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As A Young Human Rights Activist In India, I Have Been Very Moved By Jan Andolan 2018

 

Figure 1: Tara Devi.

A Voice of the March

“I took out a loan of  ₹ 1000 at an interest rate of 120 % p.a., just to be able to attend the march. When I get home, I have no idea of how I’m going to repay the money. Since my daughter passed away, I am the sole guardian of my young grandchild. The pressure to provide for him is immense and every day is a mighty struggle. My aspiration with regard to the outcome of the march is – that I get a piece of land through which I can sustain myself, and upon which I can build a small house for myself .” – Tara Devi, Sarsa District, Jharkhand.

The History Of The March

 The Jan Andolan 2018 was preceded by the Jan Satyagraha in 2012 and the Janadesh in 2007, the two other major foot-marches organised by Ekta Parishad. The hallmark of these marches has always been the nonviolent manner in which they are carried out. 1 lakh people marched as part of the Jan Satyagraha and 25,000 as part of the Janadesh. Both were successful with regard to Government concessions, with some of the most important land reform legislation in India’s history being drafted or passed in response to them.

One such piece of legislation is the Forest Rights Act passed in 2006, that only started to be implemented after the Janadesh. The Act confers ownership rights to Adivasis or forest-dwelling communities, allows them to use forest produce and grazing routes, provides for rehabilitation in case of illegal eviction or forced displacement, and protects forests and wildlife. The Homestead Bill drafted by the UPA Government in 2013 is another such piece of legislation. It would provide 10 cents (1/10th of an acre) of homestead land to every landless family in India. The bill, however, is yet to be passed in Parliament. So far, the Homestead Act is operational in the state of Bihar and a draft is currently being debated in Madhya Pradesh.

Figure 2: Then Minister for Rural Development, Shri. Jairam Ramesh, signing off on a commitment to the demands of Jan  Satyagraha 2012, with Ekta Parishad Founding President, Rajagopal P.V. in Agra, U.P.

The What, Who, And Why Of The March

 Jan Andolan 2018 was the name given to a foot-march organised by Ekta Parishad from 4-6 October 2018, for land and homestead rights in rural India. Ekta Parishad is a consortium made up of around 5000 community-based organisations in 11 Indian states, fighting for land rights and social justice. Jan Andolan 2018, saw 25,000 landless and homeless rural poor marching about 40km from Gwalior to Morena, M.P. participants included men, women and children; Dalits; Adivasis; small and marginal farmers; and landless labourers; from 17 states stretching from Tamil Nadu to Manipur.

The foot-march, in addition to raising awareness about land issues, had a list of 6 demands from the central Government, particularly the Ministry of Rural Development. As land is a state subject, these demands were also directed at state Governments. –

  1. National Homestead Act – This bill, drafted in 2012 by the then Congress Government, if passed in Parliament would ensure that each rural homeless person would be given 10 cents (1/10th of an acre) of land.
  2. National Land Reforms Policy – This policy would bring concrete suggestions to address the issue of land distribution, such as clearly delineating areas unfit for agricultural use and therefore reserved for industrial and other non-agricultural purposes. This would minimize the need for acquisition of land that gives rise to displacement, landlessness and unrest. This policy creates a large pool of land so that every family’s right to land is fully honoured. It also suggests a just and equitable method of allotting land on a priority basis to the marginalised, especially marginalised women, SCs/STs and Nomads.
  3. Women Farmer Entitlement Act – This bill ensures that women engaged in cultivation are recognised as farmers and receive the corresponding benefits –
  • Equal ownership and inheritance rights over land acquired by their husbands, their husbands’ share of family property or their husbands’ share of land transferred through a government land reform or resettlement scheme.
  • Equal rights over all water resources. This applies to land that is owned by women, of which they are shareholders, or which they use for farming.
  • Those who have a Woman Farmer Certificate would be entitled to a Kisan Credit Card, which is presently only available to male farmers. They would also have the right to credit and other financial support for agricultural activities.
  1. Land Tribunals and Fast Track Courts – A land tribunal and fast-track courts for resolving land disputes and legal cases.
  2. Execution and Monitoring Structures for Panchayat (Extension in Scheduled Areas Act (1996) (PESA) and Forest Rights Act (2006) (FRA) – would put in place execution and monitoring mechanisms for the PESA and FRA Acts.
  3. National Land Reforms Council and Task Force on Land Reforms – Reinstitute the previously formed land reforms council and task force; which would be bodies where independent experts would work with Government officials to ensure the effective implementation and monitoring of the other 5 demands.

