The anniversary of Gandhi’s birthday and the UN international day of non-violence falls on Sunday 2 October. On this day, representatives of Christian Aid partner Ekta Parishad begin a more than year-long journey across India that could bring transformation to the lives of hundreds of millions of Indians living in poverty.
The group, which includes Ekta Parishad’s president Mr.PV Rajagopal and youth leaders, will embark on a 13-month long campaign across 25 Indian states to demand that the government swiftly implements land and legal reforms.
The climax will see 100,000 landless people march barefoot for a month, covering 350 kilometers from Gwalior (near the Taj Mahal) to Delhi in October and November 2012, in one of the biggest non-violent campaigns the world has ever witnessed.
Mobilisation and preparation
Ekta Parishad is a network of grassroots organisations campaigning for land rights and control over forest resources for marginalised communities, especially dalits and tribal people. It estimates that access to land could lift 400 million Indians out of poverty.
In each state that they pass through, Ekta Parishad will connect with local grass roots partners, rallying people to sign up for the 2012 march on government. They will also ensure people have the necessary support and are well prepared for the month-long journey by foot away from home.
Each of the marchers is putting aside two handfuls of rice per week for family and community members left behind, and two rupees to help fund their way on the journey.
A dream of India
‘When Gandhi was asked, “what is your dream of India?” he said “self-sufficient, self-governed, 500,000 villages uniting into a nation called India.” Gandhi was visualising a bottom-up process, [but] we have gone in an opposite direction’ says Ekta Parishad director Rajagopal, of the disparity between rich and poor in booming modern-day India.
‘That is why organisations like Ekta Parishad are mobilising large numbers of people to put pressure on the government, so that through pressure and dialogue process you can change policies’ he says.
The 2012 march builds on 2007’s Janadesh march, when 25,000 rural poor trod the same 350km path to demand their land rights from the Indian government.
The 2007 march bore results, including the establishment in January 2008 of the National Land Reform Committee – the first step towards creating equitable land reform policies. Yet progress has been slow, and this time the 100,000 will march to demand that existing pro-poor policies are put into action.
UK supporters walk in solidarity
From 1 October 2011, hundreds of people will join sponsored walks in the UK, organised by Christian Aid and fellow Ekta Parishad supporter Action Village India (AVI), to show solidarity with those marching in India. Some will put aside £2 per week for a year – just as Indians are putting aside 2 rupees a week to prepare for the main march – which will go towards Ekta Parishad’s continued struggle.