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Land rights victory for Indian marchers

Human Rights

A section of the march. All photos: Christian Aid/Simon Williams.

Tens of thousands of marchers converging on the Indian capital Delhi, in pursuit of land reform, called off their protest today following government agreement to their demands – a ‘victory’ for India’s landless poor.

Rural Development Minister Jairam Ramesh publicly signed an agreement in front of marchers as they gathered in Agra, Uttar Pradesh this morning.

The new deal gives statutory backing to the provision of agricultural land to the landless poor in the poorer districts. In addition, the government will urge states to protect the land rights of dalits, tribals and ‘all other weaker and marginalised sections of society’, and fast track land tribunals will be established to resolve land issues quickly.

Some 60,000 marchers, mainly socially marginalised dalits and tribal people, began the 200-mile Jan Satyagraha march from Gwalior in Madhya Pradesh to Delhi on 3 October. They were due to reach the capital later this month.

The march was organised by Christian Aid partner Ekta Parishad which mobilised some 2,000 civil society groups around the country to provide marchers.

‘This is a true example of people’s victory through peaceful negotiation,’ said Anand Kumar, Christian Aid’s country manager in India. ‘Congratulations to Ekta Parishad and the marchers.’

The march was the culmination of four years planning by Ekta Parishad which in recent months has held numerous talks with government as it pressed for the implementation of the previously agreed National Land Reforms Policy.

For the past year, Ekta Parishad, a non-violent social movement in India that works on land and forest rights, has travelled the country, drumming up support for the march on Delhi, connecting with grassroots organizations in each state it passed through. Those joining the trek are demanding that existing pro-poor policies are put into action.

PV Rajagopal, Gandhian activist and founder of Ekta Parishad explained his journey: ‘Over a year ago, I left Delhi carrying soil from Rajghat, the place where Gandhi is resting. In that time I have travelled through the country, I have travelled 80,000 km, through 24 states and 350 districts.

‘We met thousands of groups of people who have had similar struggles. We heard thousands of unique cases of land rights abuses, affecting hundreds of thousands of people.

‘In an increasingly globalized world where large companies are coming to India, Africa and other countries to buy land, the governments are forcing people to sell their holdings in the name of mining, wildlife protection, infrastructure development process and various other projects – it’s become very common. If we don’t act now, there will be nothing left for the poor.’

Kumar added: ‘This year’s march built on the successes of one held previously - Janadesh 2007 - when the National Land Reform Committee was established, but they never met to put an agenda in place.

‘This time these negotiations must continue between the government and organisations working with the landless poor. Institutional arrangements must be put in place and sufficient time and resources allocated to put this agreement into action.

‘Access to land is critical for the eradication of poverty. We hope that today’s success will give hope and inspire other land struggles in other parts of the world.’

A taskforce will meet on 17 October to start preparing a roadmap for land reform.

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