Hundreds of thousands of Indian men and women, landless farmers and the Adivasis – Indian aborigines – underway on foot. On dusty roads, on the National Highway, through villages and cities. Large-scale exploitation of mineral resources, the construction of immense plantations and tremendous infrastructure projects have resulted in the fact that these people have been and still are being driven from their homes and robbed of their peaceful existence.
Now they have come together from all across the land to fight for an honorable existence. Led by the charismatic Rajagopal, leader and pioneer of the movement.
Their protest march leads from Gwalior to Delhi – 400 kilometers away. They endure the heat, defy illnesses, and take on hardship and deprivation. Because one thing is clear to them: they will persevere and only return home once the government heeds their demands.
It is as if the poor and oppressed of the whole world are rising up and speaking out. And energetically pointing out that they are not willing to accept the violation of their rights. Their march, based on the idea of Gandhi’s philosophy of passive resistance, will go down in history and will be covered by the most important international media. The world can no longer look away.
How can one fight for one’s rights without using violence? With such an important contemporary question, the film of Christoph Schaub and Kamal Musale spreads far beyond the borders of India. It shows the multiple facets of this imposing protect march, plunges into what is happening along the way. And it focuses over and over again on some of the participants and their fateful stories as well as the into daily realities of these proud people.
«Millions Can Walk» is a militant yet philosophical and emotional film with surprising pictures of great metaphorical power. It is captivating to the very end: Will these men and women be successful? Will the government fulfill their demands?
Rajagopal P. V. is Vice President of the national Gandhi Foundation as well as President and founding member of the Ekta Parishad. His untiring energy, his great understanding and his skill in encouraging people to stand up for their rights have gained him great respect – from the bases of the population up to national government circles.
Rajagopal P. V. grew up in Kerala in southern India and studied agriculture in Seva Gram.
He became politically active in the early 70’s. In central India he helped to bring peace to a valley by convincing the «Dacoits» (organised criminals) to lay down their arms and live peacefully.
Rajagopal’s family name indicates that he belongs to a privileged caste, so he only uses his first name.
“When we sweat under the sun, when the earth and the sky are burning, when we walk, sweating under the sun’s heat, that is sacrifice. When we sleep on the streets, that is sacrifice. When we eat once a day, that, too, is sacrifice. So all of you are ascetics. You are not just revolutionaries. And why are you making this sacrifice? So that their hearts shall melt!”
Pankhi Bai and her four children were driven out of their home because of the construction of the artificial lake Ban Sagar. Now they live in a squatter settlement on the shore of this artificial lake. The nearest town, where Pankhi Bai has to go once a week to buy the essentials, can only be reached by a rowing boat.Her husband earns money for the family in the south of India, where he is a construction worker. Pankhi Bai knows that when the Monsoon begins, her husband will return home for a month.
I will go to Delhi. I will go to Gwalior from Mahjar. Wherever they go, I will go. I wish to see everything. I want to visit every village, so I know how they are. I want to meet everyone, who lives in this country. I think that will happen on the Jan Satyagraha.”
Anil Kindo works as a day labourer in a factory. It takes him two hours by bike to reach the place where he works. He is married and has three children. His family was driven out Rourkela decades ago, when giant steel works were built there. Anil Kindo lives with his relatives in a remote shack in the jungle.Until the present day, he and his family have not received any compensation payments. Actually, all Anil Kindo wants is land that he can farm so he can feed his family.
“Just like a tiger never eats grass, an Adivasi never begs. He eats whatever he earns, eats whatever he grows, and never begs for food from anyone.”
Sushmita is the mother of two children. The family lives in the jungle, about 30 kilometres from Rourkela. Her husband, educated to be a teacher, can find no work here. He gathers firewood in the forest and sells it at a nearby market. In fact, the Department of Forestry forbids this. Over and over again Sushmita’s husband has been forced to pay bribe money to the police officers.
