Ekta Parishad (unity forum in Hindi) is an Indian activist movement founded in 1991 by Rajagopal P. V., the son of a Gandhian worker, Ekta Parishad is a federation of approximately 11,000 community-based organizations and has thousands of individual members. It is currently operating in 11 states.
The Gandhian, nonviolent strategy of Ekta Parishad
The two main activities of Ekta Parishad: dialoguing with the government at the state and national level and mobilizing the villagers for struggle at the grassroots level. Yet both are interlinked: people are struggling at the bottom level and their struggle is supported by a formation of institutions giving them the tools to fight for their rights (using democracy) at the top level, through dialogue. Vice versa, there are supporters dialoguing at the top level to give space for political action or struggle at the bottom level.
The grassroots struggle is centred on the struggle for land rights. Approximately 70% of India’s population depends on access to land and its natural resources for their livelihood. Without any legal claim to these lands, thousands of people are forced to migrate to urban centers everyday where they are left with no choice but to become manual laborers without rights or financial and life security. Thousands of people in India unite to free themselves from the oppressive hold that the land policies of this country have over their lives.
Ekta Parishad thus pressures the top and the bottom of the Indian political and administrative system, which is mainly blocked due to corruption. The latter engenders an inefficient distribution of information and inequitable distribution at the grassroots levels. The people at the bottom level don't receive what they need to live in a decent way and are powerless. Ekta Parishad helps the people by empowering them in order to defend their rights and provides a platform for people to share their experiences and ideas with the confidence that their voices will be heard.
Accomplishments of Ekta Parishad and future
Rajagopal P. V. is the founder and guiding spirit of Ekta Parishad. In October 2007, Ekta Parishad organised Janadesh, a 350 km non-violent foot march between Gwalior and Delhi. 25,000 farmers and activists participated. Following this, the Indian government promulgated the Forest Right Act in 2008.
However, implementation is very slow. In October 2012, Ekta Parishad organised a new march, Jan Satyagraha, with 100,000 people this time.
Ekta Parishad is the only non-violent social movement in India working on land and forest rights at a national level. It has been built up over twenty years building from the local, to the state, to the national and increasingly to the international levels. The purposing of « a-massing » a larger and larger grouping of poor people into a mass movement, has been to pressure a central government that is resisting reform and structural change. The structural change that Ekta Parishad is calling for is a complete land redistribution to enable the marginalized and downtrodden, to get out of poverty. Land reform is a « game changer », that could bring 40% of the populace out of absolute poverty and reduce substantially the violence that is gripping Indian society.
One of the successes of Ekta Parishad’s history is that people have found a social space in which to come together, and demand their rights. In normal society, it is not easy or possible for a marginalized person, like a single impoverished woman, or a bonded labourer, to stand up for their rights (even though they have them). Ekta Parishad is guarding democratic space by bringing groups together in a mass organization. By doing this it is constantly reminding the government that, in case they have forgotten, it is their role as given by the Independence Declaration and the Constitution, to provide that all people basic human rights and freedoms.
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