From landless farmers to agricultural labourers, Friday saw thousands marching from Ramlila Maidan to Parliament Street. Their complaints ranged from diesel hike and high debt to lack of compensation after crop damage and no access to land. Divided by backgrounds and cultures, they still spoke in one language — loud enough to get their voices heard.
Aranjit Kumar( 49) Muzaffarpur, Bihar
Early last year, the paddy and wheat farmer was confident of being able to pay back money he had borrowed from a local moneylender to buy fertilisers and seeds. His hope diminished when the area didn’t receive sufficient rain, ruining a “big chunk of his crop” and putting him under a heavier debt. “I didn’t get any compensation for the crop that was ruined… it didn’t rain, it wasn’t under my control. It’s a vicious circle, I had to borrow money this year as well. The government must consider our well being and compensate us,” said Kumar.
P Sreenivas (47) Polavaram, Andhra Pradesh
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A regular at farmer protests across the country, this is Sreenivas’ second trip to Delhi in the last four months, along with 200 other farmers from his region. “The price we get for selling our produce in the market is very poor… how are farmers and agricultural labourers expected to run their families considering the cost of living has increased manifold. Just give us what we want, and we will leave you alone,” he said.
Satyam Nayak (22) Dahod, Gujarat
The untimely rains in Dahod district nine days ago and the fear of crop damage didn’t deter Nayak to travel to Delhi to demand that he be repatriated with his one-acre land. “The forest department has taken away land that was being cultivated for three generations… how is it suddenly not ours? We have some land but it’s not enough… This year, monsoon was very poor and now it’s rained and our crop will get ruined. Who is thinking about our welfare?” he asked.
Nikumbh (14) Nandurbar, Maharashtra
Dressed in a traditional headdress made of peacock feathers and a belt of ghunghroos around his waist, the government school student travelled to Delhi with his three 16-year-old friends and a social worker, to represent his farmer parents. “My father tells me we are not in debt but he’s always upset about the poor prices he gets in the mandi. We grow jowar, maize, gram and urad… I will take over farming full-time in a few years, and change has to happen for us too,” he said, adding that the headdress and the belt are worn by the community during Holi. The children travelled from Nandurbar to Indore via bus, and then a train to Delhi, with social worker Siyaram (40), who teaches at their school. “Their parents couldn’t be here because who will take care of their younger siblings and the house?” he said.
Attar Singh (75) Amroha, UP
“Kisan ganna paida karta hai, phir bhi bhookha marta hai,” said Singh, as he chewed moongfuli next to the stage minutes before Rahul Gandhi came to speak. Wrapped in a shawl, Singh and his neighbour Vikram Singh (70) said they get Rs 150/quintal for their sugarcane produce. As Rahul began talking, they hooted every few seconds. “We’ve come before too but no political party leaders would show up. Today, both Arvind Kejriwal and Rahul Gandhi are here… sukoon mila, safar safal raha,” said Vikram.
Sakharam Jadhav (58) Raigad, Maharashtra
A member of the tribal community, he travelled to Delhi from Kolad village. A landless farmer, Jadhav was alloted 3.5 acres land by the government. But till date, he has not been able to cultivate his land which, he claims, remains captured by a local strongman. He was one of the faces at the march till Mumbai’s Azad Maidan earlier this year. On Friday, he carried documents to establish his claim and readily made them available to anyone who would listen.
Vir Singh (50) Aligarh, Uttar Pradesh
A resident of Aligarh, Singh owns 2.5 bighas of land, where he grows rice and wheat, both water intensive crops. He has to repay a loan of Rs 2.9 lakh, which he took in October 2017, but successive crop failures due to paucity of water escalated his plight. A father of four sons and two daughters, Singh said he has repeatedly complained to the local junior engineer to find a permanent solution to the issue of transformers getting burnt every two months, but to no avail. On Wednesday, his youngest son left home for Delhi in search of employment. The family has not heard from him since.
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