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India: World's largest march to protect land for the poor

October 02 2012 - The world’s largest march for land rights starts tomorrow, 3 October, and will see an expected 100,000 people on the move in India, converging on Delhi to demand a fairer share of land and resources.

During the march, organised by Christian Aid partner Ekta Parishad, landless poor from all states of India will walk 350km (more than 200 miles) from Gwalior, Madhya Pradesh, to Delhi over the coming month.

Many will be walking barefoot, in sweltering temperatures, sleeping in basic conditions and giving up a month’s income that they can't really afford to lose.  To make up the shortfall, many have set aside two handfuls of rice per week to feed their families while they are away from their homes. 

Anand Kumar, Christian Aid’s country director for India, said: ‘These marchers show tremendous resilience and courage by taking part; many of them are from the lowest rung of society and are landless, or find themselves in the centre of land disputes.

‘They are marching because very often, the access you have to land determines your income and how much you have to eat.  More access would literally change their lives.

‘In a country where 42 percent of the population live below the poverty line and at least 20 per cent of the population frequently go hungry, access to land could lift 400 million Indians out of poverty.  International pressure is also needed to bring about the land rights and reform that could make this happen.’

After 20 years of activism, Ekta Parishad now enjoys a huge nationwide following and has already helped tens of thousands of people to remain on the land where they have lived for decades.  Land grabs by commercial enterprises along with climate change and other factors have driven thousands more from their homes.

By 2 October 2012, Gandhi’s birthday, Rajagopal PV, Gandhian activist and founder of Ekta Parishad, will have spent every single day of the year on the road meeting communities around India, highlighting the plight of the landless poor. 

In each state they have passed through Ekta Parishad has connected with grass-roots organisations, rallying people to sign up for this year’s march, called Jan Satyagraha.

Rajagopal said: ‘In an increasingly globalised world where large companies are coming to India, Africa and other countries to buy land, the Government is 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!’

Many of the new projects that drive people off the land are purported to have the potential to bring benefits such as electricity, better infrastructure (including roads) and jobs.

But the reality is that a growing number of people are being displaced, after being paid a minimal amount of compensation only for the promised benefits to fail to materialise. 

This year’s march builds on one in 2007, when 25,000 rural poor trod the same 350km path to demand their land rights from the Indian government.

That march bore results, including the establishing in January 2008 of the National Land Reform Committee – hailed as the first step towards creating equitable land reform.  Since then, however, progress has been slow, hence the demand of marchers this time round that existing pro-poor policies are put into action.

India’s constitution includes such policies and laws that protect the rights of marginalised groups such as adivasis – India’s indigenous people and their descendants – and dalits, who comprise the majority of the landless poor. But the marchers say they are seldom put into action.

Ekta Parishad continues to engage with Indian government representatives, and has also met with heads of prominent industries involved in the question of land distribution.

Rajagopal explained: ‘No charity, no amount of other developmental activity is going to remove poverty from this earth, unless people have control over the land.’

Ekta Parishad is a network of several grass-roots organisations campaigning for the rights to land, and access and control over forest resources for India’s most marginalised communities, in particular adivasis and dalits.

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If you would like further information please contact Jo Rogers jrogers@christian-aid.org and 020 7523 2460 24 hour press duty phone – 07850 242950.

Notes to Editors:

1. Christian Aid works in some of the world's poorest communities in around some 50 countries at any one time. We act where there is great need, regardless of religion, helping people to live a full life, free from poverty. We provide urgent, practical and effective assistance in tackling the root causes of poverty as well as its effects.

2. Christian Aid has a vision, an end to global poverty, and we believe that vision can become a reality. We believe that the underlying causes of poverty were made by, and can be ended by, human action. Our strategy for building the power of us all to end poverty is embodied in a new report ‘Partnership for Change’: http://www.christianaid.org.uk/Images/2012_strategy.pdf

3. Christian Aid is a member of the ACT Alliance, a global coalition of 125 churches and church-related organisations that work together in humanitarian assistance, advocacy and development.  Further details at http://actalliance.org

4. Follow Christian Aid's newswire on Twitter: http://twitter.com/caid_newswire

5. For more information about the work of Christian Aid visit http://www.christianaid.org.uk