Sunday, October 28, 2007

India's landless march into Delhi

Left: Protesters arrive in Delhi after a march that has lasted nearly four weeks and covered 200 miles, to demand greater rights to land and water. They say rural dwellers are missing out on India's growth - the marchers call for change.

About 25,000 protesters have arrived in the Indian capital, Delhi, after marching 325km (200 miles) to demand the redistribution of land. The marchers set out on 2 October, the national holiday marking the birthday of independence leader Mahatma Gandhi. A crowd composed of mostly low-caste tenant farmers and landless indigenous people, say they have been left behind by India's economic boom.

The protesters waved flags and chanted "give us land, give us water", as they marched in long, orderly lines into the centre of the capital. The government has promised to set up a commission to examine land reform. There has been numerous such commissions and legislation since Indian independence in 1947 however, these measures have proven inadequate in redressing grievances.

The gathering plans to hold a huge protest on Monday, which they say will bring the centre of Delhi to a standstill. They are protesting against government-backed industrial projects which they say have forced them off their land.
"Forty percent of Indians are now landless and 23% of them are in abject poverty," march organiser Puthan Vithal Rajgopal told AFP news agency.
"Such conditions have bred Maoist insurgency in 172 of India's 600 districts and farmers are killing themselves in 100 other districts. So we want to ask the government, where are the fruits of the reforms in these districts?"
Demands for land redistribution have been a familiar part of India's political landscape for many years, but now the government seems ready to listen. One project, to build a petrochemical plant and shipyard on 8,900 hectares (22,000 acres) of land in eastern India, was cancelled after it led to protests in which 14 farmers were killed.

The protesters have already met Sonia Gandhi, president of the ruling Congress Party and they hope to meet Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on Monday. They are calling for a national authority to oversee land reform and a system of fast track courts to deal with the long delays in resolving land disputes.

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