March to Mumbai: Maharashtra farmers brave injuries, heat for kids as Sena, MNS back them
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March to Mumbai: Maharashtra farmers brave injuries, heat for kids as Sena, MNS back them

The march reached outskirts of Mumbai on Saturday

mumbai Updated: Mar 11, 2018 01:12 IST
Sagar Pillai
Sagar Pillai
Hindustan Times
Farmers march towards Thane on Saturday. (PTI Photo)

Shankar Gavit, 74, had swollen feet and bruises on his legs. He has been popping painkillers for the past three nights. When asked about his injuries, Gavit gave a nonchalant shrug. “This pain is much better than the threat to my livelihood. If we don’t do this (participate in the farmers’ agitation), our next generation will suffer like us. Our income is barely Rs5,000 to Rs6,000 a month which is not enough to make both ends meet.”

Gavit is among 15,000-20,000 odd farmers and farm labourers from north Maharashtra who have braved scorching heat and injuries to seek attention of the government towards their demands. Among major demands of farmers is transfer of forest land they have been tilling for long, implementation of the Swaminathan Commission report and widening the scope of the farm loan waiver and compensation for crop damages.

The farmers started from Nashik on March 6, have travelled more than 100km and will cover another 60-70 km to reach Mumbai on Sunday.

Farmers joined the protest after the Akhil Bhartiya Kisan Sabha (ABKS), the Maharashtra unit of the farmers’ outfit, called for the 190-km march from Nashik to Mumbai to block access to the state legislature building from Monday till their demands are met.

On Friday evening, the farmers reached Valkas village near Shahapur, some 50km from Mumbai. The farmers have divided themselves into groups of 100 to 500 with vehicles carrying grains, rice and utensils. They are supposed to cook their food. A significant number of participants are members of the Left-wing ABKS. Most of them don the red Nehru caps and carry red flags with the hammer-and-sickle printed on them.

Friday was the fourth day of the march. After reaching Valkas, they bathed in the Bhatsa river and gathered for dinner. It was followed by traditional songs and some even gyrated to folk music, which, to some extent, helped them overcome their fatigue.

Jijabai Gaikwad, 75, from Dindori in Nashik, danced for a while despite being enervated. “I don’t care about my health. If I do not participate in this march, the next generation won’t get what they deserve,” she says.

According to the Forest Act 2006, tribals are entitled to get at least 10 acres, regardless of the amount of land they have been cultivating. Most of the farmers said they were yet to get 10 acres.

They alleged that government possession of forest land has turned them into farm labourers. The tiring day ended at 11pm -11.30pm as the farmers slept in the open — with a bedsheet brought from home. It was breezy near the river, but mosquitoes troubled many of them.

The farmers woke up by 4am-5am and resumed their 23-km march towards Sonale near Bhiwandi. They skipped their breakfast to cover the distance on the fifth day. Jairam Pawar, one of the farmers, said, “We stop twice for lunch and dinner. We don’t drink tea because we consider it as a luxury.”

A young group was motivating farmers by shouting slogans such as ‘It is just a kilometre away’. But the heat dragged down their pace. After four-five hours, the march threaded to Sonale ground where they had their lunch, followed by the afternoon siesta. Energised, they resumed their journey for the next halt at Anand Nagar in Thane before their final destination,Vidhan Bhavan, on Monday.

MNS, Shiv Sena rally behind farmers

Even as the agitating farmers reached the outskirts of Mumbai on Saturday, the Shiv Sena and Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS) have backed the protest. The farmers, who started from Nashik on Tuesday, are camping at Mulund Octroi Naka after crossing Bhiwandi in Thane.

They have covered almost 140km and will reach Somaiya Ground on Sunday before resuming the last leg to Vidhan Bhavan on Monday.

MNS chief Raj Thackeray spoke to Ajit Nawale, state general secretary of ABKS, on Saturday. Thackeray said his party will support the farmers when they reach Mumbai. He may meet the protesters.

On the other hand, Shiv Sena leader and public works (MSRDC) minister Eknath Shinde met the farmers at Shahpur on Friday and promised that his party will support them.

Nawale said Shinde extended his party’s support on behalf of its chief Uddhav Thackeray.

First Published: Mar 11, 2018 01:12 IST