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From 2001 To 2006

From local to state level of action

After the success of the first padyatra, other long padyatras were carried out in Bihar (September 2001), Chambal (April 2002), Chhattisgarh (February 2003 and 2005), Bundelkhand-Baghelkhand (September 2003), Orissa (February 2004 and 2005), and Kerala (2005).

Rebuild Bihar March (2001):

This padyatra, organized during September 2001, showed how broken was social fabric, due to violence, corruption and weak governance. Without saying so, Ekta Parishad gave a positive spin to the state administration so that they would be interested to bring development to remote areas where public government facilities like schools, health clinics, roads and bridges simply did not exist. Villagers welcomed activists as they felt they were given and the opportunity to voice their concerns.

Some of the post-padyatra actions included:

  • Campaign to divert the waters of the Mohane Nadi Dam so that local farmers could benefit from irrigation. 10 different small campaigns (morchas) were taken up in various parts of 6 districts (Jamui, Navada, Nalanda, Jahanavad, Gaya and Patna).
  • Set-up of 2 camps in the Gaya district
  • Support to enhance the capacity of Ekta Mahila Manch on women and land issues in Bihar
  • The establishment of a task force and the formulation of a master plan, named as the Bandopadyay report. However efforts have been stymied by the state government. Because of their unwillingness to respond, efforts are still being made to ensure full implementation of land distribution reforms).
  • Efforts have been made to distribute housing plots to landless and homeless people.
  • Efforts have been made to reactivate the Bhoodan Committee for land distribution.
  • Strengthening of the “Rebuilding Bihar” campaign

Chambal Peace March (2002):

The non-violent yatra in Chambal lasted over two weeks in April 2002. It was preceded with an international meeting on non-violence and development in Gwalior as a way to help spell out the elements of non-violent action in marginalized areas like Chambal. The yatra traversed the Chambal ghati (from Morena to Gwalior) and those areas that are dry ravines south of the Chambal river. These are well known because of infamous outlaw-dacoits such as Man Singh, and others, and Bollywood icon, Phoolan Devi. The Chambal region is an arid zone with animal husbandry and small cultivation as its distinguishing feature. Chambal is a central part of Ekta Parishad’s work because of the historic contribution made by Mahatma Gandhi Seva Ashram and Rajagopal in rehabilitating the terrorizing dacoits and giving them land from which to do farming in the 1970s.

The aim of the yatra was to help small cultivators with adequate inputs (i.e. land-leveling, access to water and electricity) to assist these communities to remain peaceful (not returning to the violent behaviour of being dacoits) because of active development of the region. The yatra also dealt with issues of land tenure and landlessness. This forced the government to respond to the task force in the districts of Chambal on land distribution. There was a strong response from the District and Divisional Magistrates that led to more active development programs in the region.


Madhya Pradesh Bhu Adhikar (Land Right’s) Sanvad March (2002):

The Bhu Adhikar Sanvad yatra was held over 15 days between September and October 2003 in Bundelkhand and Baghelkhand, the central region of Madhya Pradesh. Beginning in Damoh and ending in Katni was an effort to raise a host of local issues related to land and livelihood. It was also important to pressure the state in carrying out of the Task Force on land distribution, which was at its height as this time. It was also prior to the state elections and this was a strategic effort to get members of the legislative Assembly (MLAs) involved in the land application process. During this yatra, thousands of landless people gave applications. In Bundelkhand, the issue was primarily low caste or dalit problems whereas in Baghelkhand, it was tribal land alienation.

Chhattisgarh Sambad Yatra (2003):

The Chhattisgarh yatra took place in February 2003. Initially it was a van (jeep) yatra and after about 10 days, news came that an accomplice of the forest department had axed to death one of the local workers of Ekta Parishad, Birju Baiga, a tribal headman in a remote region near Pandaria town. This caused the van yatra to change course and become a dharna (sit-in) in the town of Pandaria for the next 8 days. Pandaria was a sub-district town that provides transportation links for mineral and other resource-based extraction companies. In the center of Pandaria town, there was a small temple across from the District Forest Department (DFO). Here the dharna began on the 10th of February 2003 and over the course of the next few days, baiga tribal people came down from the remote villages from hill areas. By the 13th of February there were more than 1500 people, eating, sleeping and meeting in front of the DFO’s office to remind them of the consequences of assassinating one of the members of their community. Eventually when the district officials could not appease the people, the Chief Minister of Chhattisgarh state (himself a tribal) called a meeting with the family members of Birju Baiga and Ekta Parishad and slowly a resolution was negotiated. This included:

