#GROWWeek Day 7: Marching towards hope... a historic land march in India

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Recently Oxfam launched our land grabs campaign to call on the World Bank to freeze their investments in large land deals while they find a fairer way that works for the world’s poorest people. This is an issue that we know resonates with people, organisations and communities across the world. Recently a coalition called Ekta Parishad embarked on a month long march calling for land rights for the poorest people in India. The good news: they’re winning.

The 11th of October was a day of hope for the thousands of landless poor that have been marching for a year for recognition of their land rights under the aegis of Ekta Parishad. The historic march of over 40,000 landless poor that started from Gwalior on 3rd October and was to swell to a record 100,000 upon reaching New Delhi on 28th October compelled the Government of India to accept the demands of Jan Satyagraha within 9 days!

The balance of power shifted and the Government finally signed the agreement with Jan Satyagrah in the historic city of Agra. The atmosphere was one of celebration and joy, with landless communities that came in from remote parts of the country raising their flags, applauding the minister and then celebrating in their own way with music and dance.

Another impressive feature about this process has been the support and coverage it gathered from national and international press and media. Solidarity support by various international alliances and movements was tremendous, leaving the impression that the issue of land rights united people from over the world and success in any part of world boosted movements elsewhere.

So what did the Government accede to? Essentially that the draft land reform policy will be drafted in the next six months. To this Rajaji cleverly announced that while he was hopeful that this will be done but if not then he will have to resume the land march again towards Delhi! The other significant agreement is the statutory backing to the provisions of agricultural and homestead land for all landless poor in the country. This agreement proved to be a big step in the huge trust deficit that the state has vis-à-vis civil society and brought the year long march to an end.

Ramesh Sharma, the coordinator of this march, echoed the sentiments of all present by appreciating the Government but also saying that while the march has ended the movement has not. There is still a lot to be achieved.

Many events and circumstances have led to this day. At a time when India is chasing the twin challenges of rapid economic growth and pro poor development, realities of land grab, anti poor agrarian policies and diminishing HDI indicators have marred the growth. In response to this situation, a strong people’s movement seemed to be the need of the hour. Ekta Parishad have been successfully able to mobilise huge masses of landless farmers, dalits, tribal and other marginalised communities on the Gandhian principles of non violence.

Ekta Parishad (EP) is a federation of community based organisations working directly with over 350,000 excluded families in India today. Over the years, EP has succeeded in first reviving and then keeping alive the agenda of pro-poor land reforms in the country, a national agenda that had become almost non-existent over four decades of independence.

Their first big movement building initiative was in 2007 October, when 25,000 representatives from communities that demanded a fair and just share of land, water and forest resources participated in JANADESH 2007 - a foot march from Gwalior to Delhi covering over 350 kilometres (217 miles) in 30 days. The Janadesh yielded some results from the Government but no substantial changes were made. Under these circumstances over 12,000 Ekta Parishad community leaders and representatives assembled in Delhi from 6th to 8th March 2011. And in its characteristic disciplined, non-violent but very clear terms the organisation informed the government that these people would go back to march if no real processes were visible.

The current Jan Satyagrah started on 2nd October 2011 from Kanyakumari (southernmost tip of India) and covered 350 districts in 24 states of India for a collective action on 2nd October 2012, which saw approx, 40,000 people marching from Gwalior to Delhi.

The amazing victory for this movement comes at a time when Oxfam is celebrating GROW week, and global issues on rising food prices, farmer vulnerability and increasing land grabs are being highlighted.

Read more: Fighting for food security in India

Join Oxfam's land land grabs campaign and call on the World Bank to freeze their investments in large land deals.