Mandsaur To Jantar Mantar: Kisan Mukti Yatra

The ‘Kisan Mukti Yatra’ (March for Peasant Liberation) by the All India Kisan Sangharsh Samanvay Samiti (All India Farmers Struggle Coordination Committee) in memory of the farmers killed in police firing in Mandsaur began from Pipalyamandi in Mandsaur on 6 July. The Yatra, raising the issues of loan waiver and minimum support price at 1 ½ times the cost of crop production, proceeded through Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Gujarat, Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh and Haryana and reached Delhi on 18 July, culminating in a massive Kisan Mukti Sansad (Peasant Liberation Parliament) at Jantar Mantar (Parliament Street).

The two main demands raised by the Kisan Mukti campaign – demands which unite farmers from diverse regions across the country – are as follows:

1. Farmers should get a purchase price which is 50% more than the cost of crop production. Every farmer in the country should get this price for every crop and under any circumstances. If the farmer is forced to sell his crop for a lesser price, the government should make up his loss.

2. For the farmer to make a new beginning with the profitable purchase price, there should be a one-time waiver of all loans (bank loans, co-operative loans, financial institution loans) as an interim arrangement. Arrangements should be made to waive moneylenders’ loans also.

We present excerpts from a diary maintained by AIKM National Secretary Purushottam Sharma during the Kisan Mukti Yatra – which gives glimpses of the sufferings and struggles of farmers in the country.

On 6 July, we headed for Pipaliya Mandi to join the Yatra en route. There was a police ‘Naka’ just before the city and a heavy police force had been deployed. Till that time there was no flag or banner on our vehicle, so the police paid no attention to us and we could enter the city. We needed tape and string to tie the banner on the vehicle. But all shops in Pipaliya, big and small, were shut. Pipaliya Mandi was also shut and so was one of the Mandi gates. We spoke to two people sitting outside a closed shop and asked if this was the weekly off day. They said no, it is because the farmers’ Yatra is coming today. When we asked if the bazaar was closed in support of or against the Yatra, they gave no reply.

There was a ‘Kabadi’ shop (for buying and selling old paper and other stuff) in front of the place where we had parked our vehicle. I went in there to ask for string. The Kabadiwala identified us as protesters and immediately brought a new bundle of string and asked us to take as much as we liked. We took what we wanted, but he would not take any money for the string. We then proceeded towards village Budha. On the way we met other Yatra vehicles and we joined the Yatra.

At the barricades erected outside Pipaliya Mandi the Madhya Pradesh police stopped the Kisan Mukti Yatra with a heavy police force. The farmers and leaders in the Yatra sat on the road and paid tribute to the martyred farmers. The road side meeting continued for over one and a half hours, after which the farmers planned to court arrest. About 600 farmers gave themselves up for arrest along with Yogendra Yadav, Comrades Raldu Singh and Prem Singh Gehlawat of AIKM, Comrade Hannan Mollah of AIKS, Medha Patkar of NAPM, BM Singh and other leaders after the meeting.

Dr Sunilam had already been arrested. For the smooth conduct of the Yatra the Kisan Mahasabha team decided that Com Raldu Singh and Com Prem Singh Gehlawat would court arrest and in the event of their being sent to jail Comrade Gurnam Singh and others would lead the Yatra.

We came to village Budha along with the other farmers and leaders who were left. Here we spoke to a number of young Patidar farmers. These young men had been part of that agitation since June due to which we had all gathered here in this Yatra. They told us that the killing of the farmers had not taken place during the police firing on the agitation, but that the police had caught and killed them separately in cold blood. 4 Patidar farmers were among the 6 killed by the police. Patidar farmers have played a big role in this agitation.

We were told that in this area water is to be found 600 to 2000 ft below ground level. Those who rent water have to give half the crop to the tube-well owner. The younger generation has taken to farming for want of employment opportunities, and opium farmers manage to get a decent income.

