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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 The indigo plantations have been replaced by sugarcane, yet much of the land remains in the hands of feudal landlords who have managed to stall every effort at land reform.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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Champaran, Bihar, India In 1917, upon his return from South Africa, Gandhi traveled for several months along the roads of Champaran to organize the small farmers fight against the British indigo planters.
Gurawaliya, Bihar, India In the early morning mist, the farmer's families, « untouchables » for the most part, harvest sugar cane.
Bettiah, Bihar, India Sugar cane has become the principle crop of Champaran, replacing indigo, which was the source of wealth of the region during Gandhi's time.
Champaran, Bihar, India Gathered on the side of the road, farmers with their carts completely full of sugar cane, patiently wait for hours before being able to unload their crop.
Champaran, Bihar, India Gathered on the side of the road, farmers with their carts completely full of sugar cane, patiently wait for hours before being able to unload their crop.
Ram Nagar, Bihar, India The great sugar refineries of Champaran close down one after another because of the collapsing of the market.
Champaran, Bihar, India Unable to obtain the necessary land for their crops and to build their homes, the untouchables and the lower castes are condemned to live on the side of the road, in precarious villages.
Chirohi Nagar, Bihar, India The « Musahars » or «  rat eaters », the poorest of the untouchables, are at the very bottom of the ladder in Indian society.
Bagaha, Bihar, India The landless demonstrate for their rights during big marches that gather several thousand people forgotten by the land reform.
Bagaha, Bihar, India Even if they have been deprived of the right to own land, according to Indian law, women are at the forefront of the battle for the landless.
Madhopur, Bihar, India Amiruddin Ahmed is one of the « zamindars » (land lords) who defy the law by possessing several hundred hectares where, according to Indian land reform, they are only allowed six.
Dumariya Estate, Bihar, India Rama Devi plays with little Satcha. Serfdom has been abolished in her village, but they still depend on the local « zamindar » to work and survive.
Saupwa Naukatola, Bihar, India Access to education is still difficult for children of the landless. There are not enough schools and their underpaid teachers are chronically absent.
Bankey Bazar, bihar, India Just a few kilometers from the Mahabodhi Temple and its crowds of pilgrims who have come from all over the world, small farmers struggle to have the land reform applied.
Boop Nagar, Bihar, India A healer tries to heal a sick person suffering from malaria by imposition of the hands. There is no health post, neither any medical staff, in this whole area unhabited by “untouchable” farmers.
Bodh-Gaya, Bihar, India Half of the poorest farmers of Bihar come from the Dalit community. They still have no access to land so they work for the rich landlords (zamindar) for a miserable salary.
Jamshedpur, Jharkhand, India At the foot of the giant industrial complex of the all-powerful Tata family, the migrants who have lost their land barely survive by scrounging coal that has “fallen” from the mining company trucks.
Hazaribagh, Jharkhand, India Aborigenes families transport several hundred kilos of coal on their bicycles that they will sell in the local market.
Hazaribagh, Jharkhand, India Aborigenes families transport several hundred kilos of coal on their bicycles that they will sell in the local market.
Baghmara mines, Jharkhand, India Devastated by coal mining, the once fertile land of Nudkhari is nothing less than desolation.
Baghmara mines, Jharkhand, India The Nudkhari families refuse with all their might to leave their land despite the dreadful conditions of life created by coal mining.
Patratu district, Jharkhand, India In 2001, a giant iron processing factory was built in complete impunity on the tribal land of the Aborigines of Hehal.
Patratu district, Jharkhand, India In 2001, a giant iron processing factory was built in complete impunity on the tribal land of the Aborigines of Hehal.
Giridih, Jharkhand, India  On the land of Manjhaladih, made impossible to cultivate because of pollution from the steel mill, the Adivasi struggle to hang on to their daily life.
Jamuna Mines, Jharkhand, India Dispossessed ot their land by the Indian state, the Aborigines of the Koderma district are forced to work clandestinely in the mica mines to survive.
Ghotpal, Chhattisgarh, India Aborigene teenagers dance together to honor the Hindu divinity, Baba Usundi, during a ritual feist.
Ghotpal, Chhattisgarh, India The Aborigenes represented 70% of the population of this state when it was created in the year 2000. At present, they are fleeing by hundreds of thousands, chased out by war and industrialization.
Ghotpal, Chhattisgarh, India The Aborigenes represented 70% of the population of this state when it was created in the year 2000. At present, they are fleeing by hundreds of thousands, chased out by war and industrialization.
Gidam, Chhattisgarh, India Aborigine teenagers are taken in as police auxiliaries to fight against the Naxalite guerrillas.
Dantewara, Chhattisgarh, India The Naxalites sometimes recruit by force, as in the case of this young Aborigine fighter, kidnapped at the age of twelve, to fight by their side.
Dantewara, Chhattisgarh, India Jogi Vanjami, 22 years old, young maoist fighter, arrested the night before by the police, risks life in prison.
Bijapur district, Chhattisgarh, India After a battle in the forest, the night before, the police show off the bodies of Maoist fighters to the villagers.
Bijapur district, Chhattisgarh, India After a battle in the forest, the night before, the police show off the bodies of Maoist fighters to the villagers.
Dornapal Camp, Chhattisgarh, India Since 2003, more than fifty thousand Aborigenes chased off their land by the war between Maoists and the Indian government, barely survive in unsanitary camps where disease, hunger, violence and unemployment are rampant.
Dornapal Camp, Chhattisgarh, India The Adivasi go to the forest to bury Sona, 13. The teenager died after having suffered for a long time with no appropriate treatment.
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