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India's poor march for land rights

05 October 2012

by a staff reporter

simon williams/christian aid

Voise of the people: thousand of Indians are converging on Delhi this month to demand of the government a fair share of land and resources

Voise of the people: thousand of Indians are converging on Delhi this month to demand of the government a fair share of land and resources

AN ESTIMATED 50,000 rural Indians set off on a 200-mile march to Delhi this week, to demand a fair share of land and resources.

The walk has been organised by a Christian Aid partner, Ekta Parishad (EP), which has spent a year travelling around India, persuading people to join in the march. Marchers set off on Wednesday, many of them barefoot, prepared to spend the month's walk sleeping on the floor and living off handfuls of rice.

Christian Aid's country director for India, Anand Kumar, said: "These marchers show tremendous resilience and courage by taking part; many of them are from the lowest rung of society. . .

"They are marching because, very often, the access you have to land determines your income and how much you have to eat. In a country where 42 per cent of the population live below the poverty line, and at least 20 per cent frequently go hungry, access to land could lift 400 million Indians out of poverty."

Rural Indians have been forced off their land by the government to make way for new projects involving mining and sometimes wildlife protection.

The founder of EP, Rajagopal - who uses only his first name to avoid any caste distinctions - said that many of the projects that drove people off the land came with promised benefits, such as electricity, jobs, and housing, but these failed to materialise.

The marchers will be following in the footsteps of walkers who in 2007 trod the same route to demand their land rights from the Indian government. That march led to the creation of the National Land Reform Committee the next year - but progress has since slowed.

This time, demands include the formulation of a land-reform policy, a law ensuring that every homeless family receives homestead land, the setting up of fast-track courts to address poor people's land issues, and equal rights to land for women and men.

EP has started talks with the government about their demands, but, at a rally held before the march, it said it was disappointed by the "vague" promises offered by government ministers.

In October, Christian Aid supporters in the UK will walk in solidarity with the marchers in India.

www.christianaid.org.uk/getinvolved/events/walking/march-for-justice. aspx


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