Land Acquisition Act: India Unwashed marches on India Shining

Vikram Kilpady
Vikram KilpadyFeb 24, 2015 | 19:15

Land Acquisition Act: India Unwashed marches on India Shining

Delhi is not unused to whirlwinds that leave things asunder. It happened in 2011 and in 2012. And now there’s a potential whirlwind gathering pace but will it bear fruit since it is about peasants, "India Unwashed", as a columnist once put it, who want to ensure their rights be heard when the government acquires land?

In 2011, Anna Hazare and his flag-waving faithful bore down Raisina Hill with their repeated fanatic-like insistence that corruption was the sole problem. In 2012, the gang rape of a physiotherapy student in moving bus in New Delhi shocked the daylights and nightlights of the capital’s citizens, and again, Raisina Hill and India Gate were awash with protesters. Come 2014, the Congress was dumped unceremoniously. Now it’s as good as dead, more distant than the margdarshak dal of the ruling party.

The middle class on whose shoulders the 2011 and 2012 mass movements rested were sated and the BJP has been in power for some nine months. Acche din are visible in the effluents emitted by cheaper petrol and diesel. If 2011’s activists think corruption has died and decomposed into neat heaps along the corridors of power, they should join this writer and see corruption still at play at every border entry point where Delhi transport enforcement wing cops shake down the 50 and the 100 bucks from every truck that enters the National Capital Territory. The traffic usually slows down to a grinding ten kmph alternating between first and second gear. Motorists, including this one, get by. Then there is the big petroleum ministry scandal, allegedly peons, did I hear right, peons, sold info to corporate houses. The consideration they were showered with have not been divulged.

If 2012’s activists think rape has been a forgotten event, well they have the curious case of Dr RK Pachauri coming to light. There are worse crimes of women and children being raped and killed and buried in the dusty hinterland surrounding the capital. Rape, despite the new laws, is not something that belongs in the past like small pox. The JS Verma law has been effective in curbing workplace sexual harassment, abuse and violations. The urban officegoer has been made aware of his limits but in the fields, the laws are a long time coming. Many village women still travel through unlit roads and are leched, grazed and violated.

That brings us to the poor who have marched to New Delhi. This writer is one of those thousands of motorists who usually overtake the exchange of small currency notes between the enforcement guys and the truck driver. But on February 23, there was no room to go. The Faridabad flyway over Badarpur was shut for the poor peasants to troop down. The narrow service lanes were clogged. Autos and cars scraped each other to mark the day, a few hundred metres ahead one could see the last of the marchers and police cordons around them. As they cleared parts of Mathura Road, traffic was heaved onto the main, back from its palpitations in the honk-crazy service lane.

Driving into a still-clear service lane along the march, this writer found it hard to keep focused and shoot the rally on the cameraphone – mad crazy cars overtaking. Whenever I could catch a glimpse of the marchers and the by-standing Dilliwala gaping at them and their resilient march - resolutely fierce, not going to give in without a fight, the thin, the hobbling, ones in new white caps but worn lungis, salwars and patched-up chappals – I had to choke back tears. Yes, there were lepers too, the ones Mother Teresa had hugged, maybe they were Christians as RSS sarsanghchalak Mohan Bhagwat claimed, and I could not verify if they wore crosses because the traffic in the service lane wouldn’t let me open my car’s door. Honk, honk; blare, blare.

The marchers know what they are up against. They know their opponent will not give in easily. This government apropos the last railway budget was plugging full-scale for public partnership projects (PPP). The ordinance, which the government is trying to protect with the Right to Fair Compensation and Transparency in Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation and Resettlement (Amendment) Bill 2015, had done away with the consent clause while acquiring land for industrial corridors, public private partnership projects, rural infrastructure, affordable housing and defence. Read: SmartCities, PPP, Affordable Housing etc, some of this government’s big campaign promises of development.

With the march of the peasants, the outcry, the spectacle in Jantar Mantar, the BJP got into damage control mode and formed a eight-member committee to seek suggestions from farmers on land acquisition, this is after blaming the now-defunct UPA for all the ills that continue despite nine months of Modi in power.

It is not a common sight to see the poor and the peasants rally together for their rights. Delhi bore them as they came in, albeit a little askance and wondering at the schedules missed and the diesel fumes ingested in the long wait for the road to clear. If the movements of 2011 and 2012 worked for some people, maybe the other India, which doesn’t want to be left with the begging bowl, wants things to work for it in 2015.

Yes, there is still some hope for the liberal.

Last updated: February 24, 2015 | 19:15
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