On September 5, 2018, tens of thousands of workers and peasants from across the country under the banner of Communist Party of India (Marxist) thronged the national capital with red flags. They marched from Ramlila Maidan to Jantar Mantar in New Delhi, swamping the capital in a sea of red. Rishikesh (age 7), Parthiv (age 8) and Neha (age 9) clung to the hem of their mother Maheju’s dupatta with one hand and on the other carried a CPI(M) flag with a hammer and sickle. The whole family had travelled all the way from Kalsari division of Kannur district in Kerala demanding the non-privatisation of government enterprise and Rs 18000 wage for everyone. Maheju is a member of the Kerala Electricity Board Workers Union affiliated to Centre of Indian Trade Unions (CITU), a national level trade union in India, in turn affiliated to the CPI(M).
Maheju and her family | Photo Credit: Kritika A/ The Leaflet
Many reached the capital city in a day advance, camping in Ramlila Maidan. Kishanbhai of All India Kisan Sabha (AIKS) was one among the 10,000 farmers who came from Nasik to the New Delhi to express their anger and disappointment. He belongs to the Kokna community which comes under the Schedule Tribe category. “We had participated in the long march earlier this year. Fadnavis government had promised to meet our demands. Our demands remain the same. We want minimum support price to increase and land allotment under the Forest Rights Act. Nobody until now has got any land. There is absolutely no water. We have to go to Gujrat to find work. There is no NREGA work in the village,” Kishanbhai told The Leaflet.
All India Kisan Sabha members | Photo Credit: Kritika A/ The Leaflet
Jai Bhir Singh Kanwar of Naurangabad village in Bhiwani district of Haryana owns 40 acres of land. He has 20 lakh loan on him. His demands are waiving off of farmer loans and assured income to the farmers. “Government does not procure the full crop. This time I harvested 80 quintals of sarso (mustard). The government procured only 25 quintals. That too after we protested. They keep saying we will procure more, but they have not,” he told The Leaflet. Another farmer, Jai Prakash Kanwar, who has a debt of Rs 5 lakh on him, said, “Wild animals are a big problem. They enter our fields and destroy the crops. Just recently a jersey (a hybrid) cow killed a farmer in our villager. This has happened a couple of times. A few days back we had taken all the wild animals to the Collector’s office. Instead of resolving our problem he filed a case under Section 107 on us.” They are demanding implementation of minimum support price (MSP) in accordance with the Swaminathan Committee report, availability of water and irrigation facility as well as a loan waiver.
Farmers from Bhiwani district, Haryana | Photo Credit: Kritika A/ The Leaflet
Over the last few years, the peasants and farmers across the country have protested in major cities like Mumbai and New Delhi, and their demands were similar to those of Jai Bhir Singh Kanwar and Jai Prakash Kanwar. Maharashtra’s adivasi cultivators have, quite justly, put forward an additional demand — land allotment under the Forest Rights Act.
The number of protests has increased since June this year. Earlier in June, farmers across North India went on a strike. Their demands, same as the above. In 2017 in Mandsaur in Madhya Pradesh, six farmers were shot dead when the police opened fire on protesting farmers.
A visible angry Kali Devi along with her village folks have travelled all the way from Ghoghardiha in Madhubani district, Bihar. She is a construction worker. Directing her anger towards the Narendra Modi government, she says, “No acche din. Everything is so expensive; there is no work; they said they will allot land, but until now they haven’t. In fact they have given us notice to vacate our houses. Where will we go?” According to her, 600 families have been served notice to empty their houses. They are all landless workers who have settled along the roads and railways. Revenue land has not been allotted to them despite several promises. Ramdeen Mandal, like many others, has receipts of land from the state Bhoodan committee. But the land remains in the control of the large feudal lords. Hooresh Kumar Roy says, “Block officers of Ghoghardiha say, give me money, I’ll allot the land. Where do we get the money from?” According to the villagers, even the money granted under the Pradhan Mantri Awas Yojna first requires “bribing the chairman”.
Peasants from Madhubani district, Bihar | Photo Credit: Kritika A/ The Leaflet
Most of them are construction workers. They earn a meagre sum of Rs 200 per day when they find work. For working on others filed, they are given 4kg of rice per day along with Rs 50. Mohammad Habeeb says that there is no NREGA work. “All work is done by JCB [a construction company]”.