“Green is the pumpkin born, green …The pumpkin flower has blossomed.Lots of pumpkin flowers have blossomed.Daughters, play slowly oh …Pluck them till your skirts are full.Pluck handfuls of flowers oh …Collect for all 10 brothers.Daughters, play slowly oh …”(Excerpt from a traditional song that Sushmita sings at the beginning of the film)
When you see the two together, you might think they are related, but in reality they just live in the same settlement.
Their families were driven out of the forest, where they lived as nomadic farmers. Today they live in a settlement consisting of square concrete huts, which the State put at their disposal. But right beside this settlement village is a gigantic garbage dump that stinks horribly and attracts flies and mosquitoes.
Selva works as a day labourer in a coconut plantation belonging to a landlord. Lakshmi and other villagers make brooms from the palm leaves and sell them at a nearby market. In principle, they wanted their own land, which they would be able to live from, or they would like permission to live in the woods again. They have been requesting land for many years – in vain.
Selva: “I had this dream. I dreamt that I was working on the coconut field, the landlord comes to me and tells me that he is leaving. He asks me to keep all his property, including the fields. He says, he will only take some herbs for the kids, and leaves everything else to me. Then suddenly I wake up.”
Lakshmi: “The police says they should be informed about whoever comes to the village. The police also says: “You may not know what’s right and what’s wrong.” “So consult us before any action and then do what we say is ok.” And what the police says should be followed.”
Biras farms rice fields together with his father. But they cannot harvest anything because consistent blasting operations in the quarries nearby have destroyed their fields. Dust and bits of stone fall on the earth and make it infertile and also pollute the water sources in the area.
“This is the land of our ancestors and we have been living here peacefully. Now, when the mines forcibly capture our land, we have to go elsewhere. When they don’t have the authority to take Adivasis’ lands, then why would we give it to them?”
Ghinnu is 62 years old. He used to have a small herd of cattle. He has been married for 50 years and says that in all this time, he has never had a fight with his wife. He calls her tenderly “my beauty”.
Thanks to a contribution from his uncle, he was able to get an education. He wants to pass along the knowledge he acquired through this privilege. The skills he gained enabled him to teach a deaf boy in his village how to read and write.
“They all thought that if I take up a job, I will take a second wife. But neither did I take a second wife nor did I take up a job. I decided to serve people. This has been my life so far.”
Ramesh Sharma, like Rajagopal, is one of the founders of the Ekta Parishad. He is responsible for the political strategies used with the government and politicians. During the March he handled negotiations with the government in Delhi and, through his participative way of conducting negotiation, achieved results that were far better than anyone’s’ wildest dreams.
“It is not really justified to say this is the thought of Gandhi and only Gandhi, this is the thought of Gandhi which was condensed through the speeches and the lifestyle of various philosophers from all across the world. Gandhi was inspired by so many people, so what he brings for the mankind, for the human beings, it’s a style of living, it’s a way of living, way of thinking, it’s a way of working, it’s a way of campaigning. So he gave a way of life, a way of performance so, rather than saying it’s a thought of Gandhi or “Gandhiism”, I prefer to say it’s a way of mankind.”
Jairam Ramesh belongs to the highest caste of the Brahmins and studied in the USA. He is a member of the Indian National Congress (INC) and has headed various ministries. Jairam Ramesh enjoys great respect, especially among the poor, also because he is considered not to be corrupt.
“I never have any problem with protest movements, because democracy is all about protest movements. In a society as diverse as India, you are bound to have people with different points of view.
So I had no problem with a hundred thousand people marching to Delhi, you know. But clearly it would have been an embarrassing situation for the government, that a hundred thousand people arguing for land rights, arguing for homestead rights…It would not have given the government a positive image, that we’re insensitive to the needs of the poor. And that’s why I was keen that we resolve this before they march to Delhi.”
