Quakers in Britain are among a global chain of solidarity with landless Indian villagers whose massive nonviolent protest march this week turned, cautiously, to celebration when Indian government ministers appeared to meet demands to give land rights to the poorest.
Rajagopal P.V., leader of the Jansatyagraha 2012 march, has this week negotiated with the prime minister, Manmohan Singh, and the minister of rural development. Organisers believe there has been a great achievement for land rights in India. This is proof, the organisers say, that nonviolence can make a change in the world.
However, after government ministers addressed the marchers in Gwalior on 2 October, the people decided they wanted to see more commitment from the government and revised plans for 100,000 people to march taking a month to cover 350 kilometres from Gwalior to Delhi. A smaller groupl set off today (3 October); 300 representatives will finalise their demands in Delhi and on 11 October, Rajagopal will meet government ministers in Delhi.
Rajagopal says the people want “dignity, security and identity”. He is president of Ekta Parishad, a movement of around 11,000 community-based organisations that interprets nonviolence in the same way as Gandhi, as an active force in bringing about social change. Quaker Peace and Social Witness (QPSW) has supported Ekta Parishad for many years as part of its South Asia Programme and has worked with them to provide training in active nonviolence. QPSW staff member Gerald Conyngham was at the workshops in Gwalior and Quakers joined Christian Aid and Action Village India to organise vigils and marches in the UK.