A few hours later, the MP police released Dr Sunilam and other arrested farmers and leaders at Dalauda Anaj Mandi beyond Mandsaur.

A huge meeting was held at Dalauda Mandi. Arrangements were made for night halt at village Richha Lalmuha, where a farmers’ meeting was also held. Here also we met some young farmers. They told us that farmers in this area stick to farming largely due to opium farming. Water shortage is a huge problem, so farmers dig wells and store rain water which is used for the wheat crops. After that farming activities can commence only after the arrival of the rains.
The Yatra proceeded from village Richha Lalmuha at 7.30 AM on 7 July and reached Khachraund – HQ of the biggest tehsil in Ujjain district. We saw the Chambal River on our way from Khachraund to Ujjain. The water in the river was negligible. We came upon the Shipra River before entering Ujjain. It is in this river that lakhs of people bathe on the occasion of the Ujjain kumbh, but the water of the river was black with dirt. Alas, River Shipra looked exactly like a dirty nullah, just like River Yamuna in Delhi.

In the blistering heat at Dewas a meeting was held on the issues of loan waiver and purchase price at the rate of 1 ½ times the crop outlay. At Goyla Bujurg (just before Ujjain) we were welcomed by farmers belonging to the Bharatiya Kisan Sangh with cups of tea. At Ujjain the Kisan Sabha and SFI also welcomed the Kisan Mukti Yatra. At Dewas we learned that the Shivraj Singh government had decided to stop our Yatra from entering Indore city and disallow our meeting at village Beejalpur (which was to be our night halt). We decided to oppose this decision by sticking to our programme as planned. If the government wanted, it could have us arrested.

We took the Kisan Mukti Yatra forward towards Indore, where again we held a Press Conference at the Press Club. Then we reached Beejalpur, 8 km away, where a huge farmers’ meeting was held. About 3000 farmers from different parts of the district joined the rally. About 70% of the farmers at the meeting were young farmers. A distinguishing factor in Madhya Pradesh is that youth participate in large numbers in agriculture as well as farmers’ protests.

On the third day, we got the opportunity to see and pay tributes at Mau, birthplace of Babasaheb Ambedkar and now renamed Ambedkar Nagar Mau. We entered the Narmada Valley in Madhya Pradesh that day – site of the Narmada Bachao Andolan since 1985. This was the first time I got the opportunity to visit the Narmada Valley.

A farmers’ meeting was held in Ghamnod in the Valley, where the villagers were very hospitable and provided refreshments for us. A meeting of the Narmada dam victims was also held in village Khalgat, Dhar district. This beautiful village in the valley is being sacrificed at the altar of the Sardar Sarovar dam. As we moved forward the farmers of Magarkheri and Anjad villages welcomed us. Everywhere we could see the people’s support for Medha Patkar and the long struggle of the NBA.

The villagers gave us a meal in the small village of Barda in Badwani district. This village with a population of one thousand has been given notice to evacuate before 15 July. The villagers’ struggle is on. 40,000 more hectares of extremely fertile land in the valley are set to be submerged. There are about 5,000 fisher families in this area dependent on the Narmada for their livelihood; also dependent on the river are thousands of families of potters, boatmen and others, who will be finished forever if the height of the dam is increased. Ambani is to be given the contract for tourism in the lake which will result from increasing the height of the dam. Instead of permanent rehabilitation the government is forcibly sending people to temporary tin sheds. By increasing the height of the dam which has destroyed Madhya Pradesh, Modi is set to take all the water into Gujarat. This is also causing great anger among the people of the State.

A huge meeting was organized by the NBA in support of the Kisan Mukti Yatra at Jhanda Chowk in Badwani city. This was the biggest meeting so far in the course of the Yatra. A rally was taken out in the city prior to the meeting. The meeting lasted till 7.30 PM. The people who participated in the meeting were Narmada dam victims for whom loan waivers and 1½ times purchase price were not issues at all; their main agenda was to save their land and to get proper rehabilitation, and yet their mobilization for issues not their own (concerning other farmers) is a result of Medha Patkar’s struggle and the people-oriented direction of the movement.

