For five days, 5000 adivasis, farmers and landless labourers from over 12 states followed the Mathura Road from Palwal towards Delhi. This 60km-footmarch by Ekta Parishad and other organizations had a big impact on the discussion about land rights.
News channels reported the protests and broadcasted live interviews with Anna Hazare or Rajagopal P.V. On the 23rd February a delegation of Ekta Parishad was invited by Home Minister Rajnath Singh to put some proposals of Ekta Parishad on table. After that meeting, Minister Rajnath Singh discussed four points with Prime Minister Narendra Modi, mainly about land distribution to the landless and how to protect the rights of marginalized people in this country.
ABP News (formerly STAR News), a popular Hindi news channel, published an article by our valued contact Devinder Sharma (food & trade policy analyst) on Friday.
His comment on the reaction to the march was that “the disconnect between the middle class in the cities and the poor and marginalized in the rural areas, including 600 million farmers and the landless farm workers, is now becoming distinct. For all practical purposes, the divide between India and Bharat that has been talked about for long is now clearly visible”.
Sharma continues: “For three days, thousands of farmers from across the country, and owing allegiance to Bharti Kisan Union, are staying put at Jantar Mantar in New Delhi. With distress written large on their faces, they are hoping that the government they voted for would at least have the courtesy to listen to them. Their anger is over an unjust law that they fear will forcibly evict them from their meager land holdings, and also they came hoping to seek some assurance from the powers that be for ending the continuing agrarian distress that they are living with”
In the race to build more infrastructure, he points out, the cries of poor and marginalized who are struggling to make the two ends meet get drowned. The tribals who walked all the way to New Delhi or the farmers who are protesting at Jantar Mantar and in a number of other places across the country are considered a hindrance – a ‘roadblock’ – in the development process.
The World Bank has backed this strategy since 1996; the World Development Report 2008 called for land rentals and the setting up a network of training centres to train the displaced farmers to become industrial labour. The UPA government has now made budgetary provisions for setting up 1,000 Industrial Training Institutes (ITIs). Former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh called for a population shift, moving out 70 per cent of the farming community into urban centres.
Sharma – and others – see this as part of a global design: All over the world pitched battles are being fought across nations by the poor and deprived, who fear further marginalisation when their land is literally grabbed by the government on behalf of the industry. However, he ends, land being the only economic security for the poor, they put up a tough fight. As the Guardian reported last October that an incident in Yunnan province was:
“ . . . one of the most violent land conflicts to strike the country’s vast rural hinterland in recent years, casting a spotlight on the plight and anger of residents who see their livelihoods threatened when their lands are seized by developers with the backing of local governments. Often villagers left with no means to seek redress have resorted to violence, making land disputes a chief cause of unrest in China”.
When villagers cannot resort to the law, get no response from the local government and find it useless to petition the higher authority, they resist with their lives. In India, Sharma notes, there were 260 land protests in 165 districts in 2013-14: “When the new land bill comes into force, I foresee the battle over land intensifying in India. India will soon turn into a land of thousand mutinies”.