BRAVING incessant rain, several thousand agricultural workers marched from the Ramleela Ground to Parliament Street in New Delhi on August 9, against the Modi government’s policies affecting agricultural labourers and the rural poor.
Agricultural workers from Kerala, West Bengal, Telangana, Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu, Karnataka, Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Tripura, Punjab, Haryana, Rajasthan and some other states participated in the march in large numbers. The march ended with a public meeting on Parliament Street, presided over by All India Agricultural Workers Union (AIAWU) president S Thirunavukkarasu.
The meeting was addressed by AIAWU general secretary A Vijayaraghavan and joint secretary Suneet Chopra among others. Several MPs – A Sampath, M B Rajesh, P K Sreemathi Teacher, P K Biju and Joice George – were present. The protest was supported by fraternal organisation leaders -- Hannan Mollah and N K Shukla of the All India Kisan Sabha, J Majumdar of the CITU.
All the leaders condemned the attitude of the Modi government, and exhorted the gathering to unite and resist attempts to mount attack on their livelihood. Soon after the Modi government assumed office, it tried to scrap the rural job guarantee scheme MGNREGA. After widespread protest, it proposed to implement the scheme in 200 districts, instead of 637 districts. Again, as protest actions and objections came from across the country, it stopped the proposal. After this, the government did not implement the scheme properly, cutting down days of employment, wages of the work and stopping work site facilities and concessions.
Then, the government tried to scrap the land acquisition act of 2013, in favour of national and multinational corporations; it was not possible because of the huge nationwide protest by many organisations and state governments.
Because of the government’s anti-poor attitude, it refused to implement land reforms. According to government figures, 87 per cent of rural households do not have land and 54 per cent of the households do not have houses. In this grave situation, the government refused to provide land and house sites to the needy. But, the prime minister announced that the government will provide houses for all by 2022. It is an absolute attempt to cheat the downtrodden people.
It is a shame that after 70 years of independence, the country is witnessing growing atrocities and attacks against SC/ST and minority people. In 2013, incidents of crime against dalits stood at 35,678, but after the Modi dispensation assumed office, it increased tremendously in 2015 to 54,329. Fourteen Muslims and minorities were killed by the self-styled gau rakshaks.
Moreover, failure of monsoon and deficient rain in many parts of India led to drought for consequent three years. But the Modi government did not address the people’s sufferings, even after the Supreme Court’s directives. Similarly, more than seven states experienced heavy torrential rains and flooding, causing enormous damage to the people. But the government did not provide adequate relief. In this crucial situation, the rural poor are in distress.
A memorandum was sent to Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Rural Development Minister Narendra Singh Tomar and Labour Minister Bandaru Dattatreya, demanding a stop to all type of attacks against agricultural workers and the rural poor, and immediate address of their demands.
The demands are:
1. Save and strengthen MGNREGA, and ensure full work for full wages
2. Ensure equal wage for equal work to women workers
3. Ensure unemployed relief to applied workers who have not been given work
4. Implement National Food Security Act seriously and give 35 kg food grains per households of agricultural workers and the rural poor
4. Ensure social security measures to all genuine beneficiaries
5. Ensure free education and healthcare to children of agricultural workers
6. Take serious action to end child and bonded labour
7. Create a master plan to provide cultivable land to the landless and home sites for the homeless.
8. Ensure forest rights for forest-dwellers
9. End the growing atrocities against SC/ST and minorities, punish the guilty and pay proper compensation
10. Enact a comprehensive central legislation for agricultural workers and the rural poor.