India’s landless poor march to Delhi
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India’s landless poor march to Delhi

A mass march of reportedly 50,000 landless poor are marching from Gwalior city, in Madhya Pradesh to the Indian capital of New Delhi in order to demand their rights, which they claim have been trampled in favor of economic growth and land development. Their march of over 320 km (200 miles) will take more than 3 weeks of intense heat, sleeping rough and eating once per day.

From the New York Times:

Millions of Indians live on sidewalks and railway platforms, and in illegal slums and shanties. According to the United Nations, 17 percent of the world’s slum dwellers, or 170 million Indians, live in slums. This section of India’s poor, activists say, lives in inhumane conditions, and is often under the threat of displacement, harassment and arrest.

The desperately poor, members of low castes and tribal groups are being joined by social activists on the pilgrimage for rights to their land and a say in the future of their country. These are the sections of Indian society who have not benefitted from the South Asian nation’s economic boom. On the contrary, they have been thrown to the wayside. Together they are marching under the banner of Ekta Parishad, “a non-violent social movement in India working on land and forest rights at a national level.”

From the Guardian:

There is conflict at every level with the model we have now. Gandhi’s vision in this country is being rejected every day. Now we have a capitalist, consumerist model. If India does not change this, the writing is on the wall.

–PV Rajagopal, march organizer

BBC News has interviewed and posted four of the marcher’s stories. They are disadvantaged and have often been evicted from their ancestral lands. Here is one excerpt:

Some of our homes were demolished and others were burnt, so now we live on someone’s land in a village, always in fear of being removed by the police or the forest authorities.

–Fuishi Bai, Hindori, Madhya Pradesh

Read the rest here.

According to PV Rajagopal 100,000 villages have been destroyed due to industrialization since India’s independence.

The Indian government has tried to pacify the marchers with placating words, telling them that their needs are being addressed. The Chief Minister of Madya Pradesh even went as far as addressing the crowd from the US via his mobile phone, expressing the sympathy of his government and pledging his support for land reforms for tribals.