ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Dalit Emancipation and the Land Question

In the context of the agitation in Gujarat where Dalits are demanding five acres of land for landless households among them, the National Sample Survey Office data is used to throw empirical light on landlessness among Dalits, the unequal landownership structure, and availability of excess land for redistribution.

In a predominantly agrarian economy, land distribution is arguably the most important determinant of the nature of socio-economic and power relations. Indian society has historically been an unequal one; with the Dalits being at the bottom of the caste hierarchy. Decades after Ambedkar brought to the fore the plight of the untouchables, Dalits continue to face the worst forms of caste-based violence, oppression, and discrimination. The Dalit uprising in Gujarat in the aftermath of the Una incident has opened up fresh possibilities of a political movement seeking redemption of Dalit dignity. At the heart of the Una agitation was the anger against the barbarism by self-proclaimed cow vigilante groups, and also the demand for distribution of five acres of land to landless Dalit households.

The motivation behind this article is to throw empirical light on landlessness among Dalits and the availability of excess land for redistribution using the 70th round of Land and Livestock Holdings Survey (L&LS) of the National Sample Survey Office (NSSO). This round was conducted during 2013 in two visits and covered 4,529 villages and 35,604 households in the rural areas. The L&LS collects data on household characteristics and aspects such as ownership of land, land use, and tenancy. While calculating landlessness, I have considered the land that was owned and possessed by the households during visit 1 of the L&LS. Land owned and possessed by a household can further be disaggregated into homestead and “other than homestead land” which includes land used for cultivation, livestock or other purposes. Unlike previous rounds, this survey does not provide information on cultivation of homestead land. The category of landless is used here for those households who did not own and possess any land other than homestead land. I have shown the figures for states where Dalits have a substantial population share.

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