//The marginalised decide to stand up for their rights

The marginalised decide to stand up for their rights

Gwalior: A unique Parliament of the Deprived, an initiative by a grassroots organisation, has urged the government to meet the livelihood needs of the rural poor before October 2007 or face a protest march by thousands of marginalised farmers to New Delhi, reports Grassroots Features.

The Parliament of the Deprived, part of a wider initiative of the Ekta Parishad, was organised here on Human Rights Day Dec 10 last year. Representatives from tribals and social activists across the country gathered to discuss multi-sided exploitation, its causes and possible solutions.

The Janadesh (People’s Will), part of the Ekta Parishad’s initiative, has stated that if by Oct 2, 2007, (Gandhi’s birth anniversary) the essential land and livelihood rights of the rural poor are not recognised by the government, around 25,000 marginalised people will march for 22 days from Gwalior to Rajghat, in Delhi, Mahatma Gandhi’s memorial.

People from other parts of India will also join them there, on the day of Gandhi Jayanti. They plan a gathering of 100,000 people who will stage a peaceful protest in Delhi till their essential demands are met.

Ekta Parishad, a grassroots organisation, works primarily for the rights of the rural poor to ensure that demands of rural workers and peasants are met in an effective way. This organisation is committed to non-violent, peaceful means of fighting inequality and injustice.

P.V. Rajagopal, its convenor, is a senior Gandhian activist. Announcing the ‘People’s Will’ march at the meet, he said that one reason for choosing Gwalior as the starting point is that it is the most centrally located town of the Chambal region. It was here that notorious dacoits surrendered, seen as a heart-warming example of the strength of the Gandhian peace movement.

Rajagopal said that essential land and livelihood demands of the poor, particularly tribals, have not been met even 58 years after independence. He called upon the government to make its development planning, village and poor-centric.

He said there were massive displacements caused by giant projects that were snatching the homes and livelihoods of people. Where will they go, he asks? Even in cities there is an increasing intolerance to slum dwellers, and their colonies are being demolished.

Stories poured in of atrocities across the country, during the Parliament gathering.

Gautam Bhai from Ektapura village in Chambal valley, Madhya Pradesh, recounted that his ancestors and those of his neighbours worked as bonded labour. The Ekta Parishad got them released and placed them in rehabilitation projects. They were given land but could never occupy and cultivate it. This struggle has continued for years now.

Roshan, another tribal from Chambal, said that he had been in a land struggle for a long time in the course of which there was an attack on him with ‘lathis’ (rods) and spears. The medical report on injuries was tampered with due to corruption. He still hasn’t received the land.

Tulsi Bhai from Satna, Madhya Pradesh, said that he had fought a legal battle for five years to protect the land. "How long can a poor person fight a court?" he asked. "It seems government exists only for the rich, not for the poor."

Prabhu from the Gujarat Maldhari Samaj said that the Maldhari pastoral people were beaten, and asked to leave their settlements. Senior officials visited the site but could not settle the case. Poor people who are with organisations involved in struggles are sometimes deliberately denied land ‘pattas’ (land rights) to victimise them and discourage other people from becoming members of these organisations.

Sri Kumar from Kollam, Kerala, observed that reckless mining of black sand, important to the armaments industry was the cause for the December 2004 tsunami in and around his village. However, those who opposed this destructive mining were denied rehabilitation benefits because big business interests involved in this high lucrative mining were able to influence officials.

Jharkhand’s Pritam Bhai said that dense forests had been destroyed by wrong government policies, including clearing of natural forest substituted by trees with low ecological value and lesser use for local people. Farmers displaced by coal projects have been reduced to the lowest forms of drudgery, and in some extreme cases were forced by their destitution to sell their daughters.

Pariram, a youth employed in a mine in Gwalior district, helped two girls escape who were in danger of being molested at the mine. For this he was beaten and grease pushed into his anus with an iron rod. Pariram died and the cause of his death was known only before his cremation, said Bhai Mansharam from Ghati village.

The bedridden father could not go to police and so went ahead with the last rites. Later, someone complained to the police and an investigation was started. Then, the mine contractor threatened to kill the father.

Dadri Behan said that in Dadar Ghugni area of Dindori district, Madhya Pradesh, tribals were first asked to give up cultivation and not allowed to settle down. Their ploughs and farm animals were taken away, huts burnt down, they were forced to pay fines at three places and their crops destroyed. They are still implicated in court cases.

Mantoo, an adivasi (tribal) from Madhya Pradesh, said, "I’ve spent a lifetime fighting for forest rights. We don’t want palaces or pearls, we only want land that can provide us sustenance."