Janadesh - Part 1; Delhi, 23rd October 2007'Everybody should be able to get sufficient work to enable him to make two ends meet. And this ideal can be universally realised only if the means of production of the elementary necessities of life remain in the control of the masses. These should be freely available to all of us as God's air and water are, or ought to be; they should not be made a vehicle of traffic for the exploitation of others. Their monoplisation by any country, nation or group of persons would be unjust. The neglect of this simple principle is the cause of the destitution that we witness today not only in this unhappy land but in other parts of the world too.'
(Mahatma Gandhi, Young India, November 15 1928)
From the hub of the Gandhi Peace Foundation in the ITO district of Delhi Ekta Parishad's group of relentlessly active volunteers have been busy day and night since the beginning of October co-ordinating, rallying, supporting, living and breathing Janadesh. Janadesh (the people's verdict) is a non-violentdirect people's action that is pressing the government to make moves to resolve the land and agrarian issues of the poor and deprived communities of India . Everyone staying at the foundation is in some way linked to Janadesh, this includes students, charity workers, activists and farmers, to name just a few. All kinds of people from all over the world have come to support the cause and it is almost impossible to walk through the stone floored corridors of the GPF without hearing about some action or other taking place or some more news from the march. A feeling of solidarity and community seems to have naturally built up over the days.
The organisation behind Janadesh, Ekta Parishad is not a trade union, political party or even an NGO but a mass organisation based on Gandhian principles. EP aims to make positive changes in people's lives through building awareness and organising mass action against the issues faced by the many deprived people of India. Rounding people together for the common cause and orchestrating this mass action is a big part of the work EP does at a grass roots level throughout the year - one can only marvel at the logistical hurdles they have overcome to gather 25,000 people, from over 11 states, to march together for 28 days over 340km in the sweltering heat.
The other side of EP's work functions at a very different level,trying to influence the policies, legislation and programmes of a government that is putting business interests before the welfare and lives of the majority of it's people. Unfortunately it takes an organisation such as EP to express the problems and needs of the millions of landless people in India to the country's higher powers. Without organisations such as EP the voice of these people would not be heard, or simply ignored.
Activities in Delhi
Since the 25,000 villagers started their march to Delhi from Gwalior on the 2nd October (Gandhi's birthday) there have been various activities going on in Delhi in support of Janadesh. There are two dharnas (peaceful protests) taking place in the city one at Raj Ghat, the site of Gandhi's cremation and the other at Jantar Mantar, an odd looking collection of orange coloured structures that were built as one of the Maharaja's observatories in 1725. The site at Jantar Mantar in particular is a common protest spot, lying conveniently just behind the parliament buildings, and apparently you will find different protests going on here throughout the year. For the month of October, however, both these spots are the site of Janadesh satyagrahas (non-violent peaceful protests involving hunger strikes, made popular by Gandhi).
Around 300 landless people from villages across India sit under the white tarpaulin shade of the Janadesh tents at each site. Morning till night they sit, pray and live in support of the Janadesh cause. They have breakfast only, served from the back of a small truck that visits in the morning and then some tea that is served from an urn in the afternoon. For entertainment they perform their local and traditional songs and dances whenever the mood takes them. It is incredibly humbling to see the calm community that have gathered, leaving their homes and jobs for a whole month to try to get their message across to the government and anyone that will listen. I can't imagine any cause in the UK that would entice so many people to make such sacrifices.
The welcome the villagers give any visitors is touching, there is not a grain of ill will towards anyone that steps over the threshold of the tent. In fact once you remove your shoes and sit down with them it is very hard to leave, they are so keen to talk to you and hear what you have to say. I was asked to introduce myself and explain why I was there - I don't think I have ever had a round of applause after telling someone I was a journalist from London, and I don't think I will again! Between 50 and 100 people from all sections of society have been visiting the dharnas every day, some for a few hours, some for a whole day. Either way I think anyone that shows solidarity to the cause they are fighting for builds on the already sturdy moral of the villagers that have been living their lives in these small carpet-floored shelters for over three weeks.
Raising awareness to poverty
Speaking with Bharat Bushan, one of the leading activists in Ekta Parishad it becomes clear just how much activity has been going on in Delhi to support the Janadesh padyatra (march). Every day something else is happening - marches, talks, prayers - it is not surprising that the EP office at the GPF never seems to sleep!
Earlier in the montha lamp was lit from the flame that burns constantly on the marble memorial of Gandhi at Raj Ghat. This flame was taken through the city in a decorated jeep rounding up a rally of slum dwellers to walk the flame out of the citywaving it off on it's journey to meet the yatrees (marchers). A sign of camaraderie to the 25,000 that had set off a few days earlier from Gwalior.
On the 17th of October, International Poverty Day and the day I arrived in Delhi, 200 people from 9 states across India came to join with the satyagrahas at Jantar Mantar and Raj Ghat to mark the day and say 'wadanatodo' to the government - 'Don't go back on your word' - by this they mean India's promise to try to reach the Millenium Development Goals set by the UN back in 2000. The eight Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) formed by the UN range from halving extreme poverty to halting the spread of HIV/AIDS and providing universal primary education, all by the target date of 2015. These goals have been agreed to by all the world's countries and all the world's leading development institutions. They aim to finally meet the needs of the world's poorest. Living in the bubble of our western comforts it is easy to forget how vital these goals are to millions of people living in degraded states of poverty across the world. Janadesh represents just one of the many battles against poverty that need to be fought.
All the activities surrounding Janadesh have brought people together from across India and the world and are vital to raise awareness to the land rights issue. On the 29th the Janadesh march will reach Delhi and join with the dharnas around the city. On this day politicians, professors, social activists and other public figures have been invited to the sites of protest to show their solidarity to the cause.
A few days ago Sonia Gandhi sent her condolences to Rajagopal, the Chairman of Ekta Parishad after a road traffic accident killed one and seriously injured several more marchers taking part in Janadesh. The accident was the first and hopefully only tragedy of the yatra. In her letter Sonia Gandhi also promised to convey the demands of Janadesh to the government of India. What happens after Janadesh depends on the response of the government.
The demands of Ekta Parishad
To settle the issues faced by the landless people of India the demands of Ekta Parishad to the Government of India are as follows:
The establishment of a National Land Authority to provide a clear statement of land utilisation in India, identify the land available for redistribution and strengthen pro-poor laws.
The establishment of Fast Track Courts to settle past and future conflicts related to land.
The establishment of a Single Window System so that farmers can resolve land issues freely and easily without wasting time, money and energy.
If demands are met and a victory (Zindabad!) won a public meeting will be called and celebrations will commence in the city. If demands are not met there are two plans of action; EP Chairman Rajgopal may go on hunger strike with 1-200 others in protest to the lack of government action or the marchers will demand 'Jamin do nahin do jail do' - 'Give us land or arrest us.' Whatever happens it promises to be quite a momentous day, hopefully this will be due to celebration rather than further drastic protest actions.
To read more about Janadesh go to www.janadesh.net