What is happening in India is happening all over the world: in Brazil, in China, in Indonesia – a race is going on in the so-called emerging countries / threshold countries. All these countries want to catch up as much as they can with the rich countries of the world. They want to be attractive for investments and match up their growth rate with the world market. In this regard, no consideration can be taken in India for the traditions of the indigenous people or the untouchables. Capitalism in its present-day global character – without guardrails, without ethics, without religion – is heading for an apocalypse, all-consuming, without ideas for the future.This may be a drastic description, but its garish portrayal is reality for our protagonists Pankhi Bai, Ghinnu Kole, Sushmita, Selva, Lakshmi and Biras Topno. They represent the 100’000 people who are marching to Delhi, and, who in turn, represent hundreds of millions of landless persons as well as farmers and indigenous people who have been expelled from their land.
After a trip with his family through the southern part of Tamil Nadu, Christophe Schaub spent a few days in the Training and Cultural Interaction Centre CESCI of Ekta Parishad. He was very excited to meet the people there and discover their social and political work, as well as experience their thoughts and their deep conviction. That’s where he first learned about a gigantic march involving 100’000 people, which they were planning for the year 2012. A year later, the producer Franziska Reck encouraged him to proceed with the project.The idea of making a film with a specific political subject interested him, not a political film in the sense of agitation and propaganda, but rather a film dealing with politics. It became interesting for Christophe to make the resistance and fight of indigenous people and landless farmers visible – to show the methods of their resistance – as it would help understand non-violence better.But, due to technical problems, Christophe wasn’t able to come to India for the casting, preparation and shooting. In order to realise this film, the production had to find a director who would be capable of directing the filming in India. And they found him! Kamal Musale.
Kamal, an experienced director and cameraman, is Indian and Swiss, living in Mumbai for the last 7 years. He has been researching and filming different contemporaries issues in India, relating to gender equality, love marriage, and the social and economic situation of the poor in cities and in the countryside. He also likes to invest time and effort in humanitarian films. His deep exploration of the layers of Indian society demanded that he developed and create films – also with a fictional and entertaining approach – tackling these issues to show the important defects of the contemporary Indian society, as he could not disregard these realities while working in India. It made total sense, when he was approached to coproduce and direct this documentary, to include it in his line of work.If the collaboration with a remote co-director was not an obvious one, a common understanding and immediate respect of one another allowed these two directors to allow the emergence of this movie, which they both consider as an important one.
Jan Satyagraha means «March for Justice». The participants in the march, which begins in Gwalior and leads to the metropolis of Delhi 400 kilometres away, demand straightforwardly the right to existence and respect for their dignity as humans. The landless farmers and the indigenous people in the forests demand the right as hunters and gatherers to live in and from their forest.
The new laws guarantee the protection and the basis for the livelihood of the Adivasi. Among other things:
Six months after the end of the Jan Satyagraha…
One year after the end of the Jan Satyagraha…
For implementation nationwide and for enforcement down to the level of the communities, it is now necessary to maintain the pressure over the coming years, especially with regard to the regional elections this winter and the national election next autumn.
EKTA PARISHAD supports the protest march Jan Satyagraha. It is an organisation that acts– politically, organisationally and educationally – within the Indian field of tension between wealth and poverty, power and powerlessness. It seeks to change the conditions of the rural population.
Ekta Parishad is a non-violent popular movement. Its goal is that the poorest people of India regain their control over the resources that are most important for their survival, in particular LAND, FOREST and WATER. Ekta Parishad believes that the village community is the perfect basis for planting the seeds that will nourish unity and non-violence, which can achieve positive political, social and economic changes – to prevent migration into the misery of metropolitan slums.
Over the past years Ekta Parishad has grown immensely and is now made up of about 12‘000 volunteer activists and reaches some 80 million of the poorest people in India. RAJAGOPAL – the charismatic leader of this movement – is highly regarded in Indian society. Ekta Parishad is substantially supported financially by the progressive middle class in India, Europe and North America.
