On Sunday, farmers of Maharashtra brought their struggle against mounting debt and agrarian distress to the state’s capital.

After a 180-km journey on foot from Nashik that began on Tuesday, thousands of farmers crossed the Thane-Mumbai border, armed with a list of demands.

The estimate of the number of participants in the march varied widely, starting with the widely reported figure of 30,000. The police put it at 15,000 while the organisers claimed that the number had swelled to at least 40,000 farmers and Adivasis by the time they Somaiya Ground on Sunday night.

The protesting farmers, led by the Communist Party of India (Marxist)-affiliated Akhil Bharatiya Kisan Sabha, congregated at the Somaiya Ground in Sion around 9 pm.

While walking towards Somaiyya Grounds in Sion, an eastern suburb of Mumbai, the marching farmers were welcomed by an enthusiastic crowd at Ramabai Nagar colony.

But the state government came up with a last-minute plan in view of Class 10 board exam in the city on Monday.

Instead of resting after a long day of continuous walking, the organisers and farmers took the difficult decision to continue walking well past midnight and make the 5-hour journey on foot to Azad Maidan, a large ground designated for protests in South Mumbai, about 15 km away.

Keeping in mind the Class 10 board exam, the organising committee of the Long March decided to march to the protest venue, Azad Maidan, in the middle of the night.

They now intend to make their way to the state assembly, another 2 km away from Azad Maidan, on Monday morning.

Quoting unidentified officials in the chief minister's office, the news agency ANI said that the number was not more than 7,000 – with only 450-500 farmers, the rest being tribals.

The farmers plan to surround the Vidhan Sabha, blocking off access, and urge the government to meet their demands. These include a waiver of all loans and electricity bills and the implementation of the recommendations of the National Commission on Farmers, also known as the Swaminathan Report.

The protest is spearheaded by Akhil Bharatiya Kisan Sabha. A protestor holds up a sign that reads, "Farmers ought to be free from debt".
One of the demands of the farmers is to transfer ownership of the temple lands, which they cultivate, in their names.

The key recommendations of the report, submitted over 2005-’06, included reforms to protect farmers rights over their land and proper implementation of minimum support prices to ensure crops sell at competitive rates apart from crop insurance and credit schemes and measures to improve irrigation.

Women farmers and workers demanded that their loans be waived off so they can educate their children, while others blasted the government for letting fugitives like Nirad Modi escape.

The protesters have received some support from Opposition parties and the Shiv Sena, which is an ally of the Bharatiya Janata Party at the state but is often at loggerheads with it.

The sea of red, as it was described by most media reports, was a result of the caps the protestors wore and the flags they carried.
Slogans denouncing the anti-farmer policies of the current government ripped the air, as protestors waved flags and broke into impromptu dances.

Farmers in Maharashtra, especially in the Marathwada and Vidarbha regions, have been reeling under a series of crises, including consecutive years of drought followed by erratic rainfall, pest attacks and now, hailstorms. The Maharashtra government, led by Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis, had announced a loan waiver last year but technical difficulties have delayed its disbursal.

The long and arduous walk did not deter the farmers, some of whom were walking barefoot with blistered feet, while being accompanied by folk musicians and dancers.
Musicians playing the folk instrument, tarpa, were at hand to revive the protestors whenever their energy dipped.

With inputs from Shone Satheesh. All images by Shone Satheesh.