Camping out at Ramlila Maidan, farmers from across the country hope their prayers will be answered when they march to Parliament tomorrow.
“Bhagwan ka sauda karta hain, insaan ki kimat kya jaane? Jo dhaan ki kimat de na saka, wo jaan ki kimaat kya jaane?”
Under the colourful shamiana, filled with placards and vibrant flags, countless distressed farmers swarmed in from all the parts of the country, hoping to be heard. Pouring in by the hundreds every minute, Ramlila Maidan has come alive with farmers demanding the redressal of their agrarian crisis.
Tired of empty promises from the government, they’re ready to brave the cold and spend the night at the camp. Travelling over two nights from the remotest villages, they don’t care about food or rest—all they demand is for their grievances to be heard and for concrete steps to be taken in their favour. While some are trying to catch some sleep, others sit patiently on dusty carpets, wrapped in blankets, waiting for the big day.
Under the united banner of the All India Kisan Sangharsh Coordination Committee (AIKSCC), the farmers will be marching to the Parliament on Friday, November 30, with demands for better minimum support price (MSP), debt relief, remunerative prices for their produce and a one-time unconditional loan waiver.
The ground also saw several young people from the students’ wings of communist parties pouring in from various universities, including Delhi University, Ambedkar University and Jamia Millia Islamia.
Since this afternoon, the shamiana has been brimming with stories—stories unheard, stories of endless struggle. Shanti Devi, 72, hailing from Mohanpur in Gaya, Bihar, sits amid the crowd, watching the ongoing preparation for the march. Farming runs deep in her family and has been the sole source of income for three generations now.
Devi is fighting to save the legacy of three generations of her family—the 19 acres of land the family procured earlier. The land now comes under the forest authorities. Since the Scheduled Tribes and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Forest Rights) Act was passed in 2006 when the UPA was in power, Devi has taken up the fight against the authorities to regain her land. She has been protesting for quite some time now, beginning with Mohanpur, and then moving to Patna, Gaya (Bihar) and now Delhi, her current stage.
With a family of seven children (six daughters and one son), Devi has struggled throughout her life to get a better price for the crop she sells. Over the years she has cultivated paddy, wheat, potato, onions and beans, but not once has she produced the right price as per the MSP. Today, she barely has water to drink at home let alone for the crops. She alleges that the local leader in the village doesn’t let her take water to drink from the canal in the village.
“My father-in-law and mother-in-law are dead now. It was their land. Where will my children and I go now?” asks Devi. She has been demanding the widow’s pension since 2013, and neither the Mukhiya or the Panchayat Sevak of the village has paid any heed to her demands. Before every election, when campainging politicians land up at her doorstep, she tells them she needs the pension. “Woh kehta hai vote dedo aur humein le jaata hain fusla ke aur hum de dena padha (They say to me to give the vote and try to manipulate me. Then I had to give the vote to them),” says Devi.
Tearing up, Devi says she never manages to get new stationery for her grandchildren who go to school. Quite innocently, she asks: “If the women farmers go and meet the government, wouldn’t they listen to us?” She believes women leaders in the government will listen to women farmers because “gents log toh thagta hain (The men always con us).”
She adds: “Aaj pet bhunka hain toh yeha tak aaya na. Agar pet bhara rehta toh itni door aata kya (Had it not been for the empty stomach, would we have come this far)?”
When Devi goes off to sell her crops, she gets no more than ₹1,000 per quintal. Her son, who’s a mason and does other labour work along with his wife, are the other contributors to the family. She adds that the disputed land which belongs to her is under the radar of the authorities because they allege that she had cut down trees and bushes to build her home. However, Devi denies the allegations and says she’s ready for any investigation. According to her, the authorities have said she can claim just 0.3 acres of land, which she believes is completely unjustified. She’s tired of the numerous meetings she has attended to regain her land, and jokes that all the concerned officers in the meeting put “thethi” (earphones) in their ears when the meeting starts.
After travelling for 14 hours by train, Devi reached the Ramlila Ground in Delhi with one wish: “Hope they will listen this time. They should listen this time. I have hopes from the women leaders in the government.”
Sushil Kumar Shukla (47) from Unnao, Uttar Pradesh, shares Devi’s feelings. He says many governments have promised the betterment of farmers, but these promises are forgotten once the elections are over. “The government workers get salary hikes from time to time. Those who were earning ₹10,000, two decades ago are now earning ₹50,000. But for the farmers, nothing has changed. We are still in the same condition as we were.”
