Ekta Parishad’s History of Land Struggle

There is long history of struggle for access to land and livelihood in India, and  it has always been  the most vulnerable communities  that find themselves left out of the political dialogue for change.  Control over livelihood resources and land lies in the hands of the State. The  vague and  ineffectual campaigns of  the past have done nothing  for  the development of a true village-level democracy that can bring the needs  of  the  landless  to  the  forefront  of  the  political  agenda.

Struggling  for  years,  Ekta  Parishad  has  worked  along  side  these communities to help create the changes necessary to bring an end to land  seizures,  to  ensure  equitable  land  distribution,  also  to  protect access to natural livelihood resources.

 The spirit of a people’s movement like Ekta Parishad was born with  the following activities:

  • In  the  early  1970s  with  the  rehabilitation  of  dacoits  (outlaw communities) in Chambal (1970-76),
  • The release of bonded laborers in the south from 1985-92,
  • And    ten  years  of  work  with  tribal  communities  of  Madhya  Pradesh (1980-88) and the dalit communities of Bihar (1990-99)

 Five  institutions  in  different  regions  of  central  and  eastern  India were established  to provide  training for youth on non-violence, and  people began organizing themselves under the common struggle for  land  reform  in  India. The vision of a powerful and united  force of  poor people  from  across  the  country was  the beginning of what  is  now known as Ekta Parishad.  This network was the base for what is  now a massive social organization spanning more than twelve states.

Let  us  take  a  few  examples  of Retrieving people’s dignity actions…

 Chilghat  was  a  denuded  tract  of  land  that  was  taken  over  by people who had no  land. Vimla, a woman with a history of marital discord and a mother with growing children,  joined Ekta Parishad. Some years ago she was sent to Chilghat to organise its people.

Those  who  tilled  the  land  faced  multi-pronged  harassment  at  the hands  of  authorities. People  tilling  the  land  had  no  land  rights  on paper. In legal terminology, they were transgressors and hence liable to punishment. Forest guards and police would destroy  their crops.

But  the  legal  system went  against  the natural  rights of  the people. Vimla’s role was to organise people so that they could fight the state repression in a united fashion.  Now not only are  they  tilling  the  land  for crop cultivation but  they are also going in for plantation, which is enriching the forest. (2005)

 The state of Chhattisgarh is a wonderful land for agriculture – it is known as India’s rice bowl – but it is also a land full of resources  as well as a forest area. This has been well understood by industrials and  the  Government.  While  the  firsts  set  up  their  industries  to exploit  the natural  resources,  the Government has declared  a  large part  of  the State  as  natural  reserves  under  the Wildlife Protection Act.  But  this  land  is  also  the  life  long  habitat  of  many  Adivasis  (tribes). As  the Government went along with  the  implementation of  sanctuaries and  industrialization,  tribal people who had been  living on  forest  land  for  long  were  evicted,  sometimes  with  a  lot  of violence, even murders. But  the Baiga  tribe  from Bokarabahar was not  ready  to give up  their  land  and dignity. With  the help of Ekta Parishad,  they  non-violently  occupied  the  land  from  where  they were dispossessed. They got back this land. This action and its result  gave  the hope and power  to 27 other Baiga villages  to do  the same and get back their land.

When  communities  that  depend  on  natural  resources  –  land, forest  and  water  –  for  their  livelihoods  are  excluded  from  resource  management,  the  result  is  their  political  and  economic marginalization.  Approximately 70% of India’s population depends  on  access  to  land  and  its  natural  resources  for  their  livelihood.  Without  any  legal  claim  to  these  lands,  thousands  of  people  are forced to migrate to urban centers everyday where they are left with  no choice but to become manual laborers without rights or financial and  life  security. When  farmers  are denied  the ownership  rights of the  land  they have occupied  for so  long  they become vulnerable  to what  many  people  think  to  be  so-called  “development”  and “progress”.   We  have  to  ask  ourselves  how,  in  a  country  where democracy rules and an increasingly prosperous market has brought  wealth to so many, there can still be so many millions of people left out  of  the  growth  that  has made  India  one  of  the  world’s  fastest growing economies.

Thousands of  people  in  India have  united  to  free  themselves  from  the oppressive hold  that  the  land policies of  this country have over their  lives.   Ekta Parishad  provides  a  platform  for  people  to  share their  experiences  and  ideas  with  the  confidence  that  their  voices would be heard.