Indian landless march into Delhi
Sunday, 28 October 2007
About 25,000 protesters have arrived in the Indian capital, Delhi, after marching 325km (200 miles) to demand the redistribution of land. The protesters, mostly low-caste tenant farmers and landless indigenous people, say they have been left behind by India's economic boom. The marchers set out on 2 October, the national holiday marking the birthday of independence leader Mahatma Gandhi.
The government has promised to set up a commission to examine land reform. The protesters waved flags and chanted "give us land, give us water", as they marched in long, orderly lines into the centre of the capital. They plan to hold a huge protest on Monday, which they say will bring the centre of Delhi to a standstill.
They are protesting against government-backed industrial projects which they say have forced them off their land. "Forty percent of Indians are now landless and 23% of them are in abject poverty," march organiser Puthan Vithal Rajgopal told AFP news agency. "Such conditions have bred Maoist insurgency in 172 of India's 600 districts and farmers are killing themselves in 100 other districts. So we want to ask the government, where are the fruits of the reforms in these districts?"
Change of heart?
Demands for land redistribution have been a familiar part of India's political landscape for many years, but now the government seems ready to listen, says the BBC's Jatinder Sidhu in Delhi. One project, to build a petrochemical plant and shipyard on 8,900 hectares (22,000 acres) of land in eastern India, was cancelled after it led to protests in which 14 farmers were killed. The protesters have already met Sonia Gandhi, president of the ruling Congress Party and they hope to meet Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on Monday. They are calling for a national authority to oversee land reform and a system of fast track courts to deal with the long delays in resolving land disputes.