Right now, 50,000 of India's poorest people are walking, in worn sandals and even bare feet, the 350 kilometres from Gwalior in the central state of Madhya Pradesh to the nation's capital. Organisers say the numbers will swell to 100,000 along the way, to become the largest non-violent multiday march in history.
Their demand? Land reforms that will give them the simple justice of a place to live, and to raise their families in dignity.
Inspired by Gandhi
The march began on Mahatma Gandhi's birthday, and organisers – from the social justice group Ekta Parishad – are calling the event Jan Satyagraha 2012, evoking Gandhi's principle of defeating injustice with "satyagraha", or non-violent resistance.
The march is modelled on the 1930 Salt March, in which Gandhi led protesters on a long march to the sea to challenge a British law that prohibited Indians from making their own salt. The Salt March was a pivotal event in India's fight for independence from Britain.
Who are the marchers?
They are the poorest of India's poor. Many are indigenous tribal members, Dalits (the so-called "untouchables"), and other landless people in desperate poverty.
Today, millions of Indians live on city streets or squat on land from which they are frequently and often violently evicted. One alarming study shows 650 million people (53.7% of population) living in poverty in India, including 340 million people (28.6% of the population) in severe poverty.
This misery is rooted in lack of education and healthcare, ethnic bigotry, government corruption and naked greed. Many of those marching have been displaced by industry and large agriculture. Deals are often cut between business interests and government officials for land to build factories, mine minerals or grow crops. This has helped fuel India's impressive economic growth in recent years. But the people at the bottom of the ladder have often been bulldozed out of the way in the process, and left with nothing.
The first step to fixing this tragic situation is land. As Ekta Parishad leader PV Rajagopal puts it: "Marginalised communities have to be given the rightful control over natural resources like land forest and water in order to fight poverty."
No more stalling
In 2007, a similar march prompted the Indian government to set up a commission on land reform. Unfortunately, activists say, virtually none of the recommended changes have been made. This time, they're demanding action on laws that would make sure India's rise as a global economy isn't achieved on the backs of its poorest and most vulnerable citizens.
The marchers are determined to make a difference. "I told my children that even if I die protesting it does not matter," one woman labourer, Sharda Devi, explained. "You all work and earn for yourself. I am going on this march to fight for our rights."
The reforms the marchers are asking for won't require massive redistribution of land. Activists say the government could solve 25% of the problem simply by implementing existing laws.
The simple fact of the matter is this: securing the right to small housing and agriculture plots for the poor is just, moral and doable.
Take action:Join this inspiring march for justice, and spread the word: share this story and these inspiring pictures of the march with everyone you know:
Sources: NY Times, Oxford Poverty and Human Development Initiative, World Bank, Times of India, NDTV, Ekta Parishad