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Rag-tag army demands land or jail

Posted by Indian Vanguard on October 28, 2007

Rag-tag army demands land or jail
The protesters march to Delhi. (AFP)

Faridabad, Oct. 27: Divided into four neat queues stretching well over a kilometre, a mass of people heads to Delhi.

Walking along the side of National Highway 2, they shout “Give us land or give us jail”, in a chorus that carries a blend of Hindi, Bhojpuri, Kannada, Marathi, Gujarati, Malayalam, Tamil, Oriya and several dialects.

They are some of India’s poorest addressing the government, and though they appear to be giving Delhi a choice, their numbers — over 18,000, say organisers — will make the jail option tough to implement.

Together, they are laying siege to Delhi.

“The government has ignored the rights of the landless for too long. If we don’t receive a positive response by tomorrow evening, we will surround Parliament on Monday,” said Anil Gupta, one of the organisers.

It’s a rag-tag army of deprived, semi-starved people, but they plan to follow a man who shook what was the strongest military empire in the world without lifting a sword.

“This is a satyagraha. When we approach Parliament, police will try and stop us. We won’t fight with them. Our battle is against the policies of this government, and we will make sure we are heard,” Shankar Mahato, a 44-year-old former panchayat member from Jharkhand, said.

The marchers who started from Gwalior on October 2 walked through Rajasthan’s Dhaulpur district before reaching Agra. From there, they trekked to Faridabad, on the outskirts of the capital.

There are fisherfolk from Orissa’s Chilka region who are struggling to make ends meet. They say their archaic rods and nets are no match for the sophisticated gadgets used by multinationals allowed to fish in the Chilka’s waters.

Tribals from Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand and Maharashtra have come in large numbers — nearly 5,000 — to protest against the Forests Rights Bill that they say threatens to make them aliens on their own turf by declaring forests “reserved”.

The marchers from Tamil Nadu are protesting against the Sethusamudram ship channel project, which they say will lead to trawlers destroying the traditional areas where fish spawn.

It took three years, Gupta said, to organise the 350km trek.

They had started out with a strength of 25,000, divided into five groups. Each group has an ambulance of its own. There is also a sixth “common” ambulance.

The groups were further divided into sub-groups of a thousand each. Every sub-group has a self-sufficient kitchen — Eicher vans carrying utensils and gas stoves — and two water tankers with a capacity of 40 litres each. There are some “common” water tankers as well.

The padyatra, however, had run into a few rough patches. For instance, near Agra, one early morning, a 14-wheel trailer carrying cars rammed through the road divider and into a group of people washing their faces. Three died and nine were injured.

Yet, the mood remains festive. Land and livelihood, the protesters say, are their rights, after all.


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Rural Poor March on New Delhi Demanding Land Reform

Posted by Indian Vanguard on October 26, 2007

Twenty five thousand people are on the march to Delhi. They are on the Delhi-Agra Road and will reach Delhi in a few days now. These are not even people in the eyes of the state and the urban populace blinded by the advertisements for TV, reality shows, cars and holidays. These are the tribals, the untouchables, landless labourers, people who have nothing left to loose.

Photos:Raoul Amaar Abbas

They are marching on to Delhi to demand land, land that was promised to them, land that was stolen from them, communal land which was sold out under their noses, land that they cannot recover from corrupt land developers and politicians.

But can a mere 25,000 people with no voice in the system, change the fate

I talked about Naxalites last year and agreed with the Prime Minister that the Naxalites were the single most threatening issue to the integrity of India. But nothing much has happened to them. The same corruption, the same ignorance and same mindless consumerism has taken hold.

The Naxalites have used exactly this issue, the issue that the rural poor are not being looked after. The government has become a parasite at worst and uncaring at best. When that happens, there is a vaccume of governance and it is no surprise that ideologies such as Maoism have crept in and now threaten the viability of a large democratic state such as India. The same thing is happening in China as well.

Land reform which started promisingly in many states such as West Bengal, Kashmir, Kerela, Andhra Pradesh, etc. But the Bimaru states suck at this. See here for a great overview of this very complex issue.

Another factor, given the state of the world agriculture markets, it is impossible for a small 1-2 acre plot to be economically viable and support a family. It is simply impossible. But still, that is an asset to the family and if you do want to take away the land under the eminent domain laws, then you are then forced to pay compensation to that poor tribal, landless labourer or untouchable. That is fair, no? But corruption takes away his land, his living, his compensation and more importantly, rots away the framework of the state which allows termites like the Naxalites to bore away and weaken the state.

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