On a patch of grass next to a road full of thousands, sat five women on a torn bedsheet, drinking water from a 250-ml disposable packet. The five were part of a group of 11 women who have travelled from Sidhi district in Rewa Division of Madhya Pradesh, as part of the farmer rally that was to culminate in the capital.
“Our journey began on September 21 when we travelled to Haridwar, where the protest started. We have been on the road since then to demand loan waiver and regularisation of electricity prices,” said 45-year-old Saroj from Madhya Pradesh.
Saroj also talked about the challenges of being a farmer in this day and age. “My entire family’s income is dependent on paddy production on 25 hectares of land. But due to droughts, we have had to take heavy loans. I have four sons and a daughter. All of them have discontinued their education after school because we cannot even afford electricity and fuel anymore… the government doesn’t understand our situation,” she said.
“I am tired and fatigued… but I will not give up my quest. I will continue this protest,” said Saroj.
Like Saroj, many women have left behind small children and husbands at home. One of them was Vidyawati from Sarojini Nagar, Lucknow, who has been on the road for 12 days now, demanding pension for farmers and payment for sugarcane.
“I have three young sons whose education and livelihood depend on the farm my husband works in. We grow quintals of sugarcane and give it to mills. But we have not been given payments… as a last resort we have come here,” said the 40-year-old.
As negotiations went back and forth between leaders of the movement and authorities, a one-year-old slept peacefully in the arms of her mother, who had come from Saharanpur. Maya Devi (32) said, “My husband is a farm labourer. The farm produce is not purchased at the price mentioned by the government. I have come here to demand not just money, but a house and reasonable living.”
With the crowds inching closer to makeshift food stalls to find a meal, 27-year-old Malti Devi stood with a plate of puri at a distance, recalling how she is yet to receive widow pension after her husband’s death three years ago. “With no payment, they are in debt of lakhs. I have not received any pension as promised. My daughters will suffer because of the apathy,” she said.
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