Tens of thousands of peasants began a 350-kilometre march on Wednesday to New Delhi to protest the plight of marginalised communities excluded from the country’s economic development.
The gathering of the poorest of the poor left the central city of Gwalior and was set to reach New Delhi in 26 days, the organising activist group Ekta Parishad (Unity Forum) said in New Delhi.
“Some 35,000 people have started off from Gwalior and by the time they reach New Delhi we expect the number to swell to 100,000,” Parishad spokesman Aneesh Thillenkari said.
Parishad chairman PV Rajagopal put the number at 50,000 with people drawn from 25 states of India. The trek is the second since 2007 when 25,000 poor and debt-ridden farmers travelled the same route on foot to press for land rights.
Eleven of them perished en-route, organisers said.
The marchers comprised small farmers, people from marginalised tribes, “untouchable” Hindus from the lowest castes and fishermen, with some 2,000 advocacy forums spearheading the march-for-land drive.
“We demand that agriculture land must be used exclusively for farming and a national land reforms policy, which currently does not exist, is made,” Thillenkari said.
“When the poor wants land the central government says it is a state subject, but it acquires land for use by corporates or to set up Special Economic Zones,” he argued.
The Centre had appointed Rural Development Minister Jairam Ramesh and junior minister in the Ministry of Commerce and Industry, Jyotiraditya Scindia, to hold talks with activists led by Rajagopal on the issue.
On Tuesday, Ramesh met the protesters and gave them a written assurance to them that he will look into their demands and also invited them for a meeting on Oct.11 in Delhi.
“We have assured the protesters that the government will consider all their demands sympathetically and try to fulfill them in totality,” the minister said. He also said that the demands made by these protesters are reasonable but the government would need at least six months to try and materialise it.