With photos, skulls and placards, thousands of farmers march to Parliament today
Ashwini’s father, D Ramesh, a cotton farmer, had committed suicide in 2003. Twelve years later, P Chandrayi, Ramiah’s father — also a cotton farmer —killed himself in 2015. Both the farmers died for the same reason—their inability to pay debts.
With many things in common among them, the two girls from Warangal district of Telangana held the photo frames of their late fathers in their hands as they marched inside Ramlila Maidan with a group of farmers on Thursday to take part in the ‘Kisan Mukti March’ — a two-day farmers’ protest to demand a three-week special session of the Parliament to discuss the agrarian crisis.
“We had taken a few acres of land on lease and we grew cotton on it. There was no profit and my father couldn’t pay back the landlord. He couldn’t bear the burden and killed self,” said Ashwini, who works as a labourer, in broken mix of Hindi and English.
Thousands of farmers, like Ashwini and Ramiah, both 20, from across the country are marching towards Delhi’s Ramlila Maidan to participate in a peaceful, yet emphatic, protest march on Thursday, a week after their counterparts staged a similar march in Maharashtra’s Mumbai.
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Many farmer leaders will address the gathering at the street next to iconic Jantar Mantar, once the site for dissent in central Delhi. Representatives from political parties will also give speeches in support of the two-day “Kisan Mukti March” demanding a 21-day special session of Parliament to discuss agrarian crisis.
Among leaders expected to attend include Delhi chief minister Arvind Kejriwal, NCP chief Sharad Pawar, National Conference leader Farooq Abdullah, Loktantrik Janata Dal’s Sharad Yadav, to name a few.
The farmers, in groups representing different organisations, started walking from five different locations entering the National Capital to be part of the march to press for their demands. Enroute, the marching farmers were provided with food and water by volunteers of different farmer organisations.
Ramabai, 45, who left home in Kolhapur, Maharashtra on Monday, reached Delhi on Thursday morning. She donned a red T-shirt of All India Kisan Sabha before joining the march at Shri Bala Sahib Gurudwara.
“There are 10 people in my house and the prices of rice, wheat and dal have shot up. It’s difficult to sustain the household,” said Ramabai, who works in the field of her landowner.
Organised under the banner of the All India Kisan Sangharsh Coordination Committee (AIKSCC), an umbrella body of about 200 farmer organisations from across the country, the march moved towards Parliament for a rally on Friday morning after halting for the night at Ramlila Ground.
Among the groups, a farmers’ delegation from southwest Delhi’s Bijwasan on Thursday was led by Yogendra Yadav, the president of Swaraj India and one of the working group members of AIKSCC. Yadav termed the protest as ‘one of the biggest marches’ of farmers in recent times. The biggest congregation, however, was of over a thousand farmers who walked from Sarai Kale Khan under AIKSCC’s banner reaching the ground at around 3.30pm.
A group of farmers from Tamil Nadu also arrived carrying skulls and bones to symbolise the suicides of their colleagues. The group threatened to go naked if they are not allowed to march to the Parliament on Friday.
“We are expecting a gathering of 35,000-40,000 people to march towards Parliament Street on Friday morning,” said Vijoo Krishnan, member of one of the many AIKSCC-affiliated bodies. In the night, food was served to the farmers at Ramlila Ground, where a cultural programme was also organised. Chief minister Arvind Kejriwal is expected to reach the venue on Friday.
Kiran Jangaiah, a 38-year-old farmer from Ranga Reddy district in Telangana, said, “I wanted to represent people like me in court so that our voices don’t get drowned.” The lake that used to sustain his farm, he added, has gone dry. To make ends meet, his mother Poshamma, works as a farm hand in other farms. Nearly 95 per cent of his district lies in the drought-hit Krishna river basin, which has been experiencing a severe drought.
The demands of the farmers is passing of two bills seeking ‘freedom from indebtedness’ and the ‘right to guaranteed remunerative minimum support price (MSP)’, which were introduced in the Lok Sabha in August this year. In 2004, the National Commission for Farmers headed by MS Swaminathan submitted five reports, which contain a draft of recommendations that safeguarded the interest of farmers. The formation of national and state disaster relief commissions that can declare a region or a crop as distress-affected, and provide necessary relief, is also a demand.
“The politicians are only interested in mandir and masjids. Our mandirs are our livestock and our crops,” said Rakesh Chaudhary, a farmer leader from Uttar Pradesh’s Bijnor district. “The new season of sugarcane farming has started and we are yet to get prices of previous crop,” he added.