Ramlila Maidan flooded as workers and farmers arrive for protest rally

New Delhi, 03/09/2018 : A view of the water filled  Ramlila Maidan, which is set to hold Rally by Various  organisations from across the country on the 5th September in New Delhi.  Photo by R V Moorthy / The Hindu

New Delhi, 03/09/2018 : A view of the water filled Ramlila Maidan, which is set to hold Rally by Various organisations from across the country on the 5th September in New Delhi. Photo by R V Moorthy / The Hindu

It is three days since midday meal worker Shaila Angadi left her home in Karnataka’s Bagalkot district to travel to the Capital to participate in Wednesday’s Mazdoor Kisan Sangharsh Rally, being organised by unions affiliated to the Communist Party of India (Marxist).

Arriving at the New Delhi railway station early on Monday morning, she and a group of 58 women workers were greeted by a deluge of rainfall, which has flooded the tents they were due to stay in at Ramlila Maidan.

“It is raining at home [Bagalkot] also, but not so badly,” she says, sitting on a bright yellow waterproof plastic sheet that organisers have spread over wooden planks in a bid to prevent the wet sand of the Maidan from seeping into the tent. “Our problems are much bigger than this rain; that is why we have come,” says Balsingh Andil, an Adivasi farmer from Chhattisgarh’s Surajpur district.

More rain forecast

Delhi’s late monsoon rainfall has flooded more than half of Ramlila Maidan, forcing the farmers and workers arriving for the rally to abandon 60% of their tent space. Most of the ground is a sea of mud, with large puddles of dirty water making it uninhabitable. The North Delhi Municipal Corporation has spread sand on parts of the Maidan in a bid to dry it out, but the weather forecast — predicting “light to moderate” rainfall over the next two days — is not entirely encouraging.

Organisers are scrambling to find alternative accommodation in train stations and gurudwaras. “We originally expected to house 80,000 people here in Ramlila,” says Manoj Kumar Sirswal, an All India Kisan Sabha (AIKS) coordinator working at the camp. “Now we will have to reduce it to 50,000 and squeeze them into the remaining space.” Scaffolding for more tents have been installed even in the waterlogged areas, in the hope that dryer weather will allow them to be used.

“We have asked those who came in from Maharashtra this morning to stay in the large halls at the railway station. Tonight, there is a special train coming with 5,000 people from Nashik, many of whom had participated in the Farmers Long March to Mumbai [in March], and they may also have to stay at the station for now,” said AIKS general secretary Hannan Mollah.

Big challenge

Overall, organisers now expect about two lakh people to arrive for the rally. Most of those coming early from Punjab and Haryana will be housed at three large gurudwaras, at Rakab Ganj Sahib, Sis Ganj Sahib and Bangla Sahib. Others from Delhi’s neighbouring States will only arrive in the early hours of Wednesday, removing the need for accommodation.

The big challenge will come on Thursday, when 30,000 people from Maharashtra, and an equal number from Bihar and Uttar Pradesh are expected to arrive. Even flood-hit Kerala is expected to send about 6,000 participants, says Mr. Sirswal.

This is Angadi’s first protest in Delhi, although she has been part of the Centre of Trade Union’s affiliate bodies ever since she began work in the midday meal scheme nine years ago. “Twelve years ago, midday meal workers got only ₹300 per month as salary. Today, we get ₹2,700, but only ₹750 comes from the Centre. The remainder is paid by the State,” she says. “We are demanding that we all get ₹18,000 as minimum wage.”

Govt’s failure

Andil has to recollect when he first participated in a protest rally in the Capital. “It was in 1985,” he says finally.

He is bitter about the government’s failure to keep its promises regarding minimum support prices and procurement, claiming that middlemen and brokers snatch the bulk of whatever the government pays. Apart from livelihood issues, he is protesting the authoritarianism of the rulers. “In the name of Naxalism, the forces have made it unsafe for Adivasi people to live normal lives,” he says. “If anyone raises a voice against the government, they say he is a Naxalite.”

He has not seen much positive change in the three decades he has been participating in such rallies, but that does not stop him from coming to the Capital through rain and flood. “Without struggle, there is no future at all,” he says.

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Printable version | May 18, 2022 3:38:20 am |