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‘I have come to Delhi to speak for my people, demand some relief’

Thousands of farmers marched from Nizamuddin toward Ramlila Maidan on Thursday in preparation for Friday’s Kisan Mukti March in the Capital

November 30, 2018 02:09 am | Updated 02:09 am IST - NEW DELHI

A farmer from Andhra Pradesh at Ramlila Maidan in New Delhi on Thursday.

A farmer from Andhra Pradesh at Ramlila Maidan in New Delhi on Thursday.

When Cyclone Titli struck the coasts of Odisha and Andhra Pradesh on October 11, it left a huge disaster in its wake — deaths, flooding, landslips and more than ₹6,000 crore worth of damages.

For Apparao, an adivasi farmer in Srikakulam district of Andhra Pradesh where the storm made landfall, it wiped out his entire crop.

“I lost about ₹70,000 in the Titli toofan . I have no insurance or compensation,” said the farmer, who grows rice, cotton and cashew on his two-acre land. However, Apparao is not in Delhi to complain about his personal disaster.

Scale of disaster

As he marched from Nizamuddin toward Ramlila Maidan on Thursday along with thousands of other farmers in preparation for Friday’s Kisan Mukti March, he detailed the scale of the disaster that has overtaken adivasi farmers in his district.

“Over the last 10 years, I know of some 40 to 50 farmers who have died by suicide because of increasing loans. I have come to Delhi to speak for my people and demand some relief,” he said.

His daughter Sandhya, who marched alongside carrying the green flag of the Alliance for Sustainable and Holistic Agriculture, has just completed Class XII.

She would like to attend college but knows that her family cannot afford that right now, especially given the recent cyclone losses. There are some loans and jobs supposed to be available through the State tribal development corporation but like many adivasis in the district she is struggling to get the certificate that will enable her to benefit from the scheme.

As the marchers made a pit stop near Raj Ghat, volunteers from Nation for Farmers handed out water packets and sweet buns. Nineteen-year-old Evita Rodrigues is as old as Sandhya, but has had a very different life.

The Goa resident is a first-year student of political science and economics at Delhi’s premier St. Stephen’s College.

Mobilising students

“I had never met a marginalised farmer before today [on Thursday],” she confesses as she hands out buns.

Evita became active in mobilising students from her college over the last few weeks after she heard about the march.

“You realise that what the mainstream media tells you about loan waivers is not really the whole story. Sometimes, they seem to indicate that farmers are to blame for the crisis, but now I am hearing a different narrative,” she said, adding that her group had looked to draw in students who did not want to get involved in campus politics.

As the march surged into Ramlila Maidan, they set up camp under the vast shamianas.

For Jayachandran, a rice and sugar cane farmer from Tiruvallur, this is the first time he has been at rest since he got on the train in Tamil Nadu more than 48 hours ago.

“I am here to demand a fair price for my crops. Labour and fertiliser costs have gone up but crop prices are only going down,” he said, adding that he has not been able to pay off his ₹2 lakh loan for more than eight years now.

“The government cannot ignore us any more. We demand a solution,” said Jayachandran.

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