Thursday, October 25, 2007

Janadesh'07: India's Anti-Colonial March of 21st Century

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.”

For more information:

  • Janadesh2007 Global Website
  • Janadesh2007 on Wikipedia
  • Harvest of Dissent
  • Poor but Defiant, Thousands march...
  • India Tribals Begin Massive March
  • Many Feet One Step
  • Janadesh2007 on Google Video
    (Photo credit: various sources from the Net)


    divi_dave said...

    What a pity! The media coverage of the whole event has been horrendous to say the least. The protest is not reaching out as efficiently as it should.
    Sir,i want to know if there exists is one such media agency that you believe in and which is actually working without been politically directed or manipulated?

    Madhukar said...


    Yes, the media coverage of the event was pitiable.

    Though the media did cover it, once the march reached Delhi, and now it's doing more, once the government has accepted to institute the National Land Reforms Council... (we are yet to see if this is a genuine initiative, or just a promise to "get rid" of them)

    Ironically, the day the Janadesh March entered NCR, was also the day of the Delhi Marathon... media was busy telecasting the marathon and the celebrities who participated throughout the day (after paying some lip-service to the march)..

    But, I wouldn't say that the media is politically directed or manipulated... it is just that news media is no longer a social institution, but has become a business... and so like any business is more concerned with its market share/TRP ratings, and so, churns out 'products' that cater to the need of its customer constituency.

    A coverage of Delhi Marathon - as a news - gives the viewer the flavour of belonging to a vibrant socially conscious society... and so the viewer will easily "buy" it. A coverage of the Janadesh, with analysis of its rationale will not go down well with the "viewer's taste"... it is not news, but infotainment now :((

    divi_dave said...

    Thank you Sir.

    Supratim said...

    Maybe now, all those people who supported Indira Gandhi in the part-abrogation of our right to property will have a rethink?????

    Naaaah, we will just blame the rich, capitalist bastards for our plight ......

    Madhukar said...

    Is this the same Supratim who posted a comment for one of the earlier posts:

    "If someone came and set up a tent inside your house compound, and you could not evict him and then 10 years later, if the govt said that that land belonged to the squatter, how would you feel? Just because they are squatting on govt land, some people seem to think it is all right."

    If not, what is the point you are making - which is consistent with your earlier points??

    Either way, can you be more clear -with facts - about how do you relate issues related to Janadesh (if you are aware of them) with "part-abrogation of our right to property" (whatever that was) etc...

    please enlighten!

    Supratim said...

    I am not sure what is the disconnect that you see, Prof! If you could enlighten me on that, I could probably explain.

    My earlier post was about the "legalisation of illegal acquisition of land" by the government .....

    While my comment above was probably a bit too abstruse but I was linking up a couple of issues:

    1. The Indira Govt curtailed our right to property in the 70's, and brought down the efficiency of land use through land control regulations and at the same time

    2. It did not redistribute the acquired "surplus" land.

    3. The government became the biggest land broker in India, and we all know how sound the integrity of our government is

    Does that clarify?

    Madhukar said...


    I am no great admirer (or basher) of Indira Gandhi, but do know that the 42nd amendment had some controversial implications (which were in terms of converting the land from 'fundamental rights' to 'legal rights). However, it did not deny a person the right to own property, nor did it deny the right to get afair compensation. And so, I still fail to see the connections you are making.

    The issue of landless, to my understanding, is related not to socialism/capitalism governance, but to poor implementation of policies, which has remained same pre- and post- "liberalisation". In fact,it has increased since 91-92 (more during last 5-10 years), when the mega-infrastructure projects have become more frequent. Large dams, flyovers, expressways, SEZs, real-estate, etc., have increasingly ousted people from the land they subsisted on... and so, this protest (or the other protest that is going on in 25% of Indian districts, which is dubbed as maoist/naxalites, etc.).

    In the process, the correct sentence in you pt 3 would be - not "the government became the biggest land broker in India" - but government has become the biggest land broker in India.... and if the socialist/capitalist dimension is the only one in which you see the reality, then, yes, its biggest clients are the "capitalist" industrialists...

    Supratim said...

    Dear Prof,

    The 42nd ammendment (taking your word for the number!) takes away our "absolute" right to own property. Before this amendment, you could refuse to sell your property to anyone (including the government), irrespetive of the "fair price" offered to you, but after this amendment the govt can TAKE AWAY your property by giving you a price that the GOVERNMENT determines to be FAIR. And, that is where the abuse starts. That is why you can displace people for projects like the Narmada dam, even if the people do not want to give up their land. That is the connection I was making.

    No, the government became the biggest land broker immediately after the amendment. The SEZs are only the latest manifestation of this "feature" of our government. You, yourself, have written so eloquently about people being displaced at the altar of development in different projects.

    The reason the displacement is so easy and the reason the poor do not get a fair shake for their ancestral/otherwise land is the 42nd amendment.

    If the corporates who are eyeing the SEZs had to actually buy the land themselves, and at an individual level, then the corporates would have to pay the real cost of setting up these facilities, instead of the govt, or rather the landowners, subsidising them.

    And, it is ironic, that when the 42nd amendment and the other land use rules were passed, it was hailed as a great "socialistic" achievement.