A large number of Anganwadi workers, Accredited Social Health Activist (ASHA) and mid-day meal cooks displayed their anger against the government. Jagjeet Kaur from Patiala, Punjab in a member of the Anganwadi Workers Union under the Centre of Indian Trade Unions (CITU). “We get a mere sum of Rs 5,600 where the Centre gives only Rs 3,000 and the State adds Rs 2,600 for our salary. We have families to support.” Amarjeet, from the same Union, added, “Anganwadi food is not regular. Food is assigned once a year. The last food consignment we got was in April. Right now, there is not food.” Anganwadi workers from Haryana echoed the same resentment. They are getting paid Rs 8000 per month. “Even that is not on time”, said one of the Anganwadi workers in the rally. All of them are demanding a minimum salary of Rs 18,000. “We also want pension”, asserted Amarjeet.
ASHA from Neemuch | Photo Credit: Kritika A/ The Leaflet
Sushila Jain is Accredited Social Health Activist (ASHA) from Neemuch district of Madhya Pradesh. “We are given no money for our everyday work. They make us do so many surveys. They pay us a meagre sum of Rs 150 for vaccination. 300 of us have come today to Delhi.” Maya Choudhary, another ASHA worker, added: “I have been working since 2006. We also have families. Family asserts pressure on us to leave the work.”
Mid-day meals cooks from Madhubhani district | Photo Credit: Kritika A/ The Leaflet
Pushpa Sharma from Shimla who is a cook in a primary school under the mid-day meal scheme said she gets a mere a sum of Rs 1500 per month. “How do they expect us to run our families?” Some 30-40 mid-day meals cooks from Madhubhani district walked in the protest in the Parliament Street. “We get Rs 1200 as salary for ten months of the year. That is also not regular. They throw us out without any pension when we reach 60 years of age. Sometimes we don’t get the salary for six months at a go. How do we survive? In every six months, they pay us for two months. If we protest, they threaten to throw us out.” This is the tale narrated by Sansari Devi, who is a widow and a mother of two children. Sukhi Devi and Binod Sadai both complained of not receiving their salaries for two years. Shyam Kumar was asked for Rs 10000 by the headmaster to continue his work. As he couldn’t, he was thrown out.
Workers from Greater Noida cycled more than 40kms to join the rally | Photo Credit: Kritika A/ The Leaflet
2000 workers from Greater Noida cycled more than 40kms to make it to the rally. Ram Bilas works in Anmol biscuit factory. Currently, he gets paid Rs 9000. “We are all contractual. We risk losing job anytime.” Amit, who has been working for nine months has not received any contract. “Woh man maani kartey hain. Agar jada bolenege toh, humey nikal kar dusro ko rakh denge. (They [owners] do as they like. If we speak too much, they will throw us out and hire other people).” Amit added, “This is our last resort to come on to the streets and raise our voice.”
More than 100 members of Dakshin Railway Employees Union from the Nilgiri district of Tamil Nadu rallied against the labour reforms bought about by the Modi government. “The new pension scheme which is applicable to all central and state employees employed after January 1, 2004, basically takes our money and invests in the share market. There is no minimum guarantee”, said one of the members. “Further there is an attempt to privatise the railways. How will the poor travel?”, added another.
Tapan Sen, General Secretary CITU in People’s Democracy, a mouthpiece of the CPIM, writes on the September 5 rally: “We are fighting against the neoliberal policies of an extreme right-reactionary government at the centre which is spearheading the worst onslaught on the lives and livelihood of the toiling people in every sector and segment of the economy. It is the most heinous political gang which is carrying on a poisonous campaign as a part of its governing strategy to cultivate communal and divisive polarisation to weaken and disrupt the unity of the people. We are fighting against a venomous as well as an authoritarian outfit, which, with the use of state machinery under its command, is seeking to curb the right to dissent and right of free expression which is an inseparable ingredient of democracy. All these are integral to the singular strategy of the neoliberal capitalist order and its operator in the governance to sustain itself in the midst of a deepening crisis in which it is engulfed.”
The rare sight that Delhi witnessed on September 5, with workers, peasants and the farmers marching decisively demanding a fair share in the growing economy of the country, is a cry for help but it’s also a war cry. The present ruling government has been sent an ultimatum before the 2019 general elections. Will things change?