75-year-old Sukumaran Menon has been living on just bread and water for almost four years now. Every morning, the puny old man travels to the same bench outside of Mahatma Gandhi Park on M.G. Road, in Bangalore City, armed with only an umbrella, fasts in protest of the government stealing his land.
Once he is seated on the bench, Menon engages in ‘Samadhana Upavasa Satyagraha’ (peaceful fasting protest), which means that he goes without food or water from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. every day. He doesn’t carry any banners or notices and doesn’t like having his photograph taken – he just sits there, hoping that one day, justice will be served. He blindly believes that his persistence will pay off, just like it did for his hero, Mahatma Gandhi.
“Like him, I will continue my protest until justice is done,” Menon declared. “I do not talk, the government should see my plight and talk.”
Menon hails from Thrissur, in the southern state of Kerala, but moved to Bangalore 49 years ago. He worked for the government until his retirement, and also ran a dairy farm along with his wife, to make ends meet. In 1995, he invested all his savings in a small piece of land, on which he constructed a small house for his family.
“Even six years after I constructed my house, electricity supply was not given, though it was sanctioned,” he said. And just as his family was settling down, he lost the property to the State government, which he claims seized the land from him and sold it to developers for a large profit.
The Karnataka Industrial Areas Development Board (KIADB), a state government-run organization, marked Menon’s property for acquisition for the Bangalore-Mysore Infrastructure Corridor project. “Though the acquisition process began in 1996, we did not get any notice till 2004,” he said. And in 2009, local land sharks flooded his house by diverting a water channel that drained into a nearby lake. “We were forced to move out in the dead of the night, as our house was flooded with knee-deep water.”
Soon, Menon’s home was demolished and the land was set aside for the development project. “They took my land away from me to make a vast profit with a development company,” he said. “Neither they nor the company have offered me any cash for what they took, so how can this be right in what we call the world’s biggest democracy?”
Menon spent several years fighting the government legally, but they’ve been silent on the issue so far. The official response is that the land was subject to a compulsory purchase order, and there’s nothing much they can do about it. It all got to a point where Menon grew weary of lawyers and legal battles. “I do not have any faith in the judiciary. Officials have been bribed,” he said. So he decided to follow the Gandhian Way.
“I have spent all my savings in trying to protect what is mine,” he said. “My family is now living in a rented house near our house. I stay near my grabbed land so that I can see what is happening to my land.” When he wrote to several politicians in the nation regarding his misfortune, he was finally offered a compensation, but Menon wasn’t ready to accept it. “What they are offering is a pittance compared to the actual cost. I do not want any compensation; I only want my land back.”
Meanwhile, the prolonged fasting has taken its toll on Menon’s health. The man is extremely underweight, and he is losing his hair and teeth because of his improper diet. He also suffers from other geriatric health problems. The media hasn’t paid much attention to him, and the police frequently ask him to vacate the stone bench. But the lone crusader is bent on achieving his goal – he’s not budging from that bench until the officials give back what is rightfully his.
Sukumaran Menon’s protest is very similar to that of Indian heroine Irom Sharmila Chanu, who has been on a hunger strike for the last 14 years.