‘I find it very difficult to enthuse
Over the current news.
Just when you think that at least the outlook is so black that it can grow no blacker, it
And that is why I do not like the news, because there has never been an era when so
many things were going so right for so many of the wrong persons’.
Ogden Nash had written these lines about times that are more or less similar to what we are in today. That seemed the case till September 5th. But on the September 5th, the force that we saw on the streets of Delhi – the force of the working class and the peasants of our country cheered all our spirits and gave a reason to ‘enthuse’. The rally of the workers and peasants – the Mazdoor Kisan Sangarsh Rally, not only painted the streets red, but forced the popular attention to take notice.
These people, as the great English poet Shelley has written, are
“from the corners uttermost
From every hut, village, and town
Where those who live and suffer moan
For others’ misery or their own.”
And they are here because:
“From the haunts of daily life,
Where is waged the daily strife
With common wants and common cares
Which sows the human heart with tares”, wanted to ‘Declare with measured words that ye/Are, as God has made ye, free’. Freedom for them is freedom from exploitation and discrimination.
The demands of the rallyists were not something ‘new’ in that sense. They are – minimum wages, recognition for their work, proper price for their produce, protection from price rise and other such demands. What is new is, the marching together of workers, agricultural workers and peasants and that too in such large numbers. It is the joint march of the forces that create wealth in our society that created an impact. These forces might not have read Nash who had written: ‘the more you create, the less you earn….the more you earn the less you keep’, but life’s harsh reality taught them this lesson. And it is in order to challenge this reality and change it, they marched on the streets of Delhi.
Before the life’s harsh reality, the problems posed to the rallyists en route to Delhi and in Delhi seemed nothing. Otherwise, how could one explain them braving the havoc created by the surprising rainfall in Delhi. It did not rain for a day or two, but continuously for days before the rally. Even taking away rain from the equation, the arrangements made for the stay of the rallyists in Delhi were bare minimum – a roof on their head and a sheet underneath, on the ground, to sleep. The rain muddied the ground and dampened everything. Everything, except the spirit of the marchers.
The marchers were not cowed down by the muddied ground or the falling rain and the overall ‘facilities’ provided for their stay in Delhi. They compared it with what they are living in their slums and villages. Thanks to the government, which collects all sorts of taxes from them, they are forced to live in filthier surroundings. How else can one explain the prevalence or re-emergence of various vector borne diseases? Can we, who have a ‘Good Knight’ and are afraid of that ‘one single mosquito bite’ understand their living conditions? It is to make us understand and to change that they had braved all these hardships.
Talk to any one of the protesters and we can know the reason why they were in Delhi. Earlier, some mischievous media used to show in their interviews that these protesters were brought without they being aware why they are there. The projection usually was that it was tourism, or money, or both, that ‘motivated’ the protesters to visit. Or, it is used to drive a political message that the demands raised by the organisers are not real concerns of the people and are only raised for ‘political reasons’, meaning, with the upcoming elections in mind. This time, for this rally, these designs did not work.
The reason is simple. One, the anger present among them is palpable. With every passing day, they are seeing through the failed promises of the government. When, what is being said, is not matching with what is the reality, it is natural for them to be angered. Moreover, the craziest neoliberal move to demonetise economy had hurt the workers and peasants the hardest. Along with it, the imposition of the corporate friendly GST, led to the closure of many small scale manufacturing units, which employ the most number of workers. As a result, many of the workers were thrown out of their employment. The rising prices, lack of social security all compounded their problems.
Two, the extensive campaign conducted by the organisers made the people aware of the reasons behind their hardships and also on what needs to be done to overcome them. The CITU alone has brought out more than six pamphlets on various issues. Apart from them, in order to help the local level activists in campaigning among the workers and peasants – to reach the unreached, as they have put it – they have sent talking points on 35 different issues. These were translated into many regional languages and used in the campaign. This sharpened the campaign, as we could notice from the participants in the rally. Short films, posters, songs, all added to the lustre of the campaign.
Workers and peasants are realising that instead of attending to their concerns and trying to resolve them, the government is only helping the rich. They are noticing who is getting rich and why they are becoming poor even after hours and hours of hard work. Bateri, a mid-day meal worker from Hisar in Haryana said that she and her co-workers are ‘made to work a lot but are paid next to nothing’. “We don’t get ration regularly. Once in three months or more, we get ration, we are not provided ration cards….We can barely survive”. She clearly stated: “India is not a jagir of Ambanis and Adanis”. A similar echo was heard from the peasants of Bihar who vented their anger saying that the BJP government is working for the benefit of big corporates and is “squeezing out our lives like leeches to feed these profit-thirsty creatures”.
Gayatri Mahato and Ashalata Biswas from West Bengal, speaking more or less the similar concerns of the anganwadi workers throughout the country, wanted the government to recognise them as workers and not volunteers and pay minimum wages of Rs 18,000, pension, and other deserved benefits.
Electricity employees from Telangana warned the government against dilution of labour rights. Peasants from West Bengal speaking about the attack on democratic rights in their state, reiterated their resolve not to get intimidated by these attacks, but continue their struggle.
And then there were thousands from Kerala, who have only recently come out of one of the worst floods the state has witnessed. They exuded lots of hope and confidence stating that, just as they are trying to overcome the devastation wreaked by the floods, they would also together overcome the devastation wreaked on the country by the policies pursued by the successive governments at the centre.
Hope, as Shelley has stated, rises like ‘waves arise when loud winds call’ and awakens all the ‘Heroes of unwritten story’. The workers and peasants who assembled in Delhi with that hope and confidence just as Shelley wrote, stood with resoluteness:
‘Like a forest close and mute,
With folded arms and looks which are
Weapons of unvanquished war,
With folded arms and steady eyes,
And little fear, and less surprise’.
They are confident of the power of the words they were speaking on that day.
‘And these words shall then become
Like Oppression’s thundered doom
Ringing through each heart and brain.
Heard again – again – again’.
And these words are: ‘Rise like Lions after slumber
In unvanquishable number
Shake your chains to earth like dew
Which in sleep had fallen on you’.
And they know wherein lies their strength: ‘Ye are many – they are few’.
They know they are many, because when questioned, who they are, they had replied that they are workers, peasants or agricultural labourers. None of them stated their religion or caste as an answer to the question. This shows that their primary identity is determined through their work, not through their birth. This is the consciousness that unites the people of our country and gives us strength to counter all the designs of the present government to divide us in the name of religion, caste, region or any other irrelevant identity.
September 5 is also Teacher’s Day. The world’s greatest teachers – workers and peasants – have gathered in Delhi on that day teaching us the lessons of hope, unity, strength and determination. So learning from them, it should be our duty to join them and stand by them, as HW Longfellow said:
“Let it ever be thy pride
To linger by the labourer's side;
With words of sympathy or song
To cheer the dreary march along
Of the great army of the poor,
O'er desert sand, o'er dangerous moor”