Even after a three-day-long strenuous journey to Delhi from her village in Chhattisgarh’s Surguja district, Archana Baikra (18) couldn’t sleep a wink last night. “How could I? Today is the most important day of my life… I am here to tell the PM of the problems we farmers are facing. If the government won’t help us, who will?” she said.
A speck in the sea of red that swept the city Wednesday morning, Baikra summed up the mood of Mazdoor-Kisaan Sangharsh Rally that saw thousands from across the country. From sugarcane farmers of Haryana and Punjab and coconut farmers of Kerala to men and women who till the land for wages — all roads led to Parliament Street.
On stage were members of three groups that organised the rally — Centre of Indian Trade Unions (CITU), All India Kisan Sabha (AIKS) and All India Agriculture Workers Union (AIAWU), affiliated to the CPM. “Is Ram Mandir the real problem? Is gau raksha the main issue? Is becoming a Hindu Rashtra our main concern? No, it’s getting minimum wages for workers and minimum support price (MSP) for farmers,” said Krishnaprasad of AIKS.
The next step is a 100-km Kisan Long March from November 28-30 that will commence in Delhi, similar to the one in Maharashtra in March.
The Indian Express spoke to around 50 people at the rally to understand what brought them here.
Implementation of MSP, Dr Swaminathan report
From Haibatpur village in Punjab’s Mohali came a group of farmers, including Shyamlal (66), who grow
rice, maize and wheat. He said, “The BJP’s 2014 manifesto said the Swaminathan report submitted in 2006 will be implemented. But there’s no sign of it… it was only jumla.” A banana and coconut farmer Kerala’s Kasaragod, P Vasu (53), said, “We are 12 years late in implementing the report, it’s causing distress to farmers.” The other key demand was MSP. As per the Commission, MSP for crops should be “at least 50% more than the weighted average cost of production”.
Aabe Ram (71) from Kaithal in Haryana, who grows sugarcane, millet and maize, said, “I sell my produce in the mandi, but have never got MSP… it’s worse for smaller farmers who have taken loans and end up selling their produce at even cheaper rates to middlemen. If MSP is implemented, there will be no place for middlemen.”
Vaijyanti Devi (30) from Jehanabad in Bihar, Pandit Gangorde (47) from Kalwan in Nashik, Ram Bali Manjhi, a Dalit agricultural worker from a small village in Bihar, and Rajkumar from a village in Patiala earn Rs 150 a day as agricultural labourers. “We work in the fields for 10 hours daily, and earn nothing… I should either be paid decent wages or be given a piece of land so I can grow enough for my family of five,” said Gangorde.
Also in the crowd was a Greater Noida-based lawyer and farmer Rupesh Verma (38), who pressed for higher compensation for those giving up land for Jewar airport.
From Ajmer Singh (58), a farmer from Haryana’s Kaithal with a loan of Rs 20 lakh, to Sangeeta Devi (23), who hails from Bihar’s Jehanabad and has a loan of Rs 20,000 — the demand for loan waivers was clear. While Singh asked for the “interest rates to be waived and loan concessions”, Devi hoped to meet a “leader” who would “remove the loan altogether as the land is too small and earnings too little”.
As leaders spoke about the price hike of petrol, diesel and fertilisers, Mohali farmer Shyamlal said, “I can either afford diesel for tractors and water pumps or pay labourers… Recently, I had to lay off some workers.”
Scenes from the rally
Chirang to Delhi: A yearly affair
Pujari Basumatary (58), an anganwadi worker employed at Assam’s Chirang district since 1988, said coming to Delhi to demand higher wages for workers like her has become a yearly ritual. In fact, this is her 18th time at a demonstration in the capital, she said.
Translator from Tamil Nadu
Saran (14) accompanied his grandparents to Delhi from Tamil Nadu’s Theni district for two reasons — to demand loan discounts for farmers, as well as to translate. “I am here with 23 relatives, and only I know English. I am their translator… I read road signs, I tell them what is being said on stage,” said Saran, as his grandparents hovered around him for a translation of the conversation.
Parallel cause: The NRC list
While Abul Qasim Sarkar (67), a retired teacher and farmer, came to Delhi from Assam to demand that MSP be implemented, he also wanted to protest against the NRC list. “The urgent issue is grievances of farmers, effective labour laws… not preparing lists to define who’s Indian and who’s not. I hope to spread some awareness about that,” he said.
Taking the train, no matter the cost
Naumi (31), an Asha worker and a mother of three, came from Dindori tehsil of Madhya Pradesh — mortgaging her anklets to pay for her train ticket. She said she earns Rs 600 a month, and is paid Rs 300 for the delivery of every child. “But this is not enough, I have to make ends meet by working as a labourer. I have not even been paid since January this year. We want the government to pay us a minimum wage,” she said.