AS the preparations for the massive rally of the workers, kisans and the agricultural workers were going on, the camps erected at two different places in Delhi had very interesting stories to tell. These camps were at the Ramlila ground and Sahibabad. These tales were narrated by the brave women and men who travelled hundreds of kilometres to make the deaf hear in Delhi. For them the deaf meant the Modi government. Another set of mobilisations comprised the poorest of the poor agricultural workers whose march to Delhi was an event in itself. No property, no bank accounts, no land, still they were determined to face the challenge with their struggle that they were building through their organisations.
Lehan Daura came from Sagma village of Palghar district of Maharashtra. More than 700 women and men from here came a day earlier and were stationed at the New Delhi railway station as the camp in Ramlila ground was flooded. Lehan is a tribal woman and according to her the last four years of the BJP government have been the worst ever seen by her in her lifetime. This period has seen an increase of atrocities on women. Women and small girls are made victims and the culprits are even facilitated by the ruling BJP. Once they come out on bail they are garlanded by the BJP leaders. This is something that was never seen earlier. They are destroying the social fabric. The basic infrastructure is completely absent in the countryside. The health centre is 6 km from her village and there is no doctor even at the centre.
Anandi from Satara district narrated the woes of ration in the region. The ration to the poor is not reaching. Price rise is continuous and this has made the lives of the common people very miserable. Coming down heavily on the BJP government for its announcement that death shall be awarded to the rape guilty, she said this should be reversed as now the victim will be killed after the rape. What is required is proper investigation and assurance that the guilty will be booked properly. In Maharashtra the victims are harassed and cases are not registered.
Kurmi and Pratap from Himachal belong to the Bangala community who are being evicted from their habitations which are more than 200 years. They are from Dharampur in Solan district. The community falls under the Scheduled Caste category but have been linked with the forests since long. Their houses are being demolished and they are being evicted for the widening of the national highway from Parwanu to Shimla. However, without entitlements no compensation is being paid to them. Their community is one of the poorest in the state of HP.
Naseema Begum from Delhi and Naseema Sheikh from Sholapur Maharashtra had very similar stories to narrate. According to them right since the Modi government came to power the attacks on their community have increased tremendously. The BJP leaders in and around Delhi visit small kiosks and community shops and ask the shop owner to open the utensil and check whether there is any meat in it. This has thrown out many people who were rearing poultry etc. The handi (pipkin) of biryani is turned through a ladle on the pretext of checking whether there is beef in it. This is done repeatedly to ensure that the shop owner becomes frustrated and leaves the work. Naseema Sheikh was completely obfuscated with the biometrics especially for getting ration and other services. According to her, the women doing manual labour often get their hands hardened which effects the biometrics and are thus denied their right. This is not an exception but a common phenomenon.
Raish from Alwar was extremely critical about the Rajasthan CM and accused her party for honouring those who were arrested for rape and killing the people. According to her the BJP had promised to provide reservation to the women in the state assemblies and the parliament in case they had a majority; now they have full majority but the BJP is just bluff master and knows how to hoodwink people.
The camp in Sahibabad in UP bordering Delhi was erected for the rallyists coming from Bihar and UP. As one entered the city of Sahibabad, the utter failure of governance could be easily witnessed. The BJP that leaves no stone unturned to proclaim itself to be high on governance must see how the city is stinking. The city had sewerage flowing all around the roads and the streets. Herds of cows were on the roads eating plastic and hitting the motorists. Thanks to the ‘cow government’, cow is roaming like a nomad.
The camp was erected just next to the Sahibabad railway station. Thousands of people were accommodated in this camp. The Jan Natya Manch also staged a show in the tent erected at the camp.
Sita Devi came from Sarsa district of Bihar along with 90 women. She is a member of the AIKS. She complained about the old age and differently aged pension problem in the state of Bihar where it does not reach the beneficiary. According to her both the Modi and the Nitish governments of India and Bihar respectively have not fulfilled the promises and it is because of that they have come to Delhi to express their anguish. The toilets money was also eaten by the NGOs and now new NGOs are being asked to construct who are also not performing. The SBM is the biggest scandal in Bihar according to her. The bank accounts that were opened with zero balance have now closed down and when they visit the bank, the bank officials ask them to pay money to the bank. How can they pay money to the banks; they are extremely poor.
Gopal Das is from a dalit community and their community does not even have any land to house themselves. They are agricultural workers. The government had promised to provide 3 kathas (20 kathas=1 bigha; 12.5 bighas =1 hectare) of land to the landless but they have not got any land. They live under abysmal poverty. The community is highly malnourished. And there is a fear that this may even lead to hunger deaths in case the social security is weakened. They have come to Delhi for the first time.
Mathu Ram was a mid-day meal worker from Belwara, Bihar. He has now retired but there is no support system for him. The Kosi river flooded and took away his land. Now he is landless and even support-less. Other mid-day meal workers came to ensure proper wages. They said they work from 9 in the morning to 4 in the evening but are paid a paltry sum of Rs 1,250 per month. The poor peasant has also been severely hit. The land revenue collection has also been enhanced from Rs 7 to Rs 33 per acre. The increase in prices of diesel and petroleum products too has affected the poor.
Vasih Majhi and Radha Devi from Vaishali , Bihar had the most telling tale to tell. They had no capacity to livelihood, no land, no house, no electricity, no water etc; they work as agricultural workers. To get ration is a big struggle for them as their hands get miffed and the biometrics never match. They are provided kerosene oil which is very less and cannot survive on that. Radha has come with her four months young daughter and has not brought her husband as it was difficult for both of them to come together. On being asked what does she want to make her daughter like; she replied if we survive only then can we have ambitions. This is the hard reality of large parts of rural India.
The plight of agricultural labour and the exploitation of the women was shared by Remu Devi and Vikas who said that they work for 10 hours in the landlords fields and are paid Rs 100 for the menfolk and just Rs 50 for the women. Though both of them work for the same duration and with the same capacity. The zamindar, according to Kajal was giving just Rs 20 per day till a few years ago. Now it has increased to Rs 50. When she fell sick and could not go for work for a few days, the zamindar threw her family out of his fields. She comes from a village called Jafrabaad.
Rajiv one of the agricultural workers lastly commented why should not there be courts for the agricultural workers as well. When there can be labour courts for the workers working in factories and cities why should not the same be for the poor agricultural workers.
The camps were live with enthusiasm and anger. The plight of the people especially the poor and the vulnerable is exposing the hollow claims of the BJP rule. The struggle on economic demands with large scale anger of the people must also be channelised to have a political alternate to this resentment. One of the kisans later stated with much confidence that in case there is even a call for a Bharat bandh on the issues of the people like petrol prices, price rise etc, they are prepared to implement it with full vigour.