This Land Is Our Land!

In a remote corner of Uttar Pradesh, Adivasis and Dalits are standing up against great odds to fight starvation by reclaiming forestland for collective farming


Thousands of Adivasi families are fighting for their forest rights under the banner of the All India Union of Forest Working People (aiufwp) and the Kaimur Khetra Mahila Kisan Mazdoor Sangharsh Samiti (kkmkmss), an organisation of Adivasi and Dalit women. IMG_0699r

As the Government was not keen to implement the Forest Rights Act and protect the rights of the traditional forest-dwelling communities, They have reclaimed around 20,000 hectares of land in the Kaimur belt and have initiated collective or cooperative farming.





Thousands of Adivasi and Dalit families have organised themselves into agrarian collectives and are cultivating several varieties of food crops on this reclaimed land. After keeping a part of the produce for self-consumption, the rest is sold in the market and the earnings distributed among the cultivators.



The story of this grassroots experiment opens a window to a world where the battle for survival of the poorest of the poor pits them against a repressive State.





The Kaimur belt is spread across the inter-state border areas of UP, BiharJharkhand, Chhattisgarh and Madhya Pradesh. Some social scientists have argued that this mineral-rich region was divided among various states so that all of them have a stake in the revenue it generates, and this was done in total disregard of its possible consequences for Adivasi livelihood and identity.

The appropriated Adivasi land was given to big business groups that invested in such as mining, power generation and cement manufacturing. Apart from cheap land, big business also benefited from cheap Adivasi labour. No wonder the conditions were apt for political mobilisation by the Maoists. However, the State turned the fledgling Maoist presence, too, into another excuse to crack down on all forms of resistance by the Adivasis.


Cheap labour:- Tribal travelling in a truck to reach factory at Renukoot, Sonbhadhra.


Apart from cheap land, big business also benefited from cheap Adivasi labour.



In villages where the Adivasis are doing collective farming, one can clearly see why the dominant classes want to brand them as criminals. (In fact, the branding of Adivasis as criminals has historically been used by the ruling classes to subdue workers and peasants evicted from their habitat.)

Photographs by Vijay Pandey

Text by Nideesh J Villat

©All Photographs Copyright Vijay Pandey


Tamil Nadu farmers protest with skulls of dead farmers

Photographs by Vijay Pandey

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Tamil Nadu farmers, who have been demanding drought relief packages, are protesting at the Jantar Mantar in the Delhi. In a unique way, these farmers have been sitting with skulls of their fellow ones, who had allegedly committed suicide. The protestors warned of continuing with the stir unless the government listens to their demands. These farmers, who have been protesting since March 14, 2017,  have demanded that farm crisis in Tamil Nadu be resolved.vijay pandey 6

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More than 150 farmers from Tamil Nadu have been protesting at Jantar Mantar since March 14, 2017 with skulls of farmers who had allegedly committed suicide.

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farmer by vijay pandey4

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Images Copyright ©Vijay Pandey

Working class blues: Aftermath of Demonetisation

(From Archive)Kanhiya Singh

Wazirpur in Delhi, employs thousands of workers, largely migrants from the hinterland, in polishing, loading and unloading, acid washing and hot rolling in steel factories.

With no available supply of valid currency and drastic reduction in work, a massive reverse migration is on with workers trudging back to their rural hearth.IMG_0077

Ashrath worries about his future…?

Nineteen-year-old Ashrath had a few days left in Delhi. His  Garment factory which employed around 25 workers looks like a cemetery after a funeral. “Only two of us are left. All of my co-workers left. We will be going in a day or two.”

“You need to know how to read and write properly for using digital cash, right?” Ashrath asked innocently. Ashrath is one among millions of Indians who have never been to school. “Large numbers of workers in garment industry are illiterate or primary school dropouts,”Ashrath said. “I wonder how workers like me without basic education can use all these new techniques.”


Ashrath and his friend Alam, garment workers, packing their bags.
“I used to send around Rs 8,000 a month to my parents in Moradabad. My family depended on this, it had no other source of income. Thanks to Modi and his notebandhi, I cannot send them money from now,” said Ashrath, a young garment worker in Delhi’s Old Seelampur.

Ashrath works in a small garment factory in old Seelampur, Delhi that makes jeans. “I have 7 siblings. My father is a marginal, indebted and ailing peasant. I was the only earning member of our family,” he said.IMG_9975

Bhupendra Rawat, a tensed garment worker in his Tank road factory, Delhi.

A closed jeans manufacturing unit in Tank Road, Delhi. Workers come to factories enquiring availability of work.

Textile workers who have brought their family to Delhi are hit very badly. There are four types of factory units involved in textile production. They are cutting, fabrication, dyeing and finishing respectively. Almost all cutting and fabrication units are closed. Other two units are about to shut.



