Lalit Vachani's BBC-documentary "In Search of Gandhi" ends with a stark statement:
We won our freedom sixty years ago, but what has really changed? We proclaim an economic miracle, but the inequality and the violence still continues... there is a new colonialism in India, but we don't seem to care.... After all, we are the colonisers!"
According to chairman of India's National Commission for Denotified, Nomadic and Semi-Nomadic Tribes, Balkrishna Renake: "There are 120 million people who have no rights in this country. They are still waiting in independent India for the right to vote, to have schools and teachers, and for their land."
And so, this month marks perhaps the long march by India's very own colonised citizens - the landless, the tribals, the dalits, the marginal farmers, the displaced, the "project-affected people"... for their right to land - and to dignity.
Unlike other earlier protest- (and solidarity-) rallies in the Indian Capital, these dispensable people are not coming by buses or trains... they are walking. All 350kms. Since October 2nd, when they started from Gwaliar. 25,000 of them from 13 states, including 11,000 women and about 250 foreign satyagrahis from countries which have similar concerns at the grass-root levels (Brazil, Kenya, France, Ireland, Canada Southeast Asia, etc.).
The march, Janadesh 2007, organised by Bhopal-based Ekta Parishad is perhaps the first - and definitely the largest - non-violent satyagraha in the post Independence India.
What do they want?
“We want the government to set up a national land commission," says PV Rajgopal of Ekta Parishad, "Let the Centre and state governments decide once and for all what land is surplus land, wasteland, scrubland, forest, what’s for roads and railway lines and what’s for SEZs... Land promised under the Bhoodan movement is yet to reach people... (people) have been jailed and dubbed Naxalites for raising the issue of their ancestral lands that today fall either under the Forest Act or have been appropriated for railway lines, roads, dams and sezs. For the last 60 years, people have been either pushed out of their spaces or locked into interminable court cases, jailed or shunted around by laws made with no concern for them.”
But can a mere 25,000 people with no voice in the system, change the fate of the other 70%-plus of the population of this 1.13bn-strong country?
Maybe!... and hopefully!!
One remembers the words of Margaret Mead:
“Never underestimate the power of a handful of individuals to change the world. After all, it’s the only thing that ever does.”
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(Photo credit: various sources from the Net)