India’s Janadesh 2007
Protest marches are no rare occurrence in India. Since Mohandas Gandhi added the padyatra (foot march) to his repertoire of nonviolent tools with the 1930 Salt March to Dandi, leaders and activists across the world’s most populous democracy have used long marches to draw attention to their causes.As a result, Indian politicians are used to this sort of mass action, and the sight of 25,000 people walking, even along the country’s national highway, is not so remarkable. In an atmosphere of political indifference, little seems to change for the most marginalized in this country.
Would Janadesh 2007 be any different, I wondered, as my feet joined the march? Years in the planning, Janadesh (“the people’s verdict”) was conceived to bring unresolved land rights issues to the attention of the national government. Organized by the NGO and social movement Ekta Parishad (Unity Forum) and led by long-time Gandhian activist P.V. Rajgopal, Janadesh 2007 roused 25,000 landless peasants, members of indigenous groups, and marginalized farmers to pressure the government into undertaking land reform.
Janadesh 2007 began at Gwalior, Madhya Pradesh, on October 2, and promptly vanished into the cloud of good intentions and general hype that marked that date, the anniversary of Gandhi’s birth. As thousands of Dalits (groups once called outcastes or untouchables) and adivasi (tribal peoples) gathered for the month-long march to the capital, a national bank advertised its promise to bring “banking to the people” in Gandhi’s spirit. Despite India’s recent economic boom, wages often fall below the legal minimum, underemployment is the norm, and rural poverty is rife. As I looked at the front page advertisement, I considered the irony: 30 percent of India’s population have nothing to bank.