“We were poor. But Modi made us poorer. He humiliated us by attacking our dignity,” Talib, a young industrial worker, said near his workplace in Wazirpur industrial area of Delhi. Talib face reflects the frustration, anger, humiliation and revenge that steel industrial workers in Wazirpur, one of the largest steel production belts in Asia, have been seething in.IMG_1318

Labourers are still paid in old currency and in converting the money into valid tender: a 1000 gets 700 and a 500 gets just 300. Middlemen thrive.IMG_1339r

“I didn’t see rich people in bank queues. It was people like me who stood in queue to exchange money. Government should understand that poor people are suffering,” Sunil, a worker from Chhapra in Bihar, said.

All Images Copyright ©Vijay Pandey


Hindu men smeared with colors play holi during Lathmar festival celebrations  in Barsana, Mathura.

Men from the village of Nandgaon celebrate covered with colored powder the Lathmar Holi festival at the Radha Rani temple in Barsana village, Mathura. Holi is the Hindu spring festival of colors. In Barsana, people celebrate a variation of holi, called ‘Lathmar’ Holi, which means ‘beating with sticks’. During the Lathmar Holi festival, the women of Barsana, the birth place of Hindu God Krishna’s beloved Radha, beat the men from Nandgaon, the hometown of Hindu God Krishna, with wooden sticks in response to their efforts to throw color on them.



Women fromBarsana village hold wooden sticks as they wait for the arrival of men from Nandgaon, during Lathmar Holi festival atBarsana. According to a tradition which has its roots in Hindu mythology, men from nearby Nandgaon village are soaked in colored water by men and beaten with sticks by women as they arrive at Barsana, believed to be Radha’s village.


Streets of Mathura




Women from Barsana village beat the shield of a men from Nandgaon village with their wooden sticks as they celebrate Lathmar Holi in Barsana. During Lathmar Holi the women of Barsana beat the men from Nandgaon, the hometown of Lord Krishna, with wooden sticks in response to their teasing.IMG_0701

In search of a country to call home

For refugees from conflict-torn regions such as West Asia and Afghanistan, New Delhi is a waiting room where they cannot imagine living permanently. But they don’t know where they can go from here.

For refugees from conflict-torn regions such as West Asia and Afghanistan, New Delhi is a waiting room where they cannot imagine living permanently. But they don’t know where they can go from here.

Though the exact figures are unavailable, there are reportedly between 2 lakh to 4 lakh refugees in India. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), the UN agency that works with refugees all over the world, claims to have 30,000 “persons of concern” in India. India does not have a law dealing with refugees and provides asylum on a case-to-case basis, depending on various factors, including bilateral ties with the country in question. For instance, currently India is smoothening the process of providing asylum to Pakistani and Afghani Hindus and Sikhs, so that eventually, these individuals are given Indian citizenship. However, India does not have the same policy for Burmese refugees.


Mohammed Dawod Sharifi | 50 | Afghanistan

On some evenings, the Muslim cemetery in Bhogal, New Delhi, has a quiet visitor, who sits next to a grave, lost in himself, reminiscing about home. For Dawod, his father’s grave is the only place where he finds some solitude in this alien city.Life used to be better. It had seemed things were finally in place when Hamid Karzai was elected as the president of Afghanistan in 2004. Dawod, a police officer in the prestigious narcotics division in Kabul, never had a dull day, thanks to the opium trade that saw an unfettered boom after the American invasion. Little did Dawod know that opium would one day drive him out of the country along with his family.

A brush with the local mafia got Dawod in trouble as he began to be threatened to facilitate the narcotics trade or face death. Unable to cope, Dawod decided to leave. With little knowledge of India’s policies, he came to New Delhi with the hope of starting a new life. Things, however, did not go as planned.

“Here I don’t have a proper job. All the Afghans I know do odd jobs. The Indian government should not keep us here for too long. We are just guests here,” he pleads, hoping the government will somehow enable him to leave.


 Raihana | 32 | Afghanistan

Raihana breaks down when asked about the number of children she has. The family, which came to New Delhi in 2010, fearing attacks from the local mafia in Afghanistan, lost a child as medical attention was not quick to come by. Her husband Sayed was a lawyer in Kabul, before he made powerful enemies. Like Habiba, Sayed too keeps details out of his story as he still fears retribution from the people he antagonised. His miserable existence in a single-room apartment in New Delhi, while doing odd jobs, has driven him to the edge. However, unlike Dawod and Habiba, Sayed has little hope for the future. He simply shakes his head nonchalantly, even as he looks at his five-year-old daughter Nilofer, who is lying on the floor with fever.


