce. The input cost was very high compared to the output. The
augmented resources including vegetation and water attracted other
villagers, especially, the Maratha farmers who, to some extent, played
an indirect role to break the collective of joint cooperative farming. He
further explained that the executive body of the Nav Chaitanya society
was unable to resolve the conflict among its members. Additionally,
problems of addiction and alcoholism were great obstacles. The families
who participated in the experiment could not get formal ownership of
land—for example, the land record of 7/12 saat bara was not transferred
to their names.
While the Arajkheda initiative of collective farming was successful, the
Nimgaon Mhalungi initiative was not. However, both the initiatives offer
certain lessons for the future.
In both the cases, the primary aim was to maximise agricultural
production. In Arajkheda, manual labour and monetary contributions
were provided by the Dalits. However, in the case of Nimgaon Mhalungi,
financial assistance came through project funds and government support.
The Arajkheda initiative operated more in the mode of a ‘Social Movement’
to essentially regain Dalit identity and dignity.
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498 Raju Adagale
Leadership provides a platform for any successful initiative. The
JAA network is led by Dalit leaders at various levels. In Arajkheda, the
local leaders were charismatic and helped to bring their struggle into the
administrative and political arena, both at the local and national level. On
the other hand, there was no local Dalit leadership in Nimgaon Mhalungi.
Moreover, the project team did not have a single Dalit member.
While in Arajkheda, the need for initiating agricultural work emerged
from within the settled rural Dalit community, this was not the case in
Nimgaon Mhalungi. Most of the Dalits from this village had migrated
to the cities around 25–30 years ago. They had to be coaxed to return to
their village, and had no agricultural skills. Most of them had by then got
used to an urban lifestyle and had little enthusiasm for agricultural work.
Further, the lack of accommodation and food security contributed to the
Nimgaon Mhalungi failure.
Numerical strength is an important factor to be considered in the caste
dynamics of rural India. In Arajkjeda, Dalit unity was a vital force against
upper caste hegemony, as the Dalit population was proportionately high.
Less numerical strength leads to dependence on non-Dalits and/or Dalits
not rebelling against injustice and oppression.
There have been a few supportive notifications and circulars that favour
the gairan holders. According to the State Government’s circular (dated
14.12.1995): the powers had been given to the ‘Forest Rights Committee’
of the GP. This committee is supposed to verify cases of encroachment.
Very often, non-Dalits are members of these committees. In many
places no committees had been formed. The local administration either
created certain obstacles or remained non-cooperative in awarding legal
entitlements. The collective action in Arajkheda, however, has shown the
way forward to counter the upper caste hegemony.
Arajkheda’s struggle for land rights and unity was based on Ambedkar’s
philosophical principle of “Educate, Organise and Struggle”. On the other
hand, Gramayan had intervened without understanding the village caste
dynamics in Nimgaon Mhlungi. The Dalit families, who were encouraged
to reverse migrate, were not given sufficient food security and dignity of
Further, observing the strong unity among the Dalits in Arajkheda, the
social boycott was gradually softened. This development led to positive
changes in social practices in 2003. Dalits became more conscious about
the benefits of reciprocal relationship with upper castes. They started
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Dalit Access to Common Lands 499
receiving their wages on time. Ownership of land is often linked to
economic prosperity and social status. The Arajkheda Dalits carried this
symbol with great pride.
Securing land rights helps Dalits to achieve upward social and economic
mobility (Shah and others, 2006). In Arajkheda, the tangible benefits
helped achieve, to some extent, upward economic and social mobility.
The collective farming initiative seems to be economically viable and can
be managed well. It also helps to assert ‘collective bargaining power’ of
the Dalits in the overall socio-political context. It was seen that ‘mutual
understanding’ of achieving the goals were prominently promoted by the
Dalit section. Nimgaon Mhalungi had a contrasting picture. There were no
tangible benefits to the Dalits. Even the formal rules could not strengthen
the economic security.
The gairan issue is very significant to the Dalits of Marathawada
region. The struggle for access to gairan land is still alive in more than
1,600 villages. Moreover, there is a huge amount of land available under
Mahar Vatan in Maharashtra.
Dalits migrate from rural to urban areas because of push (caste based
atrocities) and pull factors (employment, education, and so on).
Urbanisation and industrialisation do create more opportunities. Often,
the employment is irregular and also insecure. Dalits, who survive these,
settle down in the cities, often in slums. Reverse migration from urban
areas is possible on certain conditions. For example, the development
approach has to be more rural oriented, should focus on equitable access
to the deprived sections, and so on. Securing Dalit rights and dignity are
key issues to be tackled. Agro-industrial development could be one of the
pathways for development of rural areas. Dispersed agro-industrialisation
can provide employment in a sustainable way. However, there should be a
precondition that priority will be given to Dalits.
Upper caste hegemony and caste oppression are deeply rooted in the
Indian caste system. The demand for Dalits’ access to common land would
open up a major avenue for progress and economic liberation. Most of the
primary stakeholders have no equal entitlement over resources. A common
understanding about equitable access and sustainable use of resources can
be developed among all stakeholders. This can be ensured by initiating
various supportive policy initiatives for establishing collective farming
among Dalits.
IJSW, 73(4), 487–502, October 2012

500 Raju Adagale
I am greatly thankful to K.J. Joy, Senior Fellow, SOPPECOM, for his valuable comments
during the finalisation of this article. I am also thankful to Abraham Samuel, Senior Fellow,
SOPPECOM, and Prof. K.V. Raju from IRMA for offering useful suggestions. I would
like to thank my Ph.D. research guide, Prof. A. Ramaiah, Centre for study of Social Exclu-
sion and Inclusive Policies of TISS for the encouragement to write on Dalit issues. I am
very grateful to Adv. Eknath Awad and Tukaram Shinde from J.A.A. and B.P. Suryavanshi
from Kalapandhari, Anil Kale and other activists from Gramayan for providing support and
information. I would like to thank my friend Prashant Khunte for motivating me to carry
out this study. Last, but not the least, I would like to thank Eshwer Kale, Anjali Dhengle
and Pandurang Sontakke—my Ph.D. colleagues from TISS—for their support and critical
feedback and Vinit Raskar from SOPPECOM for his help with the maps.
1. This study was conducted for the “case competition” organised by the Foundation for
Ecological Security (FES) and Institute of Rural Management Anand (IRMA) as a
part of the 13th Biennial Conference of The International Association for the Study of
the Commons.
2. This land is privately owned and is not part of the CPR. It is mostly traditional right
given away to Dalit or group of Dalits. It is also called as Hadki-Hadola land.
3. Mahisal village in Sangli district (Southern Maharashtra) is known for its collective
farming experiment by the Dalits initiated by Mr. Dewal. This experiment proved that
Dalits could generate livelihood options even during severe drought if they could col-
lectively invest labour and manage resources in a sustainable manner.
4. The Indarthana village gairan is adjacent to the Arajkheda Gairan, where the land
is under common control of respective GPs. An interesting observation was that
there was no encroachment yet. The land excavation was carried out by the con-
tractors, who were outsiders and had a concrete mutual tie up with the GP and
Tehsil office.
5. Arajkheda has 6 households belonging to the shepherd community. Their main oc-
cupation was cattle rearing and the secondary occupation was working as agricultural
labourers. This community has been using the gairan for the last fifty years.
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