Exhibition on Land rights movements in India
The exhibition ‘Soil speaks’ tells of the struggle of a landless people for their rights. Through photographs, art installations, comic drawings and a documentary film, the exhibition shows what civic activism looks like in the biggest democracy in the world. This exhibition has been organized jointly by the IASS Potsdam and the Heinrich Böll Foundation.
If the soil could speak, it would recount the history of 1 Million landless Indians who are fighting for their rights to their land. Since 1989, these tens of thousands of Indians were mobilized by the massed based popular movement Ekta Parishad and have been demonstrating regularly throughout India. They demand for land reforms and adequate access to soils, water and forests from their government. More than 10,000 villages have taken part in the mass movement in the past years. These rural people rely on the food that they have cultivated themselves. However, their access to essential resources is not guaranteed by right of ownership and usage. The danger of losing their access to fertile land, potable water and the treasures of the forests is ever present.
The Common Property Resources or the Commons – as they are popularly known – face complete annihilation in the modern times as the traditional, cultural and community laws that protected them have disappeared in the face of individual greed and the never ending desire for more. The stories of ‘Soil Speaks’ are about the hundreds and thousands of small struggles that are being waged in different parts of the country called India – struggles that are aimed at saving mother earth and its ecosystems that are the livelihood of millions of people. These stories are about the pain of loss, of defeat, of joy and small victories but most of all these are stories of courage and determination to protect a way of life that depends on the conservation and protection of Mother Earth and her resources.
These stories were narrated by thousands of people during the one year long Jan Satyagrah Samwad Yatra, a march for land rights in India. The Jan Satyagrah Samvad Yatra undertaken by Ekta Parishad was an attempt to listen to these stories and absorb their enormous collective energies for the creation of a wider network and collective strength leading to a decisive action for justice.
In October 2011, on the birth anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi, the Ekta Parishad-led Jan Satyagrah Samvad Yatra, began from the southernmost tip of India in Kanyakumari. One year later the journey, after having covered more than 80,000 km across 350 districts of 24 states, culminated at Gwalior, state of Madhya Pradesh, to launch into the next phase of peoples’ action for land and livelihood rights: a foot march by more than 50,000 people from Gwalior to New Delhi. The entire campaign has become a landmark in the post-independence history of people’s movement for their rights symbolizing empowerment and the power of non-violent means of protest.
The Jan Satyagrah Samvad Yatra succeeded in highlighting the multitudinous dimensions of people’s struggle for their rights over land, forest and water across the length and breadth of the country. From each village, town and city where the Yatra halted a fistful of soil, symbolizing the struggle waged by the people, was collected and added to the urn that bore the soil from Rajghat – the crematorium of Mahatma Gandhi. Each fistful of soil is a story of people’s energy and struggle waiting to be told. More than 1000 such stories of success and continued struggles were documented during the journey along with photographs and video. Subsequently, these stories were mounted as an exhibition using maps, pictures, illustrations, slides and powerpoint presentations for sharing with a wider audience. It is hoped that these stories will not only be heard by many more but also transform into a stronger collective voice seeking change, justice and freedom.
The Jan Satyagraha campaign was historical in terms of securing and institutionalizing the land rights of the marginalized communities. The following actions have been taken by the Government of India:
- Task Force on Land Reforms (2012)
- Enactment of National Homestead Act (2013)
- Announcement of National Land Reforms Policy (2013)
- Establishment of Land Tribunals and Fast Track Courts on disputes
- Advisory & Directives to State Government for Land Reforms
Photos: Simon Williams, Gyan Shahane, Santosh Padwal, Ramesh Sharma