Indians make gains on land rights (Janadesh), 2007

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Time Period:  
2 October
28 October
Location and Goals
Location City/State/Province: 
Gwalior to Delhi
Ekta Parishaed demanded that the Indian government: (1) establish a national land authority, which would focus on monitoring land use across the country and identifying land available for redistribution; (2) formally recognize ownership rights of the land-holding peasantry; and (3) set up fast-track courts to settle past and present conflicts and disputes related to land.

In the early 2000s, many residents of rural India did not own the land on which they lived and worked. Without land rights, peasant farmers were often economically insecure.

Exacerbating local economic hardship, the Indian government began acquiring thousands of acres of land to create special economic zones. The government sometimes loaned some of this acquired land to local residents, but would often reclaim it a short time afterwards. Through this process, the government facilitated the replacement of small shopkeepers with corporate retail businesses.

The group Etka Parishad aimed to raise awareness about the government land grabs and demanded land reform in the interest of local residents. A founding member of Etka Parishad, P.V. Rajagopal, accused the government of deliberately trying to undermine the villagers’ self-sufficiency. Inspired by the example of Mohandas K. Gandhi, Rajagopal decided to lead a march.

Ekta Parishaed demanded that the Indian government: (1) establish a national land authority, which would focus on monitoring land use across the country and identifying land available for redistribution, (2) formally recognize ownership rights of the land-holding peasantry, and (3) set up fast-track courts to settle past and present conflicts and disputes related to land.

On 2 October 2007, the anniversary Mahatma Gandhi’s birth, Etka Parishad launched the march from Gwalior to Delhi. They called the march 'Janadesh', or 'People's Verdict'. Over time approximately 25,000 landless peasants, indigenous people, and distressed farmers joined the march, walking in columns of four and carrying the Indian flag, banners, and pictures of moral leaders such as Gandhi. Social activists, environmentalists, human rights activists, and followers of Gandhi expressed support for the march.

The marchers rested alongside the road at night. Seven people died during the march, killed by trucks, exhaustion, or low temperatures. They arrived in Delhi on 28 October 2007, having traveled 350 kilometres. That night they camped in the gated Ram Lila fairgrounds near the Indian Parliament.

On the morning of 29 October, the marchers woke to 1,500 police guarding the now-locked grounds. The police were armed with riot sticks and bamboo shields. The protesters sat down and chanted “Give us land or give us jail!” A leader of Ekta Parishad stated that the people gathered would not leave until the government took action on their demands. He even suggested that the marchers would perish in Delhi rather than walk home defeated.

Later that day, the Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and the Rural Development Minister promised to meet all of Ekta Parishad’s demands. They agreed to establish a National Land Commission to be chaired by the Prime Minister, and invited Rajagopal to sit on the commission.

A year later, on 18-19 October, 2008, members of Ekta Parishad convened a public assembly in Gwailor to evaluate the outcomes of the Janadesh March. They attributed the following government actions to their campaign: creation of the National Council for Agricultural Reform, passage of the Forest Rights Act, the Land Acquisition Act, and the Resettlement & Rehabilitation Act, and national attention toward tribal rights. Through these mechanisms, the Indian government distributed hundreds of thousands of land ownership titles to indigenous families. In the state of Bihar alone, the government redistributed 324,000 hectares to landless families.

Despite these successes, Ekta Parishad was not satisfied with the actions taken by the Indian government because the implementation of the legislation was not complete.

Ekta Parishad led a second march beginning 2 October 2012 to demand full implementation of the reforms promised in 2007. More than 50,000 people participated in that march. At the time of this writing Ekta Parishad remains unsatisfied with the government’s follow-through, and remains committed to empowering rural residents to achieve more control over their land.

Research Notes

Ekta Parishad drew upon the Ghandian tradition sourced from the Salt Satygraha of 1930-1931. (1)

This campaign influenced a similar march in October 2012. (2)

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Name of researcher, and date dd/mm/yyyy: 
Melissa D Romanow, 06/03/2013