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Janadesh 2007

Janadesh 2007: To the national level

Janadesh brought together 25,000 people representing communities from all over India in an unprecedented social action. This amazing social experiment of the poorest people walking over 340 kilometers to the capital with unparalleled determination was historic. They walked with the knowledge that they had worked for a generation in building up this movement, and it was culminating in one of the biggest non-violent actions since Independence. Its commencement was marked by the United Nations’ International Day of Non-Violence and the birthday of Mahatma Gandhi. To witness communities united in a display of non-violent civil disobedience evoked memories of the satygrahas of Mahatma Gandhi that inspired civil rights movements throughout the world. Support came from all over, with 250 satyagrahis from international organizations showing their solidarity with each step that they took. More than 100 members of parliament supported Janadesh, including the Chief Minister of Madhya Pradesh who announced the establishment of a Land Commission and his plan to redistribute land to the landless communities in the region. The constant media coverage brought the voice of the satyagrahis to people all over the country and social activists pledged their solidarity with the satyagrahis of Janadesh.

In the final hours of the Janadesh, the Prime Minister agreed to complete the “Unfinished Land Reform Agenda”, by having a policy formulated and setting up a high level implementation committee. The Government also provided the implementation rules for forest land distribution to tribal people and other forest dwellers.

Achievements Of Janadesh and Further Challenges

On October 29th, 2007 the Government of India announced that it would move to get people land rights within the Framework of the Unfinished Land Reform Agenda that had been started after Independence. What was achieved was that the Prime Minister had agreed to chair the newly established National Land Reforms Council that would negotiate through a Land Reforms policy framework that land would be distributed. This policy framework was to be developed by a committee of experts. While it was possible that the government would renege on their promises, there was also recognition that after years of struggle, something new had been achieved at a high level. The mechanism for achieving land reform had the participation from civil society organizations.

The people on the Janadesh march had created a workable form of political action, which was a powerful tool in their hands that could pressure government into action. It was not something that gave instantaneous results, but it showed that people had power and in a democratic state, governments always respond if people have power. The success of this historical display of non-violent action gave Ekta Parishad a reason to celebrate, but we must remember that the struggle was not over and needed to be vigilant.

Since Janadesh 2007, there have been dozens of local padyatras that have kept the heat on the administration. Among these have been the Namuetha Urumaimannu (‘This is our own land’) yatra in Kerala 2010 and the Madhya Pradesh 2010 yatra. These social actions are preparing the ground for the and many other yatras will prepare the ground for the Jan Satyagraha March - 2012, the march of 100,000 people planned for 2012.

Communicating the View from People in the Bottom One Billion, Jill Carr-Harris

"The story of Janadesh is the struggle of millions of people. These are the people that economists refer to as the “bottom billion”, those that have been left out of mainstream development. What I have seen in more than two decades working among India’s poor is that in their struggle for rights, they are creating a script, a language, a set of grievances and proposals for change. Without a trained ear to their songs, slogans, speeches, and different social actions one can easily miss the point. It is a hieroglyphic, which people can decipher if they have time to step back from their a priori assumptions about development and hear them.

If I try to gauge the impact that this Janadesh has had both in making an indelible impression on the next generation of those who were marching and also, on the citizens of India and beyond. What the Janadesh has exemplified is that not only is social change possible but also that a non-violent movement of the most marginalized people on earth, actually works.

Throughout many years of working in a social movement, I have always had a healthy skepticism about whether social change among the “poorest of the poor" was possible. It is commonly believed that people who are part of any reform or revolutionary movement generally come from the middle-classes. The poor invariably do not have the means to do any kind of actions, in addition to which they are usually ensconced in a set of oppressive relations that makes it difficult for any freedom of action. The Janadesh has proved that this is a fallacy. Only when landless and other marginalized people stand up for their rights can genuine change occur.

Observing Ekta Parishad as a social movement over a generation has shown me that poor people do act but they must do so in measured step in order to be able to sustain themselves in the process. Building a “bottom-up” mass base took 20 years to achieve, not less, and in some cases it can take more time. It needs an engagement from the people, based on their interest and commitment and this is mediated through social action, in India at least, first at the village level before fanning out to numerous villages, district-levels, state-levels and finally as in the case of the Janadesh, to the national level. For the leaders to sustain this kind of progression of social action requires a unique quality of detachment where there is not a spirit of competition. The leadership in India may be unique as it evolves out of the traditions of the society, but like anywhere, it is the vortex of the movement and it triangulates the organization and the people with multiple events that make the social movement.

For the struggles to be carried out non-violently requires a formation. In Ekta Parishad the formation was initially given to young activists who stayed on in the movement over decades because they had a stake in it. Their formation was rigorous and based on service and voluntary sacrifice. This attribute of being able to withstand pain and difficulty was a necessary condition for resisting the injustice in the society. The activist leaders had to exemplify these virtues to the local people so that they could build a collective resistance and therefore a sufficient social power to carry forward an action.

Ekta Parishad began taking up state level padyatras (long marches) from 2000 in different provinces of India and this was a way to build up the capacity for resistance. For instance in 2003 the indigenous people known as the Baigas (hunters and gathering people) stood up against a state government that was forcing their people off forest land and, by assembling as a community for eight days on the road-head the Forest Officer responsible was punished (Dukakis 2004).

The Janadesh was a similar kind of resistance, yet it required a huge amount of endurance to sustain for one month. To create that level of people’s power is a moment comparable to that of the anti-apartheid movement in South Africa; or the people’s movement that removed Marcos as dictator in Philippines."

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