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India’s poor march for land rights

October 29, 2007

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NEW DELHI, Oct 28: Thousands of poor farmers, landless workers and indigenous people reached the Indian capital Sunday after a month-long protest march to highlight the plight of those marginalised by India’s economic boom.

Men, women and even some children from India’s neglected hinterlands walked in orderly lines waving green and white flags or carrying photographs of freedom icon and revered “untouchable” leader Bhimarao Ramji Ambedkar.

Their demands — the right to land and water — compete with India’s aim to turn rural land into industrial zones and attract foreign investment to maintain its scorching growth of more than nine per cent.

For millions like the estimated 25,000 marchers who began their 600-kilometre journey from the central city of Gwalior on Gandhi’s birthday on Oct 2, India’s “economic miracle” is meaningless.

“Forty per cent of Indians are now landless and 23 per cent of them are in abject poverty,” march organiser Puthan Vithal Rajgopal, who heads a group called Ekta Parishad, or Unity Forum, told newsmen.

“Such conditions have bred Maoist insurgency in 172 of India’s 600 districts and farmers are killing themselves in 100 other districts. So we want to ask the government, ‘Where are the fruits of the reforms in these districts?’”

The marchers want India’s government to introduce iron-clad legislation on holdings, deeds and tenancy rights — replacing the current system where ownership can easily be taken by the rich and powerful.

Many have lost land because of the absence of property deeds among people who have long lived on their traditional lands, including indigenous groups in forest areas, or because of corruption.—AFP