Not only the idea of a non-violent march is based on the philosophy of Gandhi, but also other important factors, such as equality of religions, of the sexes and of mankind (overcoming the caste system) and finally, the promotion of a modern state without corruption, despotism and caste thinking. In addition, the idea of villages taking care of themselves should be an ecological matter of fact. In the meantime there are very concrete solutions on the basis of these ideas, which Ekta Parishad is striving to achieve. The living conditions of the poor should be definitively improved, without party-political motivation.
Adivasi is the term used to designate India’s tribal population. The term is made up of the words adi = «original» and vasi = «inhabitants», thus literally «the original inhabitants».
Thus, in the first third of the 20th century arose the Hindi/Sanskrit expression «Adivasi», which was used among the educated and politically active members of the tribal people. In the meantime, the self-designation Adivasi has established itself independently of the various tribal names.
The Adivasi originally lived in many regions of the Indian subcontinent, as fishermen, wandering shepherds and farmers, hunters and gatherers. Between 2500 and 1500 B.C. pastoral tribes from western Central Asia took over the land and created the caste system that ostracised the indigenous people. Part of the Adivasi were subjected and integrated into the prevailing order at the lowest level as «casteless» or the so-called untouchables (referred to today as Harijan, Scheduled Castes or Dalit).
In the course of the Indo-European immigration, which lasted until 500 B.C., the Adivasi were forced to retreat into the surrounding forest and mountain areas.
The areas in which they now lived proved to be rich in resources. Tropical timber, natural resources and water resources were first exploited by the British and then released to national and international companies. Like this, over decades family groups of the Adivasi were forced out of their settlement areas. They were – and still are – unable to retain any of their original wealth.
Today 90 million of the Indian inhabitants belong to the indigenous tribal peoples. The Indian constitution recognises only 700 tribes («scheduled tribes»). They are not part of the Hindu caste system, but, in spite of existing legal protection, are socially strongly disadvantaged.
The term «land grabbing» comes from the English language and can be described, literally, as “usurping” the land or «snatching land». Government agents and private investors take over the land without paying for it. They utilize the land for large-scale extraction of its resources and for realisation of immense infrastructure projects.
Although «land grabbing» very often takes place within a legal framework, most of the time through contracts between investors and governments, the consequences are fatal and connected with violation of human rights: indigenous farmers are driven away, lose their land and thus lose the possibility of providing for themselves and their communities. The Indian government willingly agree to these deals, whether out of individual greed or because they believe wrongly that they are promoting development. Because of poorly defined land rights it is easy for them to close deals without even consulting with those who are affected.
The latest boom is «land grabbing» for agricultural purposes. Governmental players and private investors from industrial or emerging countries make agreements over arable land at ridiculously low prices in developing countries, where they then produce on a large-scale basis for export.
The charitable Swiss association CESCI exists since 1996. It supports the objectives of Ekta Parishad and its goal is to make the organisation known in Switzerland and to promote its interests there.
An important aspect of the association’s work is also ideological and financial support of the CESCI centre near Madurai in the south of India: a place for advanced education of the Ekta Parishad members and their followers.
The political and friendly connection of the leadership of the Ekta Parishad in Switzerland, especially of Rajagopal, greatly facilitated the organisation and logistic development of the film.
The public knows Christoph Schaub mainly as director of successful feature films, such as «Giulias Disappearance», «Happy New Year», «Jeune Homme» and «Sternenberg». In addition, the filmmaker from Zurich has also realised several documentary films about architectural and urban subjects. The most important, which also achieved international acclaim, «Bird’s Nest – Herzog & de Meuron in China», « Santiago Calatrava’s Travels» and «Il Girasole – una casa vicino a Verona».
Schaub’s film career began in 1981 in the Videoladen Zurich. His first films dealt with political matters and the Zurich Youth Movement. The most important films in this period of his work were ‚Keine Zeiten sich auszuruhn’ a film about the Zurich Youth Centre AJZ, “1 Lovesong” about the occupation of houses on Stauffacher and ‚Nachwuchs’, a portrait of the Teddy Scene in Zurich, portraying those who opposed the Youth Movement.