At 10 pm the farmers of village Khetiya in MP on the borders of Maharashtra welcomed us by bursting firecrackers. About 100 farmers waited to welcome us. 1½ km from here we would enter Maharashtra.

On the morning of 7 July Comrades Rajaram Singh, Ruldu Singh, and Ishwari Prasad Kushwaha of AIKM met the farmers and adivasis of village Awage Jnawane in Shahda Tehsil, Nandurbar district, Maharashtra. This village and the entire area is populated mostly by adivasis. 40 families are Bhil adivasis and 6 families are Patidars. Patidars have 6 to 40-50 acres of land. Most of the Bhil adivasis either have no land or have up to ½ an acre of land. The very few adivasis who do own a decent bit of land prefer to work as wage earners and give their lands on contract to the Patidars for agriculture. Land can be got for Rs 10,000 to 12,000 per year on contract. Adivasis work as labourers in Patidars’ fields or in nearby Shahada, getting a daily wage of Rs 120 in the fields and Rs 200 in the town. Farmers used to get Rs 220 per quintal for sugarcane, which has now become Rs 240. The cotton is mostly BT cotton. The price of cotton has fallen from what it used to be and, contrary to claims, BT cotton is disease prone and the crops are getting ruined. If the height of the Sardar Sarovar in the River Narmada is raised, this area is in danger of getting submerged. Farming is productive, but the poverty of the adivasi basti is visible as soon as one enters it. Half the adivasis have not got the benefit of the government housing scheme. Most houses do not have toilets.

At meetings in this area, kisan leader Sharad Joshi was remembered at the meeting, as Dr BD Sharma was remembered at the meetings in the Narmada valley.

A little ahead of the barrage built on the Tapti in Maharashtra the local farmers of Dodaicha welcomed the Yatra. The Yatra then reached Dhule city in Maharashtra. There is a statue of the great social reformer Mahatma Phule in the city. After paying tribute to Mahatma Phule a meeting was held at the Bhau Saheb Hire Hall.

The Yatra then entered Malegaon. As we were waiting by the road side for other Yatra vehicles to join us, people came up to ask us if we needed anything. When we told them about the Kisan Mukti Yatra they told us that they had also stopped work and were running from pillar to post but to no avail; there was nobody to listen to them. The further told us that they were in the power loom industry and had applied for the GST number 15 days ago but they have neither got the number nor is any official listening to them. As a result of not getting GST number the entire power loom industry in Malegaon has been closed for the past 15 days. People are faced with a grave livelihood crisis. We held a big farmers’ meeting in Malegaon.

We next proceeded towards Nashik district where a meeting was held in Chandbad. We arrived 3 hours late here but even though it was late at night people waited in large numbers for the Kisan Mukti Yatra to arrive. The meeting hall was big and wide and so full of people that our camera could not capture it in its entirety.

On the fifth day we arrived at Nashik in Maharashtra where a huge farmers’ meeting was held. Among the people I met were a journalist and the President of an organization of onion growers of Nashik district who told me about the dire condition of onion farmers and their neglect by the government. The farmers of Pimpalgaon Basant and Ojhar gave the Kisan Mukti Yatra a rousing welcome. We received a welcome from farmers in two other places on the way.

In Nashik city and nearby villages we saw vineyards and grape farming. The crops in this area are onion, grapes, pomegranates, sugarcane, and cotton. Nashik is the country’s biggest onion ‘mandi’. Well-known kisan leader Sharad Joshi led an onion growers’ agitation 3 decades ago and became known as one of the country’s best known kisan leaders. Today the farmers of Nashik and its onion ‘mandi’ are in dire straits.

