I REACHED Parliament Street with my seven year old daughter. It was September 5, Teachers’ Day. ‘Why should my daughter learn only in the class room?’ I said as I took her to see the Mazdoor Kisan rally, ‘Why shouldn’t she learn from the world today?’.
It was past 10 o’clock in the morning by the time we reached the Parliament Street. The workers and peasants who have marched from the Ramlila Maidan were entering the venue of the meeting. People were reaching the place in never ending streams. Slowly I walked towards the dais holding my daughter by her hand. It was so crowded, there was no place even to keep one’s foot. My daughter was a bit scared. ‘Ma, hold my hand tight, I may go missing in this crowd’ she said. ‘Don’t worry’ I said carrying her on my shoulder, ‘Just look at the entire thing’. She was amazed at the mass of people with red flags in their hands. ‘Let me down, ma, you will get tired; let us walk slowly to the end’.
We were walking along looking at people when a woman smiled at me and caught hold of my hand. I sat beside her and started talking. She was a peasant from Nashik, talking in broken Hindi. ‘Is she your daughter? Have educated people also come to this rally?’ she asked me. I laughed. ‘Be you happy always’, she blessed me. Junnu, my daughter was looking at both of us alternatively. The peasant woman continued, ‘A few months back we went to Mumbai; now we are in Delhi. This hell like life must change. Otherwise, it is better to die’. Tears came to her eyes. Mine too. ‘Don’t cry, nani’ said Junnu. ‘She is not nani. She might be only a little older than me. She is aunty. She works in the fields day and night. That is why she looks old’ I said. A peasant woman who can’t even have two square meals a day, blessing me to be happy! It touched my heart. Probably, one engaged in cultivation in our country has to be optimistic, I thought. She told me many things about her life. She doesn’t have any land of her own. The little land that they have is commonly owned by the family of her husband’s brothers. They can’t sustain on it. So, she works in others’ fields. A woman peasant from Bihar joined us. She told how women do most of work in agriculture but do not have ownership rights on the land. In joint families, husbands, brothers-in-law take loans without even the knowledge of women who are compelled to repay them.
After talking with them for some time, we went ahead. A man with a wounded hand and blind in one eye was attentively listening to the speakers. I sat beside him. Junnu was a little afraid of him. I reassured her and took her into my lap. He heard us talking and said ‘Come, sit here, there is place’. ‘What do you do?’ I asked him. ‘Cook meals for school children. It is while cooking food that I sustained these burns’ he showed his hand. ‘How much do you get?’ ‘Rs 1000 per month; but only for ten months. We are not paid during the holidays. But even that is not paid every month regularly’ ‘Do you eat in the school?’ ‘No, no, it is against rules. We can’t eat anything there. If we are caught, we will lose even this income’. Junnu was surprised. ‘The dada who cooks food can’t eat it? What are these rules, ma?’ ‘He is not dada. May be he is a little older than your father. But he looks old because of lack of proper nutrition’. ‘Ma, this is wrong. Those who cook should eat food’. Her hesitation gone, she started walking effortlessly. ‘Ma, workers and peasants seem to be good, no?’ she said suddenly. We continued our walk in the midst of the crowd talking to anganwadi workers, ASHAs and others.
At the end, a street play was going on. Junnu wanted to have a look. ‘We gave you LPG’ the person acting as Modi was saying. ‘What do we have to cook with it’ the peasant’s character was asking. ‘Drink cow’s urine and do yoga’. ‘Yes, this is how our lives are’ the peasants witnessing the play angrily lent their voices to the slogans being shouted by the actors. Junnu watched the play and the people with rapt attention. ‘Ma, this Modi must be a bad man. He is making so many people cry’.
An old friend was making a documentary of the rally. ‘Can you help me’, he asked ‘I will do the camera work, you do the reporting’. I agreed and took the mike. A group of old people from Punjab came to us and asked whether we would record their words. ‘See, in 2014, they said we would have achche din, 56 inch chest would implement Swaminathan Committee report. Why is he not talking of these now? We are the age of Modi’s mother and we continue to suffer’. A worker from Chattisgarh said ‘Baara sow me dum nahin; Athara hazar se kum nahin’. ‘We came here by collecting money from people in our village and neighbouring villages. Even some beggars gave us money when we told we were going to Delhi for the rally’.
I saw a group of people with coarse soiled clothes keenly looking at the books in a small temporary book stall at the left side. While recording them, I heard a man asking for Lenin’s books. ‘Where do you come from’ I asked the simple looking man. ‘A peasant, from Madhya Pradesh’, he said. ‘People are breaking Lenin’s statues. You are asking for Lenin’s books?’ ‘Lenin is the friend of the exploited. I want to read his books’. ‘But he is not from our country’. ‘Lenin does not belong to any one country. He is the property of the toiling people like me’ he said looking with pity at my ignorance.
Some women were sharing the sattu that they had brought with them. On one side of the rally, two people with a cycle were selling pieces of fruits at Rs 30 a plate. That they were poor was quite visible. People who came from Andhra, Tamil Nadu, Kerala were buying from them. An adivasi woman from Jharkhand was sitting with her little child near their bicycle. The child was showing the fruits to his mother indicating that he wanted to eat. She was trying to divert his attention. She did not have the money. One of the fruit vendors noticed this. He took a plate of fruit and gave to the child. ‘Don’t worry, you need not pay’ he said. I can never forget the look of gratitude that mother gave him.
It was close to 3 o’clock by the time the meeting came to an end. I saw people from all states, in their different dresses, different languages, different expressions. But I noticed one thing which was common to them all. It was their questioning eyes. The same pain, the same anger, the same questions were visible in the eyes of almost every one of them. It was as if every one of them was declaring that they were not going to close their eyes till they achieve their rights.