Land, Dignity and Freedom footmarch which covered around 140 villages, 7 urban slum in four districts of Maharajganj, Kushingar, Deoria and Gorakhpur district, It started from Tilakwania village in Ghughali town of Maharajganj district on June 1st, 2007 and culminated at Chauri Chaura on June 22nd, 2007 with a total of 370 kilometers. Organised by Uttar-Pradesh Land Alliance and led by Shri Vidya Bhushan Rawat, Director, Social Development Foundation, Delhi, the Padyatra raised the issue of hunger, land, water and sustainable development. Nearly 20 Padyatris including women and girls from the marginalised sections of society walked this distance in scorching heat for full 22 days. It raised the issue of the failure of the previous government to deal with the issue of livelihood of marginalised communities and their continuous marginalisation through hunger, malnutrition, poverty and depression. It also voiced its concern over growing communalisation process as well as spreading of superstition among the poorer sections of society. At many places the marchers spoke to small gatherings, met people, visited affected areas and conducted social audits of schemes like NREGA.
At the culmination of 22 days padyatra at Chauri Charua, we demand the following :
1. The government must take special measures to improve the condition of Mushahars, Rajbhars, Bansfors, Nonias, Machchuaras, Dom, Swachchakars, Pasis and Chamars. These communities are living in abysmally degrading conditions and need special measures.
2. In the Eastern Uttar-Pradesh the Sand Mafias are controlling the rivers like Chhoti Gandak, Gurra, Rapti and Ghaghara. The mechanised sand mining has resulted in soil erosion by these rivers during monsoon. Thousands of hectare of land has turned infertile. In Brahmapur region Rapti has destroyed Ranapar area. In Kaptanganj and Ramkola towns in Kushinagar district are facing severe soil erosion due to sand mining. We demand immediate halt of mechanised sand mining and ask the government to allow the fishworker to do the same but government should fix up a limit for the same.
3. In many villages of Eastern Uttar-Pradesh powerful local people have illegaly grabbed the land
given to Dalits and Most backward communities. In many villages, the Dalits are not even allowed passage to move out. Government must ensure that every person live with dignity at his/her land that every one has a right to access road in his/her house.
4. The Sugar factories and distillaries in Ramkola, Kaptanganj, Deoria, Rudrapur, Sardarnagar
are throwing chemical waste in the rivers like Chhoti Gandak, Rapti, Amy and Gurra resulting in heavy pollution in the rivers. The fishworkers are facing hunger as the fish catch is almost nill. Apart from this, the waste has spilled over to a vast agricultural land turning them completely barren and dangerous. The ground water in most of the eastern UP town is contaminated which is a severe threat to public health. We demand immediate action against these factory/mill owners and ask the government to compensate the farmers who have lost their land to these mills. The Pollution Control board should be asked to explain as why they continue to allow such hazards industries to run.
5. In Kushingar and Gorakhpur the condition of National Employment Guaranttee Scheme is a matter of grave concern. It has not been implemented accordingly. We found work being done through tractors and people without work despite having the valid card. The scheme seems to have failed because of the connivance between the village Pradhans and block officials. We demand severe action against erring officials to implement the scheme and ask the government to form a monitoring and evaluating committee which should include civil society representatives.
6. In Poorvanchal, we found lot of discrepency in the distribution of ration cards. Those who should have been eligible for the cards have not got it while others have got it. We demand strong action the Sarpanches and officials who are involved in nepotism and corruption. We also demand from the government that the reach of the Public Distribution System should be expanded and it must include important edible items, books, cloths, Masalas etc so that the poor can benefit from this.
7. Hunger and starvation is prevelent in Eastern Uttar-Pradesh. A majority of families do not ration for two times. The children have uncertain futrue. It is shameful that children from Mushahars, Chauhan, Rajbhar etc are eating rats and fishermen are forced to survive on snails. We demand the government to focus on these communities with special programmes particularly developing schools in the villages with mid day meals and other incentives for school children and their parents.
8. The government must form special Land Courts to settle land disputes and implement the land reform measures strongly and effectively. The government must concentrate on giving communal entitlement. We also demand that women should be given priority in allotment of agricultural land and all new entitlement whether residential or agricultural should have joint entitlment.
Today on the day of culmination of Padyatra we committ ourselves to continue our struggle for Land, Dignity and freedom. We will continue to make government aware of the ground situation while fighting for our rights democratically. We also want to make it clear that this war of independence is not possible with out the support and alliance of anti caste, anti communal, anti superstition and progressive forces in which the role of women, Dalits, Most backward communities and tribals have an important role to play. We also feel that this for dignity and freedom we have to take inspiration from Baa Saheb Ambedkar, Jyoti Ba Phule, Savitri Bai Phule, and EV Ramaswamy Naicar. They remain our icons and role models in our struggle for the creation of a civil society.
By Vidya Bhushan Rawat