After 2 days each in Madhya Pradesh and Maharashtra the Kisan Mukti Yatra entered Gujarat. We reached Vyara in Gujarat on the night of 10 July.

A huge rally by adivasis was taken out today in Vyara (in Tapi – an adivasi majority district ) in support of the Kisan Mukti Yatra, followed by a meeting at Anaj Mandi.

In the villages of that very Gujarat whose ‘development’ and ‘prosperity’ PM Modi and his Bhakts incessantly boast about, these adivasis get Rs 100 to Rs 120 daily wages in return for an entire day’s back-breaking work. The adivasis told us that they get MNREGA work only occasionally and that too at the rate of Rs 100 to 120 per day.

After a programme in Bardoli, which has a historic place in the kisan movement, the Kisan Yatra reached Surat. This is my second visit to Surat in 8 months for a farmers’ struggle. I had come to Surat on 11 November 2016 as part of a kisan rally against demonetization.

Outside Surat city the Khedat (farmers) community welcomed us. Among those who welcomed us were Ramesh Patel, Yogesh Patel and many others who recognized me from my last visit. As the Yatra was delayed due to heavy rains on the way, we had to forego the scheduled meeting.

My spectacles frame had broken during the Yatra, so I went to a shop near the Vadodara station to get it repaired. Here also I could see the story of Modi’s Gujarat ‘development’ and ‘cleanliness’. The roads in the main bazaar between the railway station and the historic University building were filled with stagnant water and garbage.

I met two young men at the spectacles shop. As we were talking, two more young men joined us. Of the four, one was from Khatima in Uttarakhand and the other three were Gujaratis. They told us about the huge problem of employment and sustenance facing the youth and workers in the area. First, the note ban and now the GST blow to the Surat textile industry and small traders—a grave crisis stares the workers as well as the trading class in the face. Before proceeding to Khera from Vadodara we left the main highway and stopped at a dhaba for tea. The dhaba owner spoke of Modi as being “anti-employment”.

On the night of 12 July the Kisan Mukti Yatra reached village Krishnaganj in Sirohi district, Rajasthan. After Gujarat we had entered into Rajasthan through Abu Road, visiting Mount Abu on the way.

The first meeting was held at the Panchayat Bhavan in Krishnaganj and attended by the farmers of the village. This was the first meeting during the Yatra where there was no participation of women. This area is stricken by water scarcity. The government has stopped giving farmers electricity connection for tube-wells for the past 7 years. Many farmers told us that the Electricity Department had taken their deposits for electricity connections 7 years ago but they neither got electricity connection nor had they got back their deposits.

We saw people from the banjara and cattle herding communities in this area. People here do own some land but the dalit and weaker communities have practically no land. Daily wages are between Rs 200 to 250 per day. Most people of the younger generation go outside to earn their livelihood. There is a grave drinking water crisis. Water is supplied in the taps once in 3 or 4 days only. Most homes have small or big tanks to store water, as humans as well as animals are dependent on this water. On the ninth day we held a farmers’ meeting at village Bhim Gaon in Rajsamad district, Rajasthan, amidst pouring rain. The Kisan Mukti Yatra then proceeded to Mohgaon in Kishangarh. A meeting was held at night which was well attended by farmers in large numbers.

On the 10th day we proceeded on the Sikar highway from Jaipur. Farmers and intellectuals welcomed the Kisan Mukti Yatra at the Badhawa Girls’ College at Govindgarh in Choumu Tehsil. This area in Rajasthan is quite fertile and famous for the production of vegetables and milk.

Today the Yatra was joined by AIKM National General Secretary Com Rajaram Singh who addressed the meeting held here. The Principal of this Girls’ College is active on farmers’ issues; some time ago he had organized a Kisan Vidhan Sabha and made a serious attempt to address problems being faced by farmers.

Our next programme was in the Shrimadhopur ‘anaj mandi’ (grain market) in Sikar district. The Yatra was welcomed here by farmers in large numbers, after which a meeting was held which lasted for a long time. The soil here is also quite fertile but the water crisis is grave.

