Monday, November 18, 2013

Land Reform in India

The following story is taken from a report by Jull Carr-Harris that appeared in the Oct. – Dec. 2013 issue of Peace Magazine.

On October 11, 2012, a momentous event occurred for landless poor people who inhabit the area around Agra, the city that is home to the Taj Mahal.  On that day, the government of India issued a ten-point program that included land reform measures.   Jah Ram Ramesh, the Minister of Land Reform, presented this proposal to a crowd of 50,000 landless poor people who were in the midst of a non-violent protest heading for New Delhi.

This policy came as somewhat of a surprise; since, it represented an apparent turnaround from previous government action in the area of land use.   This apparent awakening on the part of government of India to the plight of the poor and landless was precipitated by the effectiveness of the land reform movement.  The culminating event, the Jan Satyagraha – Satyagraha means truth force - march, was fashioned after Gandhi’s use of non-violent protest to draw attention to a particularly grievous issue.   One Hundred thousand people were mobilized for the effort.  Each villager saved one rupee and one handful of rice each day for three years prior to the mobilization. 

Both the young and women played an instrumental part in the leadership surrounding this mass action.  The role of women was particularly important; since, it helped focus on gender-related issues in a culture where women have traditionally assumed a markedly inferior role in society.

The success of this movement is meaningful for a number of reasons.  It clearly establishes the power of the seemingly powerless when they act in an organized way to demonstrate categorically for reform.   It also shows that non-violent action needs to play a fundamental role in such demonstrations lest they be construed with fear and suspicion.  

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