In India, the most publicized land-movement was the Bhoodhan movement. In the 1950s
and 60s, a disciple of Mahatma Gandhi, Vinobha Bhave walked across the country asking for gifts of land. His strategy was to ask land-owning families to treat him as one of their own and give him one share of the land, which can then be redistributed to the landless people. It took fourteen years for Bhave to walk across the country and collect a little more than 4 million acres of land.
This was a very radical approach based on his philosophy of ‘change of heart’. The left-political parties often criticized this approach because they thought that Vinobha Bhave was trying to protect the landowners and prevent a forceful law that will enable the state to take away the farmer’s land. I will not use this opportunity to analyze the success or the failure of this movement, as there is already a lot written about it.
But it is very interesting to see how an individual can use a particular strategy to redistribute land from the powerful to the powerless. Even though the socialist and the left wing parties were all building their movement around the agenda of land-distribution, land issues no longer figure prominently on their agenda.
With the arrival of globalization, there is a drastic shift in the thinking of those who believed
in socialistic or leftist ideologies. People are also slowly submitting themselves to the idea that globalization is inevitable and nothing much can be done to protect the land and livelihood resources of the people. At this stage, let me also recognize the role of radical groups who believed in violence as a method to redistribute land.
Though the radicals were not able to distribute land in the real sense, at least in the areas were they were present, people still hold on to land and livelihood resources or are successful to some extent in preventing the onslaught of globalization. Janadesh and an satyagraha are proposing the middle path in land redistribution. We believe that it is difficult to have the scale of moral power of Vinobha Bhave to solve the problem by using this element of compassion. It is also not worth shedding blood and creating permanent animosity between groups in our efforts towards land-distribution.
The approach we have taken is to use nonviolent mass action to pressurize the government to solve this problem through a legal framework. Within the legal framework the government can do a lot in terms of implementing the laws that are already there, but these laws can be implemented only if the government is willing to take a position in support of the marginalized communities. Because the ruling class is drawn from the communities with land and resources, it is not easy for the ruling class to take a radical position in support of the weak and marginalized.
For the international readers, let me provide some examples in describing the complex issues around land and resources. In India, we have a ceiling act. This act states that every farmer can have up to 20 acres of irrigated land and about 40 acres of un-irrigated land
(although these numbers vary from state to state). If this act is implemented in print and in spirit, there will be a lot of surplus land available for redistribution to the landless. A lot of manipulation
took place with the awareness of government officials, however, and as a result the amount of surplus land available for re-distribution is limited.
Another example, is the recently enacted Forest Rights Act of 2006. This act was the result of many years of struggle by several groups including Ekta Parishad and their march “Janadesh 2007” with 25,000 people from Gwalior to Delhi. Through this law, the claims by Adivasis for the land they have been cultivating can be settled in their favour.
You may be surprised that in a country where 80 million people are Adivasis, only 1 million people received land in the last five years (with eight members per family, this comes to 12.5% distribution rate), which in and of itself is an indication of our level of performance in support of the poor people. Because of pressure from the civil society groups, the government has constituted
several committees to look into this problem of land-holding pattern and land-distribution in the country to come up with recommendations. In the last ten years, there have been many committees and many interesting recommendations put on the table. Different committees have repeatedly said that if the livelihood resources are not distributed, it will lead to mass scale migration to cities and may also lead to increased level of violence in rural India. Unfortunately these recommendations are not translated into meaningful policies and laws.
Like many other countries, India is also divided into two parts. On one side poor people are demanding land and livelihood resources and on the other side national and multinational companies are asking for land and resources. In a globalizing world, where the decisions are mainly tilting in favour of global forces, it is important to have nonviolent social movements like Janadesh and Jansatyagraha to remind the state that they cannot be one-sided. The decisions made need to be all-inclusive.
Though India has a history of nonviolent struggles under the leadership of Gandhi and many others, we tend to ignore the power of nonviolence in dealing with our problems today. While history is constantly discussed and Gandhians often allued to their pride in nonviolent struggle, the government tends to use force to oppress the voices of those who are raising issues in support of the marginalized. Governance through a process of consultation and dialogue hasn’t become a culture even in most advanced democracies.
The natural tendency is to say that the elected government should have the freedom to decide for everyone. They are mean to know what is in the interest of the county. And in this analysis, the voices of the marginalized get further marginalized. Through Janadesh and Jansatyagraha, we are trying to bring the marginalized voices on the central stage. How long can a state be oppressive and how long can a state ignore the voices of the oppressed. While at the level of India there are many efforts that are being made, we feel the need for international solidarity in making nonviolence work and work in the interest of powerless and marginalized.Let me use this opportunity to highlight the kind of nonviolent strategies that we implemented in our ongoing struggle that began October 2, 2011. The first strategy was to choose the international day of nonviolence for launching this action. We began the Samvad yatra from Kanyakumari, the Southern tip of India, on October 2, 2011.
This was a precursor to our historical march we were to begin from Gwalior on October 2, 2012. The second strategy was to involve a large number of organisations cutting across political ideologies. We were trying to bring about 2000 organisations on board for our historical march in 2012. The third strategy was to travel across the country by way of the yatra and visit most of the nonviolent struggles where people were trying to organize themselves against the transfer of resources to powerful lobbies. From each one of the struggles, we took soil samples to create an exhibition in Delhi to educate people about the history of each one of these struggles. Another important strategy was for 12,223 activists to travel by train that was to lead the historical march of one lakh people from Gwalior to Delhi. Each one of the activists needed to know how a long march could be organized with a deep commitment to nonviolence. Another strategy put in place was to have the older generation freedom struggle groups, who worked under the leadership of Mahatma Gandhi, to sit in Delhi while the marginalized communities were marching on the road.
There are many other strategies that were being used to make the entire process not only nonviolent but also highly participatory. So the entire struggle was designed by keeping land and livelihood resources as the core agenda without compromising on the philosophy of nonviolence. Through this process we hoped that the land agenda will be put back on the table, and the government will be forced to act in a way that a powerful structural remedy can be found to enable land-distribution, sustainable agriculture and poverty eradication.