N.B. – As of the publication of this article, the Central Government has committed to two demands, 5. and 6., under a timeline of 6 months for their implementation. The opposition (Congress), has not committed to the Ekta Parishad agenda directly but has voiced support for ‘Jal, Jungle aur Jamin (Water, Forest and Land)’ policies should they come to power at the Central level and in the 6 states, they govern at present.

Figure 3: Jan Andolan 2018, on the way from Gwalior to Morena, M.P.

My Experience Of The March

I wanted to start this article with the story of Tara Devi, as that is what stood out the most to me during Jan Andolan 2018. It is always difficult to do justice in words to the hopes and aspirations which draw the homeless and landless poor to such a march. Tara Devi’s story captures these sentiments far better than I ever can. There is always a lot at stake for people like her, but the Jan Andolan especially highlights the sacrifices they make just so their voices are heard as a collective. As part of the social media team, my job was to represent and showcase these voices as best as possible. We disseminated cartoons, info graphs, newspaper articles, photos and videos from the march. Above all, we tried to capture the individual stories of resilience, courage, strength, sacrifice and hope.

Marching with 25,000 people was a definite first for me. There are so many takeaways from such an experience. I was surprised by the amount of discipline displayed by the marchers. Considering the size of the crowd, incidents of any kind were few and far between. The marchers displayed an insurmountable spirit, throughout. It is, of course, easy to look past the fact that the march was nonviolent, considering the history of Ekta Parishad’s protest actions. That, however, does not make it any less of an achievement worthy of praise. There were 25,000 people, who have been trodden upon and exploited their whole lives, coming together and continuing to fight in a peaceful manner for their inalienable human rights. Women’s and girls’ participation in the march also deserves a big mention. A majority of our marchers were women, who showed unbelievable tenacity, courage and leadership qualities throughout the action. They serve as an inspiration to all of us.

As a young human rights activist in India, I have been very moved by Jan Andolan 2018. I am of the firm opinion that this is an experience to which all young urban Indians should be exposed. Because, honestly, being a part of such a momentous social action changes you. It really makes you reflect upon your privilege and its cost. Most of us often think why should I be concerned by something that is happening in a remote rural area somewhere? How does that affect me? Well, the truth is that a lack of rights in rural areas affects us all.

For one thing, a lack of land and forest rights drives rural-urban migration. This, in turn, increases pollution in our metros. It also leads to more homelessness in our cities. Not to mention of course the burden that growing urbanisation puts upon our infrastructure. If we want our cities to be able to weather the storm of climate change and if we want to live in sustainable cities of the future, we need people in rural areas to be able to support themselves autonomously.

Farmers across this country feed us every day of our lives. 50% of these farmers are small farmers, who do not even have their own land but produce food on other people’s land. We need to urgently recognise that our human rights are intrinsically tied to the upholding of the human rights of our sisters and brothers in the rural areas. We do not have an option but to support the valid and courageous struggle for their human rights. In our solidarity lies our salvation, and the fate of our country and the world.

At Ekta Parishad, we are fond of using the phrase ‘Jai Jagat’ as a greeting. It means ‘victory to the world’ or ‘long live people around the world’. It shows our support for everyone, regardless of race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinions, national or social origin, property, birth or another status. It pushes us to look beyond the welfare of the narrow identities within which we grew up and focus instead on the welfare of everyone around the world. Only by working together as a species, without erecting barriers of hate and division will we be able to stand up to and survive the multiple challenges the coming years will bring.

Jai Jagat!

Figure 4: A majority of the marchers in Jan Andolan 2018 were women.

N.B. – I urge all of you to consider supporting the cause of land rights and to lend your solidarity to the millions of homeless and landless poor in our country by making a donation to our fundraiser!

Ekta Parishad can be followed on Instagram, Twitter, Facebook and YouTube.Figure 4: A majority of the marchers in Jan Andolan 2018 were women.

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