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India, land of the Landless

Soon after his return from South Africa in 1917 Gandhi led his first political struggle in the state of Bihar, in support of peasant smallholders against British indigo planters. In the course of doing so, he earned the title of Mahatma, The Great Soul.

Almost a hundred years later, little has changed in this largely rural state situated in northern India, which remains one of the poorest in the country. The indigo plantations have been replaced by sugarcane, yet much of the land remains in the hands of feudal landlords who have managed to stall every effort at land reform. Across the state, the untouchables (Dalits), those of lower castes and the aborigines (Adivasi) remain in a state of quasi-bondage, enthralled by their feudal masters.

In Southern Bihar the district of Jharkhand has attracted another type of exploiter: Here, where the mining resources are rich, there are now a host of multinational companies (American, European as well as Indian) that have begun to exploit the ancestral lands of the aborigines. Ousted from their ancestral lands the Adivasi are now forced to settle in other provinces where they have become part of the lumpen proletariat; a reality that is far from the glittering image of the ‘New India’ often found in glossy magazines. In the neighbouring state of Chhattisgarh, thousands of aborigines have also become the collateral victims of a brutal war of attrition fought between Naxalite guerrillas and the police, and have in turn been confined into gloomy camps.

Poverty, illiteracy and violence: The daily life of the poor and maginalised in India today is a world apart from the ideals that were set by India’s prophet of non-violence, Mahatma Gandhi.




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