Victory for land reform campaigners
On 3 October, 60,000 people from India’s poor and tribal communities embarked on Jan Satyagraha (“March for Justice”), a 350 km month-long march from Gwalior in the north of the country to the national capital Dehli to press their demands for their rights to land, forest, water and natural resources for food supply. Last week, on 11 October, in response to the protest the government decided to introduce significant land reform policy change and in light of this victory the march was called off.
Jan Satyagraha participants listen attentively to the announcement of the expected agreement. Agra, Oct. 10th, 2012. (photo : Barbara Schnetzler)
Ekta Parishad, a Ghandi-inspired land reform movement, organised the march, which was one of the largest peaceful demonstrations in the country, aiming to highlight the struggles of millions of poor and landless farmers. According to Ekta Parishad approximately 400 million people could be lifted out of poverty if they had access to land and resources. This organisation has two principle demands: firstly the enactment of a Land Reform Act enshrining the right to shelter and secondly a new land reform policy.
In 2007 a similar but smaller mobilisation effort resulted in a few positive policy changes resulting in the establishment of a Council and a Committee of Land Reforms. Slow progress to implement land reform initiatives provoked this month’s march, but last Thursday, on the eighth day of the march, the Rural Development Minister Jairam Ramesh signed a landmark agreement with the Jan Satyagrahis. This 10 point plan incorporates the key provision of homestead land for the landless and setting up a task force to construct a roadmap that will be used to launch a new and desperately needed land reform policy.
The victory is a vital step forward in a country where industrialisation is taking place at the expense of poor people in India who often lose their livelihoods and are forcibly displaced from their homes to pave the way for mining operations, roads, factories, airports and other commercial uses of land to foster India’s economic growth. The government argues that such projects are beneficial as they generate employment and improved infrastructure, yet against the backdrop of India’s strong economic growth it is striking that the inequality gap continues to expand. It is crucial that the government, through an effective land reform policy, safeguards the needs of the poor by keeping overzealous industrialists in check.
This march for justice has demonstrated a great force of solidarity. This is a step in the right direction towards achieving more equitable distribution of land, socio-economic equality and the establishment of rights to the landless. If such change does materialise it will give marginalised communities increased access to land that will enable them to grow their own crops and become self-sufficient to feed their families and communities.
With land reform as a key aspect of food sovereignty, there’s something to celebrate today on World Food Day. May this be a turning point that leads to even greater change!
Campaigns and Policy intern at WDM's London office.