Farmers, workers’ ‘historic’ rally against Centre from Ramlila Maidan to Parliament Street

The Mazdoor Kisan Sangharsh rally will begin from Ramlila Maidan go up to Parliament Street.   | Photo Credit: PRISCILLA JEBARAJ

Young farmer Swaroop Kunnampully and his troupe of friends left Palakkad, Kerala, a week ago, and have biked their way through 2,500 km of southern and central Indian roads to make it to Delhi on Tuesday morning.

Tribal farmer Rajaram Kakdu Bhangre boarded a special chartered train from Nashik, Maharashtra, which reached the Capital late on Monday night. Anganwadi worker Manjula Patel took a three-day train journey from Bagalkot, Karnataka.

On Wednesday morning, they will join farmers, workers and agricultural labourers from across the country for the last few kilometres of their journey, walking from Ramlila Maidan to Parliament Street for a Mazdoor Kisan Sangharsh Rally organised by unions affiliated to the CPI(M). Other unions of white collar workers are also expected to join in.

Their main demands are debt waivers for poor farmers and an implementation of the Swaminathan Commission’s recommendations for a more comprehensive minimum support price (MSP) for crops; a minimum wage of at least ₹18,000 per month and an end to anti-worker labour law reform; and universal social security, food security, pensions, health, housing and education benefits for all.

Organisers expect at least two lakh people to participate in the rally, which is being touted as a “historic” coming together of farmers and workers. “Tomorrow [Wednesday]’s agitation is significant because for the first time you have worker and peasant unity in action,” CPI(M) general-secretary Sitaram Yechury said.

Common concerns

“We have common concerns and a common enemy...Together, we are protesting the government’s anti-worker, anti-people and anti-national policies,” All India Kisan Sabha general-secretary Hannan Mollah told reporters at Ramlila Maidan — the campsite for protesters.

The overlap between farmers and workers’ issues can be seen in the lived experience of many of the protesters streaming into the camp. Patel is an anganwadi worker, but belongs to a farming family. “I earn ₹8,000 per month, but we are demanding a minimum wage of ₹18,000 for all,” she says. “I want my children to study, to have the chance of becoming doctors or civil servants. Farming cannot provide sufficient income to give them an education.”

Similarly, Bhangre, an Adivasi farmer, is forced to sell his labour in the city for four months of the year in order to earn any income due to the failure of the Forest Rights Act to give him a land ownership title. “No one in my village has debts, because no one is even willing to give us a loan without land rights,” he says. “Neither is MSP of any use to me; the government does not procure my rice, so I must sell to a middleman or broker at not more than ₹10/kg.” The MSP for paddy this year is ₹17.50 per kg.

He participated in the ‘Kisan Long March’ from Nashik to Mumbai in March, in many ways a precursor to the Delhi rally. “The [Maharashtra] Chief Minister assured us that our demands would be fulfilled within six months but nothing has changed, so we have come to make our demands at the Centre,” he added.

Kunnampully was also inspired by the ‘Long March’, and his motorbike troupe — including farmers, an electrician and an auto driver — chose to ride through nine States to see the plight of farmers in other parts of the country for themselves. “We have realised that Kerala farmers are actually very lucky. We get a lot of subsidies, our rice is bought by the government at a rate of ₹24 per kg. We hope that by bringing together people from all over, the government will be pressured to act on our demands,” he said.

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Printable version | Sep 14, 2021 9:29:46 PM |

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