Protests, resistances and people’s movements are not new phenomena in India. Right from the Swadeshi movement to the Chipko movement; and from the Narmada Bachao Andolan to the Nirbhaya movement, the people of this nation have used various strategies and tools to get their message across and make change happen.
While some prefer aggressive messaging and action to amplify voices and reach the targeted audience, some swear by the methods used by the leader of India’s independence movement, Mahatma Gandhi. With the use of nonviolent civil disobedience, Gandhi sparked a form of movement that inspired many- in India as well as across the world.
When it comes to policy changes, alienating the people responsible for them is seldom a successful strategy. Recognizing this, the mass-based Gandhian organisation Ekta Parishad has been implementing a nonviolent form of resistance for about 30 years with significant successes.
“Just like wind energy and solar energy, anger is also energy. There is so much anger in society, and all this anger can turn into violence. What I’m trying is to organise people, coordinate their anger and frustration and divert that energy into positive and nonviolent action,” said Rajgopal PV, Founding President of Ekta Parishad.
How Exactly Does One Resist Nonviolently?
The two main tools that we have been using over the years are foot-march (padyatra) and dialogue (samvad).
1) Long marches have been used as a form of resistance by millions across the world. Gandhi forms the inspiration behind using marching as a tool of resistance in Ekta Parishad. It was under his leadership during the Salt March that people challenged the colonial rule for their rights over salt. This march filled the people with strength and courage that ultimately led to the independence of India. But Why March?
Marches give a legitimacy to the cause in the eyes of the audience and are a manifestation of the sacrifice and resilience that the activists possess. It is also a symbol of unity and independence at the same time. Marching also enables activists to realise their own physical and mental strength. Although marches include a large number of people, every single activist has their own story of oppression that makes them stand up and walk against injustice. Every activist is independent in deciding to join the march until the struggle reaches its goals. It lends them dignity and instils enough faith in their abilities.
In 2012, 100,000 people marched from Gwalior to Delhi as a part of the Jan Satyagraha, one of its major objectives being to persuade the government to formulate the national land reform policy. People also marched to assure ten decimals, i.e. about 4,000 sq feet of land for rural homeless families and better implementation of laws like the Forest Rights Act, 2006 and Panchayats (Extension to Scheduled Areas) Act 1996 and setting up of fast-track courts for speedy redressal of pending land-disputes.
A similar foot-march, but with 25,000 people was carried out in 2007 as part of Janadesh, and this effort led to substantive results that include enforcement of the Forest Rights Act 2006, the constitution of Land Reforms Committee and also the establishment of a National Council for Land Reforms. Through the Forest Rights Act 2006, as of March 2018, 1.7 million people have received entitlements over the land they were cultivating for many years, and 70,000 villages have gotten control over 10.2 million acres of forest land under Community Forest Rights.
These are just a few examples from the numerous marches Ekta Parishad, and its state chapters have organised over three decades. However, marches alone are ineffective in the absence of communication and dialogue.
2) Dialogue, the second tool of nonviolence resistance, is an underestimated tool that contains an immense power to fulfil goals. Nonviolent resistance insists on the fact that not every change requires a complete turn-around in a single day. Through dialogue, well informed, mutually consented, constructive change is made possible, and it provides an opportunity to bring different parties to the struggle at one table. It is not necessary that every party agrees with one another (when do they ever?), but it does build a sense of confidence for each other, and it helps in communicating the ideas and concerns of all the parties in a firm and nonviolent way.
A Big Win? We Think So!
Let’s not confuse dialogue with talking. The process of dialogue also refers to the presentation of arguments, central concerns, grievances, messages of people, deliberation over finding the solutions and agreements and disagreements over various issues. “Dialogue is a tool in the hands of those at the grassroots to fight for their rights by applying the right to speech at the top level.”
The perks? Those at the top level also get a chance to stand with the grassroots after having a dialogue with them. The top-level actors make way for the activists and their concerns by establishing a dialogue with other top-level actors in a democratic way.
Being a nonviolent resistance, we try to include the state as well as other national institutions within our struggle. More than animosity, anger, revenge and brute force, it is courage and love-force that is important in our resistance. We directly communicate the needed policy initiatives to political leaders, engaging in dialogue with State-level and National-level policymakers, intellectuals and government officials. In nonviolent resistance, the emphasis is on developing relations with both- those that think differently, and those that possess similar ideas, beliefs, and perceptions.
In the upcoming Jan Andolan 2018, a march from Gwalior towards Delhi starting on 2nd October 2018, we are using these very same two tools to once again put forth the expectations of the landless, homeless and women farmers to the policymakers. Along with the execution of the National Land Reforms Policy and the National Right to Homestead Bill, people this year are also marching to ensure recognition of women involved in agriculture as farmers and their entitlement and right over land.
Ekta Parishad and its movements aim at bringing change in the status quo. We are determined to question the unjust system and put forth the demands of the marginalised sections of society for ensuring a sustainable and just society. A conflict arises only to transform the status quo, but when violence is adopted for a struggle, there is a clear line of demarcation among the involved parties- they are either the ‘supporter’ or the ‘enemy’. On the other hand, when nonviolence is used as a means of resistance, attempts are made to blur this line of division.
If you’d like to be a part of this movement and stand alongside those that are advocating for the millions of landless and homeless poor in India, donate to this fundraiser which will help make this march a success.