Ctrl.Alt.Shift interviews Ekta Parishad’s leader

The Ekta Parishad movement is marching through India in 2012 to campaign for the right to land and resources for India’s poorest people. CAS writer Kevin E.G. Perry talks to the movement’s leader about its significance and how you can get involved.

Ekta Parishad is an Indian people’s movement dedicated to non-violence, as was Gandhi. Their activists work towards building local self-reliance and community governance. Their aim is to see India’s poorest people have access and control over the resources on which they depend for survival such as land, water and forests.

Rajagopal from Ekta Parishad delivers a speechFollowing the 25,000 strong Janadesh march in 2007, they are planning a ‘mega’ march across India for October 2012 to continue to raise awareness that land is a vital issue for development and poverty reduction. They believe that levels of landlessness and deprivation need to be reduced in order to achieve development for all the people of India, not just the wealthy few.

Smaller ‘practice’ marches will begin across India’s poorest states, starting with Orissa in October 2011, before 100,000 peaceful protesters set off on the month long march to Delhi one year later.

Rajagopal, who is leading this massive undertaking, told Ctrl.Alt.Shift about the staggering logistics that will be involved – and why it means so much.

CAS: How will the march be organised?

Ekta Parishad: This is a march in which 100,000 people are going to participate. We will begin the march from the city of Gwalior. Gwalior is significant because that was where the surrender of bandits – the dacoits – took place before the picture of Gandhi in 1972. About 400 of them surrendered, rejecting violence. Thereafter our work has been non-violent.

We believe that globalisation is violence. Taking resources from the poor people is violence. Discrimination and oppression are violence. So if bandits could say goodbye to violence in 1972, then this democratic government of India should be able to say goodbye to violence too.

The march will start on 2 October 2012 and we will be walking 15 or 20 kms a day. So, it will take about 32 days to reach Delhi.

There are many logistics involved, as we learned during our march in 2007. People are eating on the road, sleeping on the road. There will be discussions and entertainment on the road. So it is basically a huge, mobile training program.

CAS: What is the significance of this sort of march?

Rajagopal from Ekta ParishadEkta Parishad: Marching has been used in India since the very beginning. Religious leaders, for example, also used the padayatra. What other option did they have but to walk?

From that point, Gandhi took the idea and developed it into a tool for social change. He made his famous Dandi Padyatra, the Salt March , as part of the liberation struggle. Gandhi linked it to his idea of satyagraha, ‘clinging on to truth’.

“Marching has been used in India since the very beginning. Religious leaders… used the padayatra.”

For our purposes, walking is the tool of poor people. It is something they can do without money. It has no limits. Cars and trains and buses have limits but walking only has the limits of the human being and it allows many, many people to participate.

You are also accessible when walking- people can approach and speak with you. You are not hurrying to a destination but you can walk and talk, talk and walk, with people. This padayatra allows for access and participation. Everyone can afford to walk, it is a journey which is possible for everyone.

Of course, most people will come first to Gwalior by train, and because they are poor they will insist on traveling for no charge. They will say this is not my personal fight, but I am doing this for the country. The railway officials will let them pass.

CAS: What can people in the UK do to support this work?

Ekta Parishad: In the UK people can advocate with their MPs. I know that there is already a strong movement among UK MPs on some of the Dalit issues in India. It is very important to connect the issues of poverty with the issue of land. That is the only real solution to poverty in India.

It is not at all a question of creating jobs. There are simply too many poor people in India for that to work. No ‘growth in the economy’ could possibly support them. Yet if people have a small amount of land, then they can support themselves. And with all of the land-grabbing going on now by multinationals and our own rich and powerful people, land is being lost by many poor people.

British parliamentarians can in turn have a big impact on parliamentarians here. There is still a lot of influence from our colonial past. So people have to say, land reform is the issue and we want you to take it up. There is a huge amount of development aid coming to India from England and also a great deal of business, so that can be some leverage.

When Mr. Cameron came, a series of deals were made with the government for arms sales and other business. So if a group of parliamentarians took a position on this issue, it would help us a lot.

We also need resources. We are mobilising a vast number of poor people; people who really have nothing and are standing up for their rights. It takes very little in Western terms of money to support that, but a little bit will go a long way here.

Finally we are looking for volunteers, like doctors, who can come for one month to help us. And we need people to help us translate. We also want journalists and photographers and advocates. We are happy to welcome anyone who is sincerely concerned for the poor people.

So we need all kinds of support – moral, political and economic.

Really all of this would be proactive, it would help us prevent the disaster of violence in India. Because if we don’t do something there will be more and more violence here. What we are doing is trying to head that off by democratising the country. Helping now is being preventative and hopeful about the future.

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