Nate Berg is a freelance reporter and a former staff writer for CityLab. He lives in Los Angeles.
Landless Indians are taking their concerns to the capital en masse.
Just one day after thousands of cute little kids flooded into streets all over India dressed up as Mahatma Gandhi to celebrate the national hero's birthday, tens of thousands of Indians have gathered together for another march – one just as much inspired by the vaunted civil rights leader. Today, more than 50,000 landless rural residents embark on a 217-mile long march from the central city of Gwalior to the capital, Delhi, to demand land reform.
Landless peasants from all around the country gathered together for the march, which is aimed at drawing attention to the need for a top-down approach to granting land rights to the country's most impoverished people. Legal title to land is the best way to help bring people out of poverty, according to the activists who organized the march.
Much of the argument centers around the government's focus on setting aside land for industry or business purposes but not for its most vulnerable people, as The Hindu reports.
"Finding land may be the States’ job. But it is the Centre that sets policy for the States," says Senthamizhselvi, an activist and organic farmer from Madurai. "If the Central government can set a policy to promote industry, and find 100 acres each for SEZs, they can set a policy to distribute land to the landless."
According to the BBC, this "Jan Satyagraha," or people's movement, is the biggest demonstration in years. In 2007 another march of 25,000 protesters was successful in spurring the creation of the National Land Reforms Council.
Hoping to prevent this march, the government has promised to draft a national land reform policy in six months. But the protesters haven't been dissuaded from making a very visible point with their march, according to this article from the Guardian:
"Millions of people are living in slums, on railway tracks, under plastic sheets … They should have a piece of land to call their own. Others have to make way for factories, roads, airports, mines. I do not accept industrialisation at this cost," said PV Rajagopal, the veteran activist who leads the Ekhta Parishad organisation behind the march.
Rajagopal and his followers say they are inspired by the example set by Mahatma Gandhi and his ideal of a nation of self-sufficient villages. One aim of the march is to mobilise the hundreds of millions who have not benefited from India's 20-year economic boom.
And so the march begins, taking tens of thousands on a slow march across hundreds of miles. Their numbers are expected to grow to more than 100,000 by the time the marchers reach Delhi near the end of the month. They're hopeful that by then their point will be very clear.
Image credit: Reuters