India’s poorest march on capital

PALWAL, India, Oct 27, 2007 (AFP) – A serpentine column of India’s poorest of the poor is moving across cities, determined to reclaim their land taken over in the name of the country’s heady economic boom. About 25,000 landless farmers, many of them using plastic bags for shoes, are on the final leg of a march which will take them to their goal, the Indian capital New Delhi, on Sunday.

“Let’s not be angry. Let’s sing,” came a shout as the marchers settled down for the night just south of the city. Women immediately crooned in dialects representing different parts of India, while volunteers worked tirelessly to find food and dig roadside toilets.

Some squatted with their clenched fists raised in protest against what some experts are now warning is a growing chasm between the drivers of India’s galloping economic engine and the neglected farming community.

“Non-violent direct action has never been tried so effectively before and these people are living, walking and sleeping on highways since we set out,” said Puthan Vithal Rajgopal, chief organiser of the rally.

The protest march, swelling each time it passes a town or village, began in the central India city of Gwalior on October 2 — the