From 1996 till 2004 Schaub taught as guest lecturer at the Zurich University of the Arts in the Film & Video Department, as well as at the F+F Zurich. In addition he was co-founder of the cinemas Morgental (closed in 2002), RiffRaff and Bourbaki. Until today, he serves as President of the Board of Directors for these cinemas. Christoph Schaub is a member of the Swiss Film Academy and the European Film Academy (EFA).
The Swiss-Indian filmmaker Kamal Musale was born and grew up in Switzerland, studied directing and screenplay at the British National Film School, Beaconsfield.
His short film, The Three Soldiers, nominated in Cannes in 1989, already shows the bold and courageous side of Musale’s film world, which is reflected in the over 30 films that he has created until the day of today.
Characteristic for his diverse films is the use of various art forms, genres and cultures. From Japan’s Butoh dancers in Ai-Amour (Silver FIPA, 1995), the comedy Raclette Curry (1999) and up to Brazil’s traditional healers in Healers of the Unvisible Worlds (2001), Musale creates a humorous and poetic form of narration and opens up the mysterious and hidden sides of humanness.
As producer and as founder of many intercultural networks Kamal Musale has also succeeded in building bridges in the real world. (Swiss Indian und Euro India Film Bridge).
RECK Filmproductions was founded in 2000 by Franziska Reck and focuses mainly on the development and production of documentary and experimental film – especially film essays – for cinema and television.
RECK Filmproductions stands for – and features – interest in the lifestyles and the diverse forms in which people express themselves, as well as the fascination in images – whether documentary, staged or experimental in nature. In the centre of the search are human encounters, images depicting what happens when different cultures come together.
Franziska Reck’s guiding principles, also incorporate production and distribution, so that each film and each essay thus finds the best matching framework conditions for both production and distribution. Each film is one of a kind – unique, distinctive and unmistakable – and thus receives special, individual attention and treatment.
Franziska Reck has been actively involved in the world of film for twenty years, promoting independent filmmaking in Switzerland. Beginning as a film distributor at the Filmcoopi in Zurich (1983—1990), she continued building up the distribution and promotion of Swiss films as director of the IGV/CID (1993-2000) and as freelance film producer herself (since 1990).
In the last years, Franziska Reck was member of different selection committees (Festivals and Schools) and commissions. She is also member of the Swiss Film Academy, GARP and DOX.
Directors Christoph Schaub and Kamal Musale
Written by Christoph Schaub; assistant: Paolo Poloni
Producer Franziska Reck
Director of Photography Lorenz Merz, Kamal Musale
Sound Recording Balthasar Jucker, Manik Batra
Editing Marina WernliMusic Peter Bräker
Project Design Küde Meier
Assistant Director Nandita Dutta
Production Manager India Nupoor Kajbaje
Local Manager India Pravin Pagare
Line Producer CH Andrea Bürgi
Sound Designer Balthasar Jucker
Sound Mixer Felix Bussmann, SDS Bern
Narrator Robert Hunger-Bühler
Narrator English Phil Hayes
Colour Correction Ueli Nüesch, Lab54a
Title Design Brigae Haelg
Artwork Peter Volkart
With Pankhi Bai, Ghinnu Kole, Sushmita, Selva, Lakshmi,Biras Topno And Rajagopal P.V., Jairam Ramesh, Ramesh Sharma, DIRECTOR: CHristoph Schaub, Kamal Musale DIRECTOR OF PHOTOGRAPHY: Lorenz Meier Sound: Balthasar Jucker PRODUCER: Franziska Reck Editor: Marina Wernli MUSIC: Peter Bräker Project Design: Küde Meier A RECK Filmproduktion Zürich PRODUCTION, IN COOPERATION WITH Curry Western Mumbai AND SRF, SRG/SSR