Rajagopal PV, the son of a Gandhian worker, studied agriculture at Seva Gram in Wardha. In the early 70s he worked in the violence-ridden area of Chambal (Madhya Pradesh) helping to rehabilitate dacoits. In the years that followed, Rajagopal travelled to several tribal areas and developed an understanding of plight and needs of India`s tribal people. Their cause became part of his lifetime mission. After setting up a number of training organizations across Madhya Pradesh, Bihar and Orissa, the subsequent mobilization led to the consolidation of a people`s organization, namely, Ekta Parishad in 1991. This organization is focused on people`s control over livelihood resources in an environment where land is being grabbed, and where forest rights are not being implemented. This is making the Gandhina vision of the advancement of self-reliant communities and local governance, more challenging.
After consolidating a membership of 200,000 people (majority women) across 6 states, Rajagopal began using the Gandhian technique of foot-march to galvanize greater support among the poor. With a track record of 10 state level foot-marches, he led a national march to Delhi in October 2007. 25,000 people marched 340 kilometers from Gwalior to Delhi and compelled the Government to take action and land reforms and forest rights.
With the continued and accelerated industrialization in the country, the need to organize people for maintaining a democratic governance has become a main activity of Ekta Parishad. The plan is to have another march on Delhi, Jansatyagraha 2012 which will involving 100,000 persons. The planning and carrying-out of the footmarch will be done by 6'000 leaders across 25 states.
Rajagopal talks about his unique experience in Ekta Parishad and what it means for him today.
"Ekta Parishad is a people's movement and it is made up of people I met in villages over thirty or more years. From people at the grassroots, I have received a great deal of affection and support which has given me the resolve to work on issues related to their life and livelihood. I have always felt that I am only an instrument of their social change and that through a process of exercising their rights and practicing non-violence in groups, that they could be liberated from many of the strictures imposed by poverty, conflict and exploitation. I have also had the lifelong experience of working on training young people. Unlike other NGO leaders, I wanted to work with rural youth and help them to go back to their villages and work to make social change. With some I was able to influence their actions; with others I did not have much success. In any case I was able to bring together Gandhian values with empowerment processes and give a large number of people a way to carry out social change. In the process we created a social movement, which provides people the space to act alternatively.
Through Ekta Parishad's work, I was also privileged to work with many solidarity groups and individuals outside of India. Maja Koene who helped me to set up the Swiss–funded organization, the CESCI foundation, the many friends in Europe, that worked tirelessly to form Ekta Europe, a large support group made up of many friends and solidarity organizations in eight states of Europe; the Quakers who worked on the formation of a peace alliance in South Asia, namely SAPA; to name a few.