On the road

A growing mass of people are walking from Kanyakumari to New Delhi, covering at least 45 km per day, to raise the issue of anti-corruption in the country

For the last one month, 39 year-old Mujeeb Khan, has been leading a group of 10 youngsters, all 24 year-olds, and spent every night looking for a petrol pump to sleep in. The group is trekking its way from Kanyakumari to New Delhi to raise the issue of corruption in the country. "Petrol pumps have bathrooms, no?" he says.

Vivek Reddy (left), a member of Proud Indians with locals in Kerala

As he puts it, petrol pumps are luxury. Otherwise, the group sleeps in abandoned roadside shacks, footpaths, beaches, and on one occasion, in a downpour. Morning ablutions are a cumbersome process and everyone is always on the lookout for cheap, if not free, food.

Khan is one of the founding members of Proud Indians, a group that was formed when activist Anna Hazare's campaign against anti-corruption was much in the news. The group chose a 'padyatra' as the means to deliver a strong anti-corruption message because it believes that corruption is systemic and the only way to eradicate it is by making the society aware of its ills.

When Sunday MiD DAY spoke with Khan on January 25, the group, since it set out from Kanyakumari on December 18, had walked over 850 kilometres. They reached Hyderabad on January 23 and were recuperating in their houses, before they resumed their walk on January 27. "We start our walks at eight in the morning and try to make meaningful conversation with locals. Often, locals who know about us and are sympathetic to the cause join us. We rest here and there and usually stop walking at about 10.30 pm. But we start looking for a safe enough place to halt," he says.

While the group has on occasions encountered trouble -- they were twice picked up by policemen and put under police custody under suspicion that they may be up to mischief in Kerala -- often they were warmly received by locals. During the same Kerala leg, fishermen on learning of their mission, took the group home, fed them a sumptuous meal and gave them a hearty send off.

In the beginning, each member tried to live on Rs 32 a day, the figure that has been set by the Planning Commission to denote poverty line in India. Later, the group had to do away with the plan. "We walk by day, sleep on the footpath, have minimal requirements and yet we couldn't survive on Rs 32," says Khan. Each member reportedly spends about Rs 80 per day.

"Each one of us has learnt quite a bit from the trip so far. Much of India, at least the parts we have been through, is unhappy. Everywhere there is some dissent or protest. Many times, locals have been unhappy to see us and been suspicious of what we are doing in their neighbourhood. It's scary sometimes, but what do we do?" The group is trying to communicate with NGOs in areas they will soon visit, trying to build trust.

While the group now consists of seven youngsters, 12 more will join them as they approach Nagpur. Then, the group will travel nort h and reach Delhi by April 7.

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