Nonviolence and the Work of Ekta Parishad in India

Like many other countries, India is benefiting from globalization in pursuit of economic development, with exploding ‘world class’ metropolitan hubs. While the economy is thriving overall – average growth is nearly 9% a year – economic benefits are unevenly distributed. Agriculture employs half the population, but represents only 15% of the country’s wealth. Despite the Indian Government’s Rural Development Programmes, poverty and restricted access to resources remain a serious problem.

In 1930 Mahatma Gandhi and some hundred followers marched 250 km to the sea in order to expose the injustice of the colonial prohibition on making salt. This direct, non- violent action marked the beginning of the movement that finally led to India’s independence from British rule. Inspired by Gandhi’s example, in 2007 Ekta Parishad and partner organisations mobilised 25 000 people, most of them landless and among the poorest on a 350 kilometre march from Gwalior to Delhi lasting 27 days. The march was called Janadesh – ‘the Verdict of the People’ – and its aim was to expose the deep injustice of land laws and the urgent need for land reforms in India. The key demands of the marchers were met through the establishment of a National Land Reform Council, however, three years later, the ensuring recommendations are still a challenge to implement.

A new march, Jan Satyagraha – ‘the March for Justice’ – is being planned for 2012 which will bring together 100 000 poor villagers, adivasis, dalits and other landless peasants from many Indian states in what will be the largest ever non-violent action for land, water and forest rights. The marchers will walk the 350 km distance from Gwalior to Delhi to present the following demands to the government:

  • Implementation of the Government of India’s 2007 commitments to land reform
  • Effective, time-bound implementation of the Forest Rights Act of 2006
  • Reformulating relevant acts and policies to ensure they are pro-poor and making the state accountable for policies and programmes affecting the marginalized
  • Addressing the grievances of the displaced and dispossessed, with special attention to the needs of women
  • Advocating for women’s empowerment in the context of sustainable development
  • Genuine decentralization of power with local control of resources, as proposed in the Forest Rights Act
  • Shift from large-scale industrial development to a people-centred, rural economy
  • Mechanisms to regulate the transfer of natural resources to corporate entities in order to protect the poor.