  • Distributing land to 6,100 families
  • Dismissing a District Forest Officer for the murder of Birju Baigas, a tribal who defended his ancestral rights to the forest
  • Provisioning of 2 lakhs (INR 200,000) to the family of Birju Baiga

This incident was contrasted by another showdown in Kerala that occurred exactly in the same week. In Kerala, Janu, a tribal rights activist the government police with force and she was put in jail, and much of the issue was lost thereafter. Although the incident with Janu got more press than that of the Birju Baiga case, this was an important learning within the non-violent struggle of Ekta Parishad and its efficacy in Chhattisgarh.

The accomplishments in Chhattisgarh have been quite significant with the government distributing land to 6,100 families and dismissing a District Forest Officer for the murder of Birju Baiga, a tribal who defended his ancestral rights to the forest. Efforts were focused on the following areas:

  • Industrialization versus the rights of tribal communities
  • Strengthening the non-violent action campaigns (this was particularly important given the expansion of violent groups in the state and the migration of more than 100,000 people from Bastar due to violence in the area)

Orissa Bhu Adhikar Chambad March (2004):

The Orissa yatra was carried between 30 January and 24 February 2004 and was a combination of jeep yatra and foot-march. The jeep yatra covered a large area from Kalahandi to the Barbara Forest Reserve. Then the padyatra began at Laligarh, the Vedanta site, a large bauxite mining company that disregards the salutary development of tribal communities. It then proceeded to Kalahandi from which there was a long march of three days into the state capital of Bhubaneswar. The outcome of the padyatra was that the Chief Minister set up a task force to look into the land claims of tribal communities. Unfortunately, he put this task force under the State Tribal Affairs Ministry, which has little clout in the face of the industrial lobby. In Orissa, dozens of Memorandums of Understanding (MOUs) are being signed by the government to have resource extraction industries free reign in the rural areas. These areas happen to be tribal pockets that are governed under the Fifth Schedule and require permission for industries to gain access. The state government in their enthusiasm to develop, were violating all legal norms, and ignoring this legislation. This was one of the key themes of the van yatra and padyatra carried out by Ekta Parishad.

  • Attendance of the Chief minister of Orissa at a public meeting in Bhubaneswar, which gathered 5,000 members of the region’s deprived communities, and creation of a task force to resolve the land problems of the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes.
  • Awareness raised amongst local population (youth camps and rallies), at state level (e-mail campaign and press conferences) and internationally (direct involvement of international representatives).
  • Huge increase of land rights campaign in Orissa through local mobilization activity.
  • Collections of petitions detailing land issue grievances.

The Orissa yatra was carried between 30 January and 24 February 2004 and was a combination of jeep yatra and foot-march. The jeep yatra covered a large area from Kalahandi to the Barbara Forest Reserve. Then the padyatra began at Laligarh, the Vedanta site, a large bauxite mining company that disregards the salutary development of tribal communities. It then proceeded to Kalahandi from which there was a long march of three days into the state capital of Bhubaneswar. The outcome of the padyatra was that the Chief Minister set up a task force to look into the land claims of tribal communities. Unfortunately, he put this task force under the State Tribal Affairs Ministry, which has little clout in the face of the industrial lobby. In Orissa, dozens of Memorandums of Understanding (MOUs) are being signed by the government to have resource extraction industries free reign in the rural areas. These areas happen to be tribal pockets that are governed under the Fifth Schedule and require permission for industries to gain access. The state government in their enthusiasm to develop, were violating all legal norms, and ignoring this legislation. This was one of the key themes of the van yatra and padyatra carried out by Ekta Parishad.

The padyatra ended with a public meeting in Bhubaneswar that was attended by the Prime Minister and, which had gathered 5,000 people of the state’s deprived communities. This is when the task force was created to deal with the land problems of the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes.

Chhattisgarh Bachao March (2005):

This yatra was carried out at the height of May in 2005 between Raigarh and Raipur for 10 days as a result of government policies. Ekta Parishad had for many years opposed the Jindal factory in Raigarh as it paid no heed to the damage it was doing both to the land and livelihoods of tribal communities, and to monopolizing the water resources in the Kelo river. Although EP spent over ten days in the grueling heat of 46 degrees, there was little movement from the government in changing their industrial policy. This policy presaged the large scale signing of MOUs in the state that has accelerated industrialization and land grabbing.

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