We had to reach Bishangarh in Jaipur district for our night halt. Water is available between 110 ft to 200 ft below ground level but the water level is now falling. Seeing the availability of water here the government has sourced water from here to places outside. The State government has given permission for 12 such new water projects. The people of the village have started opposing this and want to save the water of their village. There is a 7 star hotel on a hill top in the village. The entire hill has been made part of this hotel. We learnt that earlier this used to be a fort which has now been converted to a hotel. This fort belonged to the ancestors of Rao Rajendra Singh who is now the local BJP MLA. We were told that the Bhairon Singh Shekhawat government had sanctioned 2 to 4 crores for the repair of old dilapidated forts. But this fort was turned into a hotel. The rest of the land on this hill used to belong to the village Panchayat but Rao Rajendra Singh managed to take away this land from the Panchayat using political and administrative pressure.

On the morning of the 11th day a farmers ‘nukkad sabha’ (street meeting) was held, after which we left for Kotputli where another farmers’ meeting was scheduled. On the way farmers welcomed the Yatra at Salarpur, Pavata and other places. On reaching Kotputli we found farmers waiting to welcome us on the highway, from where the Yatra took the form of a rally and reached the Park in the main bazaar where it culminated in a meeting.

On the way I spoke with the villagers. There is a serious water problem in this area. 40% of the villagers are practically landless and work as daily wage labourers for their livelihood; this part of the population is most affected by the drinking water crisis. Yadavs and Jats form the majority of the wealthy farmers. Daily wages are between Rs 200 and 250. The younger generation mostly goes outside to earn their livelihood.

I met Ram Niwas from Pavana Ahir village and it was a meeting which touched me deeply. Coming from the dalit Balai caste, this man has 3 sons who used to study in Kotputli. Due to financial constraints they supported their own studies by working as labourers. Some time ago the 3 of them went to Fatehpur Sadar Thana in Sikar district to work as labourers for laying the railway tracks. During their work all 3 brothers were run over by a train and killed. Today Ram Niwas is running from Tehsil HQ to District HQ with their death papers but nobody is paying any heed to him.

A farmers’ meeting took place under the aegis of the Kisan Mukti Yatra at the Tatarpur Chowk in Alwar district. This area is reeling under severe water crisis. Most dalits here have no land.

On the 12th day of the Kisan Mukti Yatra we entered Nagla Devli village in Agra district, Uttar Pradesh. The main crops here are potato, wheat, bajra and cotton. More than 18 farmers in this district have committed suicide. This very morning one farmer committed suicide.

We then proceeded to Baheta village in Agra. The power grid line runs above the village lands. The NTPC forcibly acquired the farmers’ lands and laid the line over them. When the farmers agitated against this they were slapped with cases.

Next, the Yatra reached Bamrauli village. Here, a farmer who was deep in debt had died on 7 July due to cardiac arrest. The dead farmer’s family members told us that he used to farm 10 bighas of his own land and 22 bighas taken on contract. This area produces chiefly potatoes. But the note ban hit them hard and now there is the problem of abysmally low prices for the crops; the farmers are in dire distress. Banks and cooperative societies are putting pressure for loan repayment; as a result the farmers are driven to suicide. On 7 July when this farmer heard that the market price of potatoes has become much lower than the cost of potato production, he died due to cardiac arrest.

The Kisan Mukti Yatra then reached Sarai Khatela village in Palval district. There are 3 villages in sarai Khatela Panchayat—Sarai and Nagla have mostly Muslims and dalits while Khatela has Gujars and some Jats. Earlier, there used to be some Baniya families but they have now left the village. The Yatra was welcomed here and a meeting was held. This was the first meeting during the Yatra with a large participation of Muslim farmers. The farmers told us that earlier this area used to be supplied with water through canals but that has stopped since the past few years. After the farmer gives his crop in the ‘mandi’ he has to wait for 3 to 4 months to get his payment. When the Yatra reached Palval it was welcomed by farmers led by the Akhil Bharatiya Kisan Sabha affiliated to the CPIM. A meeting was held here also.

