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Thousands of Indian Farmers Hold Protest for Land Rights

Tens of thousands of farmers have converged in the Indian capital following a month-long protest march. As Anjana Pasricha reports from New Delhi, they are demanding rights over land and livelihood.

Singing and chanting slogans, nearly 25,000 farmers staged a sit-in protest at a public park in the heart of the Indian capital.

They were not allowed to hold a rally at the Indian parliament as they had originally planned.

These farmers have walked for nearly a month from the interiors of the country to have their voice heard by the government. Their demand is simple: they want authorities to give them ownership rights for land where they live or which they cultivate.

Most of these people own no land - but eke out a living either by working as laborers or by farming tiny patches of public land in remote areas. Many of them belong to tribes living on the edges of jungles.

Among the protesters is 60-year-old Mangin Bai, who has marched from Madhya Pradesh state in central India.

She says she has no money or savings. If she falls sick, she will not even be able to sell part of the land that sustains her and her family because she does not own it. She wants the government to give her legal rights over the land.

Organizers have called the march "Jana Desh" or People's Verdict.

They say many farmers are being forced to move away as land is given to industrial zones or development projects.

Vandana Shiva, an activist supporting the movement for land rights, says the protesters are fighting for survival.

"Their land, which is their base of livelihood, is being appropriated ... for a quick buck in mining, for a quick buck in making a dam, for a quick buck in setting up a factory, and the price of this globalized economy is being paid by these people who are losing their land," said Shiva.

The farmers want the government to create a national authority to oversee land reform, and establish fast-track courts to resolve land disputes.

The government has promised to establish a committee to examine the issue of land reforms.

Development experts say the protesters highlight the big challenge confronting India: the need to bridge the widening gap between an affluent middle class in urban areas and the millions of impoverished people who have no land, no livelihood, and no opportunities in rural areas.