Abdullah Hamuda | 48 | Palestine/Syria

“I just hope these two will find citizenship somewhere,” says Abdullah pointing at his two daughters Maria, 6, and Marjana, 3, who will grow up to be third-generation Palestinian refugees. Abdullah’s parents had been displaced during the creation of Israel in 1948 and officially became refugees in Syria. Abdullah worked as a photographer in Al-Maliha near Damascus, before the government jailed him for frivolous reasons. The “oppression” against Palestinian refugees pushed him to come to India, a country he was reluctant to choose. A promise of a job fell through and Abdullah became a cook in a restaurant, cooking kebabs and biryani. “Every month, I have to pay 6,000 as rent for the single room in which my entire family of six lives. My brother has cerebral palsy. Do you think I will be able to afford to send my kids to school?” he asks. “I was not born in Palestine. I have no memory of a home because we had no home. But we are living in hell now — it’s worse than what we left behind in Syria… I hope I can go to a country where my children have a future and I can find a good job.”


Vandad | 31, Vista | 38 | Iran

The Islamic Republic of Iran has been notorious for its intolerance towards dissenters, be it people of other faiths or homosexuals or rights activists. Vandad, born into a liberal family in Ghaemshahr of Mazandaran province, was always a radical. He believed in equality and human rights for all. Once Vandad was identified for dissident activities, it was only a matter of time before the State authorities got to him. Vandad was first made an offer to work with the intelligence agencies, which he refused. Physical assaults followed. Vandad, who had met Vista by then, decided to flee. Soon after reaching New Delhi in May 2010, he converted to Zoroastrianism as per Vista’s wish.

In New Delhi, it is a fight to survive and stay true to one’s beliefs. “Sometimes, even the Iranians we hope would be our friends, get wary of our political stances. There is alienation. Also, the uncertainty about the future drives us insane. It has been five years since we came to New Delhi. It has been a waste. We just hope some country takes us,” says Vandad, even as Vista makes tea in their single-room apartment in New Friends’ Colony. “No familiar faces, no friends, never a feeling of home,” Vandad adds in his broken English.

However, all the odds notwithstanding, Vandad continues to blog about human rights violations in Iran. Even a physical assault in New Delhi has not stopped him from standing up for his beliefs.

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Anonymous | Palestine/Syria“I prefer you don’t put my name,” he says, even as he talks about his past in mesmerising detail. “I lived a simple life with my parents and eight siblings, who are now shattered here and there as a result of war and violence. I was a very curious child, who loved learning about history, loved the outdoors, music, adventure and making things. I remember making something resembling the Oud (a stringed instrument commonly used in Middle-Eastern music) out of an olive oil can and other recycled materials. I studied in schools run by the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees where all the students and teachers were Palestinian refugees. As a child, I often thought of my father’s village and dreamt of the day we will return there. Though I was born and raised in Syria, Palestine and my father’s village is in every atom of my being. Occupied Palestine is like a mother, who you do not choose, but she is where you are from, where you belong. Syria is like a wife; you choose her, have memories with her and love her. I love Syria just as I love Palestine, I am as Syrian as I am Palestinian.” He came to India to study and has not been able to go back because of the civil war in Syria.


 Muhab Zaidan | 31 | Palestine/Syria

Several years ago, as a teenager from a Palestinian-Syrian family, Muhab undertook an extremely dangerous voyage from Libya to Syria on a boat filled with refugees. “Syria did not let us disembark from the boats and we were stuck on the coast,” he remembers. He came to India three years ago to do a Master’s degree from Jamia Milia Islamia, New Delhi. Over the past five years, his parents — first-generation refugees rendered homeless during the 1948 ‘Naqba’ — fled Syria and went to Sweden. As for Muhab, he is stuck in India, negotiating the bureaucratic nightmare of getting a visa from another country. Translation work, which fetches him some money, is not always easy to come by. “The other refugees will go back when their situation improves. However, the question with us is where do we go? A Palestine occupied by Israel? Syria? The UNHCR can help us. It can send our files to the governments that will help us,” he says, still hopeful of an exit from here, before his youth fades away. “I am waiting for nothing.”

All Images Copyright ©Vijay Pandey





A space to socialise and dream together for migrant workers.


Unlike palaces which are imagined to be richly decorated, Satyam Palace in Mamurra Village in Noida, is an antonym to its name. An old and dilapidated building, painted in fading brick colour, the hall quenches the thirst for among slum dwellers. Hailing from Bihar and UP, these people who are primarily migrant workers find in the hall, a space to socialise and dream together. Running daily shows at Rs 15, the hall, owing to its regulars, have also been screening a Bhojpuri film once a day.



Priced at Rs.15, the movie tickets are affordable to the slum-dwellers who are migrant labourers3

A poster of Sanjay Dutt starrer Kurukshetra is being put up on the wall before the daily show6img_9079

Migrant workers watching Bollywood movie “Shatranj” which was released in 1993 and Starrer by then Superstar Mithun Chakraborty, in the slum movie theater in the outskirts of Delhi, India.
It is the cheapest way of entertainment for the poor’s in the multiplex cinema culture of Metro cities.

All Images Copyright© Vijay pandey