Asia-Pacific, Civil Society, Environment, Europe, Headlines, Human Rights, Indigenous Rights

INDIA: Landless Plan a Long March

Isolda Agazzi

GENEVA, Sep 13 2011 (IPS) - The Gandhian movement Ekta Parishad plans to organise a march for land rights in October 2012 in India, aiming to gather around 100,000 indigenous people, dalits and poor peasants. Support is shaping up around the world, at events such as an international mobilisation conference in Geneva Sep. 12-13.

“In India, a large number of adivasi (indigenous people) are pushed out of their land because of mining, huge dams, wildlife protection, industrialisation and tourism. Every time you have a new industry, they bear the cost of development. That is why there is a lot of agitation and uprising of adivasi, both armed and non-violent”, Ekta Parishad president P.V.Rajagopal told IPS in an interview.

Ekta Parishad is a federation of more than 900 associations all over India. Founded 20 years ago and inspired by the Gandhian non-violent movement, it struggles for the land rights and livelihoods of indigenous peoples, nomadic tribes and the dalits.

In October 2012 it will organise ‘Jan Satyagraha – the March of Justice’ that is meant to become the biggest march for land rights in history. The plan is for people to walk the 350 kilometres from Gwalior to Delhi over 35 days.

“In preparation for this big march, we decided to get support from institutions, NGOs, policy makers and activists from countries where land rights are an important issue too, like South America and Africa,” Margrit Hugentobler, coordinator of Ekta Europe told IPS. “Hence this international mobilisation conference on the right to land and livelihood.”

Next year’s march will follow one organised in 2007 by Ekta Parishad, where about 25,000 people – mostly adivasi and dalits – walked to Delhi to reclaim access to land. It resulted in the establishment of a land rights committee that produced several recommendations. But implementation has been poor after the decline of media coverage.

The government also passed the Forest Rights Act, under which those driven out of the forest must be given land. “Thousands of people did get land,” said Hugentobler, “but the distribution does not happen by order of the national government, but at the state level. State ministers play an important role and some have given land to people, but others have not. India is still missing an overall national policy that can be enforced. This is why we are organising a second and bigger march.”

Other marches will take place around the world to support the Indian event and to back food sovereignty and the right of access of indigenous peoples to natural resources.

“In India, displacement also results from land acquisition by government for malls and supermarkets,” Rajagopal said. “Farmers are losing land and they are agitating. The beautification of cities is also done at the expens of poor people like street vendors and shoe repairers, that have to go. For the 2010 Commonwealth games in Dehli, 200,000 people were removed from the city centre.”

Rajagopal sees this as a gradual process of displacing people from forest and land to give these resources away to large companies and multinational corporations.

“My job is to find a non-violent solution to this problem before it becomes too violent, and to organise people,” he said. “It is a very challenging period in India and across the globe – in Africa or Latin America you have the same situation. In Brazil 80 percent of the people are already driven to cities. In India 70 percent of the people still live in rural areas, but if this process continues, we will end like Brazil. People will have to move to slums and the resources in the villages will be controlled by companies.”

Maria Salete Carollo from the Landless Movement in Brazil agreed. “This march must strengthen the social fight for food sovereignty and land reform in Brazil. We have to support all the people who fight for their land rights wherever they are, with farmers and poor people at the forefront,” she told IPS.

Ekta Parishad is seeking political, moral and financial support. “We need one euro per person per day for food, water and medicine,” Rajagopal said. “That makes 100,000 euros every day, of which 30 percent will be raised in India and 70 percent internationally, so we appeal to the world community.”

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