After Palval we went to Hajipur village in the same district where the farmers had been waiting for us for hours. It was now evening. We learnt that this is a Yadav majority village. After the Yadavs, dalits are the second largest in number, followed by Brahmins and then by Jats. There are also a few families from other communities. The dalits have no land for cultivation. Yadavs, Brahmins and Jats have lands. The dalits earn their livelihood through daily wage labour.

During the Yatra, wherever AIKM activists got a chance to address farmers’ meetings, we not only raised the two key demands of the farmers’ movement (loan waiver and minimum support price) and other issues immediately related to the agrarian crisis; we also raised the issues of the attempts to divide movements and people through communal hate campaigns. We pointed out how in Muzaffarnagar in UP, when Muslim and Hindu farmers waged struggles together the farmers’ movement was successful but when the BJP succeeded in driving a communal wedge between them for votes, the farmers’ movement became weak and farmers’ plight became dire. The ban on sale of cattle for slaughter was being used to foment a communal climate and put wind in the sails of the mob lynchings, but this policy was creating a crisis for all farmers who own cattle and livestock. We stressed that farmers and all Indians needed to rebuff lynch mob politics for the sake of humanity and also for the sake of people’s movements.

AIKM activists also stressed the issues and concerns of small and medium peasants and sharecroppers. During the entire Yatra along with the agrarian crisis in the villages we tried to understand the condition of dalits, adivasis and Muslims. We found their conditions similar in all the 6 States we visited. Of all the villages we studied during the Yatra, an average of more than 35% of the population was of dalits, adivasis and minorities. 90% of these are completely landless and earn their livelihood through daily wage labour. They do not get work every day. The lowest wages are in Tapi district of Gujarat where even today the rural worker is given only Rs 100 to 120 per day as wages. At other places the daily wage is between Rs 150 to 200. All the areas of our Yatra were drought-affected, with water to be found at between 250 ft to 2000 ft below ground level. The land-owning farmer manages to solve the drinking and irrigation water problem by digging tube wells in his farm, but the dalits, adivasis and minorities who are mostly landless have to depend on government water distribution which is done at intervals of 3 to 7 days in many places. In these conditions, it is these sections of society which face the worst crisis even for drinking water.

Thousands of AIKM members participated in the Kisan Mukti Sansad. The All India Kisan Sabha, All India Kisan Mahasabha, Narmada Bachao Andolan and NAPM, Punjab Kisan Union Dakonda, Swabhimani Shetkari Sangathana, Lok Sangharsh Morcha, and peasants from Mandsaur mobilized thousands for the Kisan Mukti Sansad. Peasants associated from AIKM from Punjab, Haryana, Rajasthan, Uttarakhand, Bihar and Delhi participated in the Sansad. Adivasis and small and medium peasants and tenant farmers made their presence felt at the Kisan Mukti Sansad.

Addressing the Kisan Mukti Sansad, AIKM National President Ruldu Singh called for intensified struggle against corporatization and communal division of farming in the country. The Sansad was also addressed by AIKSSS Convenor BM Singh, Yogendra Yadav of Swaraj Achiyan, Hannan Mollah of AIKS, Medha Patkar of NAPM, Mohd Salim, Raju Shetty, Pratibha Shinde, Dr. Darshan Pal, Rampal Jat, as well as P. Ayyakannu who is leading a protest by Tamil Nadu farmers in Delhi. The event was conducted by Dr Sunilam. Sons and daughters of farmers’ suicide victims were present at the Sansad. Rajya Sabha MP and CPI(M) GS Sitaram Yechury and JDU National President Sharad Yadav also addressed the Sansad. 