In ten days or so, a massive human wave will descend upon power center Delhi. It is a wave of thousands of landless villagers, who want to be heard, a wave of people in pursuit of land reforms and an end to their state of poverty and hunger.
The villagers, from 15 states, started their march to Delhi from Gwalior on Gandhi Jayanti. A good 340 km separate Gwalior from Delhi. Of that, they have covered 220, walking 10-12 km a day.
About 10 km past Mathura on Thursday, on national highway 2, the rally is a sight many would have never seen before. A kind of blend of pre-Independence satyagraha and 21st century gandhigiri. Emaciated old men and women with sticks in their hands, young couples and teenagers walking in disciplined rows, holding green-white flags. They chant slogans, but not against the government. They only want their land back, their rights to livelihood protected.
And, they have brought along mikes and loud speakers to play folk songs in different languages to keep the momentum. At the head of the rally — named ‘Janadesh 2007’ — are the leaders of Ekta Parishad, the organizers of the march, and Buddhist monks from China and Japan.
They chant and dance incessantly while marching. At every brief stop, those leading the march are received with garlands and tilaks. Tribals in traditional gear and display of martial arts add colour to the cause. Every person has a story to tell. Sonulal Mandawi and Ram Khilawan joined the march in Gwalior from Chhattisgarh.
Both were given land after being displaced following a government project but the ‘pattas’ (landownership papers) were not handed over. Ram Sharif from Bihar was displaced because of a dam but the promise of rehabilitation was never met.
A large number among the participants are women like Meera and Vimla, daily wage earners from Gwalior, who had to take up jobs after their small landholdings failed to sustain their families.
Till now, the district administrations along the route did not have any choice but to divert traffic and allow the rally to literally take over the highways. And in spite of the numbers, there has been no case where the police or the administration had to hear a complaint of violence and harassment against these men and women, many of whom are carrying their children simply because there is no one at home.
Following them are 50 tankers of water, 50 matadors and trucks carrying food and medicine and 25 sets of generators to light up their nights. The food for one day — 50 quintals each of flour and rice, 12 quintals of pulses and about 12 quintals of potato.
“The water tankers are filled every day in villages on the route. Nobody has objected. Before the march started, we also dispatched advance parties to build 500 temporary toilets where there were no fields. We requested landowners. Everyone agreed,” said Ran Singh Parmar, a former agriculture scientist, now with the Parishad.
P.V. Rajgopal, who heads the Parishad, said: “Most of the participants have been displaced because of national parks and wildlife sanctuaries. Mining is also eating into their landholdings.” On Thursday, the participants got their first political visitor in JD (U) chief Sharad Yadav. Yadav later told HT that he would talk to PM Manmohan Singh about the demand for constituting a national land panel to monitor the implementation of the national land policy.
Rights activist Aruna Roy met UPA chairperson Sonia Gandhi on Monday with the demands of the villagers. Sonia assured her that she would take up the issue with the prime minister and the Cabinet, according to a note released by the rallyists.