Shukla says during the 2014 general elections, Narendra Modi had promised to waive ₹1 lakh from the debt of each farmer. “He won but didn’t do anything. Then Yogi’s government came in UP, they promised the same thing. They did, but the amount which was deducted ranges between ₹15-100. They also didn’t announce that only those who have taken the credit amount through Kisan Credit Card will benefit from the loan waiver promise.”
Shukla says farmers in his district do not wish to get their loans waived, but just want the Swaminathan Commission recommendations to be regulated. “Farmers are the provider of food for the entire nation. Farmers are God.” Shukla does not want to bow down to leaders every time.
He also brings up the mid-day meal scheme in his district. Shukla says he doesn’t want mid-day meals for his children, but better education. “It’s winter now. Female teachers will have their hands filled with wool and male teachers with cell phones,” he quips. “My son goes to the school with a bowl in his bag, thinking what will be served today—dal or vegetables. He comes back after eating that. What are they thinking exactly? Is that why we send them to school?”
Shukla says the state government promised that the rice crop will be bought at the rate of ₹1,750, per quintal. However, he alleges that the price hasn’t gone up to more than ₹1,300. “Do they know or we know the cost we bore?” he asks. “How will we continue living like this? If they really want us to die, then they should just say it once and all of us farmers will commit suicide. That will put an end to this,” he says, much to the cheer and applause of his fellow protestors.
Hemlal, 34, from Bijnor, Uttar Pradesh, is another farmer who is here to present his demands to the government. Just like other farmers, he too is here to push the key recommendation which the Swaminathan Commission report suggests. “We want the government to waive all the loans of the farmers across the country. The rate should be given according to the Swaminathan Commission report only.”
Hemlal cultivates rice, wheat and green vegetables like bhindi and tomatoes. He says these vegetables do not make the list set by the government to provide the MSP. “There were times when I’ve sold these vegetables for as low as ₹1 per kg,” he says.
Hemlal says that until the two bills which the farmers want to be assessed by the government are passed, the farmers will not trust any political party in the country. The two bills, prepared by the AIKSCC, are for freedom from indebtedness and to be paid a better MSP—the Farmers’ Freedom from Indebtedness Bill, 2018 and the Farmers’ Right to Guaranteed Remunerative Minimum Support Prices For Agricultural Commodities Bill, 2018.
Shukla says, “Any MP or MLA who has visited our village has not talked about the issues we are raising today.” Hemlal adds, “Pehle Kisan Kisan karte the aur ab kisi ko nahi padhi hain. Jo chunaav jeet jaata hai na woh aata hai aur na woh jo haarta hain (Earlier they used to call out Kisan Kisan and now they don’t care. Those who win elections don’t come and neither those who lose).”
Hemlal says with the 2019 general elections around the corner, the farmers are angry. “If these two bills are not passed and the report is not followed and the MSP is not set at C2 (comprehensive cost), then no MLA or MP from the ruling or opposition party will gain entry into our village, at least,” he says.
Jai Ram Gamit is the leader of the Adivasi Ekta Vikas Andalan in Surat. He says diesel prices are skyrocketing, but nothing changes when it comes to crop prices. “When Modi was campaigning for the state elections, he had promised to even get behind bars fighting for our cause. Now that he has all the powers, he doesn’t even bother to address us.” Clearly agitated, Gamit is sure about one thing—no one from Tapi is voting for the BJP.
Gurinder Singh, 55, another farmer from Pilibhit, UP, talks about another boiling issue—the pollution in the capital. He says the government has also put all the blame for Delhi’s pollution on the farmers. “Pilibhit ka dhuan dilli mein aa gaya aur Punjab ka dhuan China mein pohoch gaya,” says Singh. “The farmer’s rice gets sold for ₹1,300. On top of that, pollution is also his responsibility. Why don’t they do some part and help us with taking the useless layer of crop?”
The farmers all agree on one thing: “Iss bar batwara nahi karenge”. This time, they won’t let religion and caste differences stand in their way for unity.
While rumour has it that only 1,000 representatives will be allowed to march to Parliament, the protestors who have travelled thousands of miles hope they they will all be marching together.