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Thousands of homeless march on capital

Protest leader warns of violence if demands are not met

Thousands of homeless march on capital
Landless peasants start their march from Gwalior to New Delhi reporter, Bhopal

October 3, 2012

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More than 50,000 landless and homeless peasants from all over India began a march today toward the national capital to demand housing and agricultural land. The protesters, including tribal people and Dalits - the former ‘untouchable’ caste - started their march from Gwalior, a town in the central Indian state of Madhya Pradesh. They will cover a distance of 350 kilometers and are expected to reach New Delhi on October 28. “The march is the result of the failure of extensive talks with the federal government over the last six months on providing land to the landless and houses for the homeless,” said P. V. Rajgopal, founder of Ekta Parishad - United Forum - which is spearheading the protest. The forum is an association of nearly 2,000 social groups fighting for tribal rights. The marchers’ demands include 37-56 of land nearly two hectares of land for for each homeless family to build a house and smallholding. They are also demanding special courts to hear land disputes. "We were very close to signing a deal with the government but certain influential lobbies managed to scupper a settlement," Rajgopal  said. He alleged that the government fears such a deal would protect tribal lands from being acquired by industrial interests. According to official figures, over 20 million tribal people have been made homeless and over 20.5 million uprooted from their land following government acquisitions for industrial purposes. “Presently we are conducting a non-violent protest, but if the government does not respond, the day is not far off when it could turn violent,” Rajgopal said. Yesterday, the country's Rural Development Minister Jairam Ramesh tried to convince the protesters not to march. He told them the government was considering their demands and would protect the interests of tribal people. Related report Tribal  people protest  land acquisition for steel plant
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