“Sarkaar se beeja maange hai yaa jagah-jameen,” said Somari Devi (70), who started her journey three days ago from a village in Runi Saidpur in Bihar’s Sitamarhi district to reach Delhi’s Ramlila Maidan. She earns Rs 50 a day working on a farm. Devi is one of the thousands of farmers and workers who have reached the capital from various states for the worker-peasant rally, to be held from Parliament Street to Jantar Mantar Wednesday.
Also in attendance are those who participated in the Kisan Long March in Maharashtra in March this year, including Narendra Varade (22), Yogi Satpute (40) and Parshoram (71) from Peint in Nashik. “I work for seven hours daily on someone’s farm and earn Rs 10. After the Long March, we were promised land to survive, where is it?” asked Parshoram, who spent Rs 700 on a single train ticket — a sum he earns in close to three months.
The protest has been organised by the Centre of Indian Trade Unions (CITU), All India Kisan Sabha (AIKS) and All India Agriculture Workers Union (AIAWU) — affiliated to the CPM. “The wage issue unites peasants and workers. Farmers aren’t getting minimum support price and workers minimum wage. PM Modi had promised two crore jobs, where are they? If the government can’t change policies, peasants and workers will change the government,” said AIKS member Krishnaprasad.
Hemlata, president of CITU, said, “We demand effective implementation of labour laws, minimum wage, more employment, and recognition of one crore anganwadi and ASHA workers as a workforce.”
At the maidan, state-wise camps have been set up, along with a medical camp and a storage area for protest paraphernalia. While some queue up for a thaali comprising eight puris and aloo sabzi for Rs 25, others gather around a farmer who sings “kamaaye koi aur khaaye koi/ yeh seh naa sakenge.”
Meanwhile, a four-member team of the Delhi government’s Mobile Health Scheme gave painkillers, diarrhoea medicines, and pills for cold and fever to the protesters. “From 10 am to 5 pm, we have treated 699 people,” said Dr Vineet Kumar Sahu, a medical officer.
In the evening, Left leaders Sitaram Yechury, Brinda Karat and Prakash Karat met protesters. According to Hemlata, planning for the rally began five months ago: “The aim was to ‘reach the unreached’. We started with workshops by state-level leaders, then district-level workshops, and finally went to factories to talk about basic demands. We printed booklets on 31 issues, such as labour laws and minimum wage, in various languages, and distributed one crore pamphlets.”
Swaroop K Ravindran, a young farmer from Palakkad, Kerala, rode his bike to Delhi, meeting farmers in Tamil Nadu, Telangana and Madhya Pradesh along the way. “I was inspired by the Long March,” he said.
ASHA worker Neha Chandravanshi (36) took a van, a bus, a train and an auto to reach the city from Gopalganj in MP. “I earn Rs 1,000 a month… it should be raised to Rs 18,000 a month… we should be made permanent,” she said.