Ahead of the major electoral show off set to take place in Madhya Pradesh, the farmers under the banner of the Ekta Parishad have sounded the poll bugle. After repeated futile promises of the Shivraj Singh Chouhan-led BJP government, the marginalised farmers, predominantly women, commenced their Padyatra (march) from Gwalior on the occasion of Gandhi Jayanti.
Waving the green and the white flags, the farmers asserted their demands of jal, jungle our jamin (water, forests, and land). With the BJP in a damage control mode, the farmers were assured by the state government of the creation of a land task force within six months, and putting into effect a monitoring system for PESA areas. Having lost all credibility in the eyes of the farmers, there is a general consensus on the ground that the chief minister as well as the prime minister have failed in fulfilling their promises. Under the banner of Jan Andolan 2018, peasants and tenants are demanding a fair distribution of land.
According to the census figures of 2011, about 69 per cent of India's population lives in its villages. They largely depend on land and other natural resources for their livelihood and survival. Sadly, a majority of the rural poor lack secure legal rights to their land. The protesters are building pressure on both the central and the state governments to demand a fresh round of negotiations on the issue of the National Land Reforms policy.
Speaking with Newsclick, Ramesha Sharma from the Ekta Parishad highlighted some of their major demands. “A key demand is, of course, the demand for the execution and monitoring structures for effective implementation of the Forest Rights Act, 2006, and Panchayat Extension to Scheduled Areas (PESA) Act 1996.”
Additionally, an important feature of this march was the predominant participation by women farmers. Shobha Tiwari, who participated in the women’s yatra, emphasised that women are acquiring land title under the Forest Rights Act, 2007, but “only a few of the women on the march had received it”.
Manju Dungdung, one of the protesters stated, “Women who gain land ownership, and have their own name on the land titles face reduced violence.” The major concerns of the female farmers include questions of land entitlement for female farmers. Sharma points out, “Previously, under the private member’s bill, attempts have been made to provide stakes to women for the land they work on. From our research, we have found that only about 12-14 per cent of the women have claims to the patta. This means that the women have no access to social or any degree of economic security.”
Another major demand of the protesters is the implementation of the homestead bill. The census of 2011, pointed to a grim reality, 56 per cent of India’s rural population does not have access to its own land. Sharma, questioning the nature of this deprivation, said, “Why should these people call themselves citizens of India, if we have failed to provide them even a small piece of land to call it their own?” A major demand, therefore, is the provision of agricultural land to the landless poor, especially those in backward districts and the provision of homestead land to the homeless people in rural areas (at least 4 acres). At the moment, the financial assistance provided to the homeless families for shelter, through the Indira Awas Yojana is not sufficient to achieve this goal. The protesters are demanding that the Ministry of Rural Development should propose doubling the budget granted per unit for providing homestead land to the homeless families. In a report released by the Ekta Parishad in 2012, it was highlighted that land is a prerogative of each state, and in consequence, land reform is a state subject. The protesters have pointed out that a dialogue must be initiated with the states on the same to attain some concrete solutions.
As previously reported by Newsclick, the initial plan of the marching farmers was to reach Delhi from Gwalior, however, after Congress leader Rahul Gandhi addressed the group along with senior leaders Kamal Nath, Jyotiraditya Scindia, and Digvijay Singh to say that their government was committed to the land issues, and that they would begin working in the Congress states immediately, the protesters decided to conclude the march in Morena.