Durgam Chinna’s life turned upside down last October, when her 40-year old husband Venkatayya was found dead in his cotton fields in the village of Ankushapur, in the Jayashankar district of Telengana. Faced with mounting debts which had touched ₹8 lakh, the tenant farmer consumed pesticide.
For his widow and three children, his death was just the beginning of the nightmare — thrown off the land Venkatayya had leased, they were forced work as daily wage labour to survive.
One year later, 38-year old Ms. Chinna got a framed portrait of her late husband and boarded the train for Delhi, determined to tell her tale and fight for her rights in the capital.
“We owned only one acre of land, which I sold for my elder daughter’s marriage. What will my younger girl do? God only knows,” she said, waving a green flag and holding onto her husband’s photograph as she marched.
She is one among the thousands of farmers who have assembled in the national capital’s Ramlila grounds on Thursday evening; the farmers have converged from five different directions in preparation for Friday’s Kisan Mukti March to Parliament Street under the banner of the All India Kisan Sangharsh Coordination Committee. They are demanding that the government pass legislation guaranteeing loan waivers and remunerative prices for their crops.
The Delhi Police are yet to give permission for Friday’s march, citing guidelines that only allow 1,000 people to protest at the Parliament Street venue. However, farmer leaders insist the march will go ahead. A final meeting with the police is scheduled for Thursday night.
The last major farmers’ rally in the capital, organised by the Bhartiya Kisan Union on Gandhi Jayanti resulted in violent clashes with the police.
On Friday, politicians from various opposition parties are expected to address the farmers and assure them of their support. The list of confirmed speakers includes Nationalist Congress Party leader and former Agriculture Minister Sharad Pawar, Trinamool Congress’ Dinesh Trivedi, Rashtriya Janata Dal’s Jaiprakash Yadav, Loktantrik Janata Dal’s Sharad Yadav, Communist Part of India’s D. Raja, Communist Party of India (Marxist)’s Sitaram Yechury and Jammu and Kashmir National Conference’s Farooq Abdullah.
“Congress has promised to send a representative, but have not yet given any name,” said Hannan Mollah, general secretary of the CPI-M affiliated All India Kisan Sabha, which is a major participant in the alliance organising the march. The main opposition party’s president Rahul Gandhi is not expected to attend, as he is not in the capital tomorrow.
No response from govt.
Apart from Left leaders, no political party has issued statements or tweets in support of the marching farmers yet, despite the agrarian crisis taking centre stage in the ongoing State elections. The ruling NDA government has also failed to engage with the farmers or respond to a letter sent to the Prime Minister regarding their main demands.
Despite the demands for legislative changes, Mr. Mollah says the focus is more on elections than policy changes for now. “Over the last two years, we have brought agriculture onto the national agenda; now it must become the top point of the election agenda. Farmers’ issues, not masjid-mandir, must dominate the poll scenario,” he said.
Abishek Devdar, who grows corn, cotton and soyabean on three bighas of land in Jawar district of Madhya Pradesh headed to Delhi immediately after voting in his State’s elections on Wednesday. “We are not getting fair prices even while our costs keep going up. Everyone has some amount of loan that never gets repaid. The people are angry with the BJP and they will be pushed out [in the State] after 15 years,” he predicted.