ON 30 NOVEMBER, the capital saw one of its largest congregations of farmers with over 35,000 of them — from across the country — marching from Ramlila Maidan to Parliament street, protesting a wide range of issues that have plagued the agricultural community for decades.
Banded under the All India Kisan Sangharsh Co-ordination Committee (AIKSCC) which comprises over 200 farmer’s bodies, the Kisan Mukti March was organised in an attempt to question the non-implementation of the 2006 Swaminathan Report and specific state-level problems. AIKSCC was born out of the 144-day protest by Tamil Nadu farmers in Delhi in 2017, after which, farmers' bodies from around the country reached out to each other to formulate an umbrella organisation to execute national level agitations like the recent one.
The major demand of the AIKSCC is the consideration of two bills in the winter session of Parliament commencing on 11 December — one concerning loan waivers and the other, a steady constitutional plan to prevent farmers from falling into debt in future.
Most farmers refrained from commenting on what they thought the future might hold, barring a few who felt hopeful after the large turnout. However, a general critique that echoed among all protestors was how the protest being used by leaders from opposition parties to secure goodwill among the kisan community in preparation for the 2019 elections; they saw this as nothing more than an opportunist political detraction from the main issues.
Also read: Portraits from the Kisan Mukti March's vigil at Ramlila Maidan
In conversation with some in transit and some who waited back at Ramlila Maidan before their return journey, Firstpost explored the mixed sentiments post the march — the silence, the individual hopes, and the lack thereof.
(Above) Sella Perumar, posing with the skulls of friends who had allegedly committed suicide, on the rickshaw ride back to Ramlila Maidan from Parliament street. A member of the National South Indian River Inter-Linking Farmers Association (NSIRIFA), and among the farmers who agitated for 144 days in Delhi last year, Perumar has “high hopes the government will meet (the farmers') demands after the successful protest.” Preparing to be back in Delhi with a small group from his village when the Parliament session begins on 11 December, he demonstrated a self-awareness over why the farmers' demands were being met: “It’s not because the Prime Minister will get an emotional jolt from the protest. If our demands are considered in the winter session of Parliament, it will be because they cannot ruin their national political standing before the 2019 general elections.”
A group of farmers from Tiruchirapalli, Tamil Nadu exit Ramlila Maidan to catch their return train. Soon after the protest ended, most farmers packed and left Ramlila Maidan to catch late night trains back to their respective home states from Anand Vihar, Nizamuddin, or the New Delhi railway station.
Some waited back at Ramlila Maidan before their return journey, deciding to rest and recover from the two long and strenuous days of walks. Here, a farmer from Madhya Pradesh uses a makeshift quilt of tarpaulin tied to a pole, to battle the Delhi winter.
As he applied oil on his feet to ease the pain from cramps after the long walk, Mukru Vaktu Madankar from Thanegaon Village, Gadchiroli district, Maharashtra, said, “We have dedicated so much collective time, energy and expenditure for this agitation, that now it will break us if the demands are still not considered.” Hailing from a region prone to drought, and lack of produce due to irregular rain, he walked in protest against delayed implementation of promised loan waivers while also demanding greater technological investment from the government to ensure consistent crop production even through the dry spells.
Some preferred to stay up and engage in jokes, singing and introspection. Rojismita Nair, Kalpana Raut, Ambika Sahu, Basanti Padhan, all women hailing from Bargad district, Orissa, joined their older companion Jagbandu Padhan, as he sang to them songs written by a zila local (Chandrashekhar Sahu) about the time when Vinoba Bhave visited their region and declared some forest land for them to farm on.
A placard proclaims that farmers have united to fight for their rights [Farmer will not commit suicide anymore. They will fight]. Maintaining that their agenda still remains the same, Sunil Mattur, from Hameri District, Karnataka said, “It is too soon to comment on what the policy-based outcome of today’s march will turn out to be. All we know is that the government has to meet our demands, which are the same as they were yesterday and have been.”
Prasad Bhanvasi (left) and his brother Prem (right) from Jhathi Village, Banaras, dust off mud from a carpet sheet before carrying it for their zila companions to use to sleep on. Teary-eyed and agitated, Prasad offered a reality check to "anyone who is willing to listen", but specifically politicians and urban dwellers, stating, "The on-ground situation in villages, the weather and economy is very bad. People need to get out of their comfortable homes and come and see the condition of us farmers who grow the food they eat." Just as his brother insisted they go back and get some rest, he concluded on a personal note, "Every protest I have seen and been part of turns out to be a political battle between ruling parties and about who can give fake promises more convincingly. Age is getting ahead of me. What will be the point of delayed improvement of our condition, if we are not in a state to work by then?"
Leading his district companions towards their return train, over the bridge at New Delhi station, Ayyaakkannu Tatar (extreme right), president of National South Indian River Interlinking Farmers Association, offered an unsettling, but according to him necessary, course of action for the future,"Today we have marched naked with skulls of our friends, but next time we will hang ourselves in front of Parliament. So many of us are dying in our own villages, and the central government insensitively brushes it off as deaths related to family or girl problems. But if we do it here in front of them, they won't have anything to say." He concluded with a promise of similar national-level protests in the near future, "Once again we will agitate and it will be bigger.”
— All photos by Sahil Jagasia