On Wednesday, at the barren Ramlila Maidan in central Delhi, red carpets were being laid out, water tankers were being put in place and 12-feet-tall poles were being erected to build tents to accommodate farmers coming from all across the country for the two-day long Kisan Mukti March that starts on Thursday. “We were waiting for permissions but now the work can start,” said Bhoowanesh Singh, a supervisor.
On Friday, the farmers will walk from Ramlila Maidan to Parliament Street to demand a Joint Session of Parliament to discuss the agrarian crisis in India.
The farmers belong to 200 groups represented by the All India Kisan Sangharsh Coordination Committee, which is affiliated with the Communist Party of India (Marxist). They are demanding the implementation of the MS Swaminathan Committee report, increased minimum support price and a special Parliament session to discuss two Bills – Farmers’ Freedom from Indebtedness Bill, 2018, and Farmers’ Right to Guaranteed Remunerative Minimum Support Prices for Agricultural Commodities Bill, 2018.
Over the two days of the Kisan Mukti March, several volunteers in Delhi will be at hand to provide them with food, water and medical assistance.
Volunteers help out
The Kisan Mukti March was inspired by the success of the All India Kisan Sabha-organised Kisan Long March in Mumbai in March, where 20,000 Adivasi farmers walked from Nashik to Mumbai, to be greeted with spontaneous support from the urban middle class.
During the Mumbai march, doctors, lawyers, artists and auto rickshaw drivers’ unions formed a solidarity group called Nation for Farmers to support the farmers. Organisers at Dilli Chalo, an extension Nation for Farmers, are hoping to generate similar solidarity in the national capital. “After the spontaneous support in Mumbai, we wanted to harness this sentiment among the masses for farmers and continue to make it relevant,” said Janhavi Mittal, a coordinator at Dilli Chalo. “That said, we are not going to speak for the farmers but are working to provide a platform for them to be heard as the agrarian crisis is not just limited to rural areas anymore.”
Said VM Singh, convenor of the All India Kisan Sangharsh Coordination Committee: “In earlier times, farmers never got any support from the masses. In the farmers’ march in Mumbai in March, we saw many doctors, lawyers and citizens come out in support of the farmers. They realised that they too are indebted to farmers.”
According to Ajit Navale, head of the All India Kisan Sabha in Maharashtra, the Kisan Long March earlier this year was largely successful because they linked their cause to general farmer issues. “In 2015, we analysed our policies to see how to take the issues of the Adivasis, landless and poor to the general public,” said Navale. “Despite marches in Nashik, we were unable to do this. Then in March, we changed one thing. We said that Adivasis are also farmers and joined the cause of the Forest Rights Act to general farmer demands such as loan waivers. That was a huge success.”
Once the farmers reach Delhi on Thursday, they will march from four different assembly points toward the Ramlila Maidan. These points are Gurdwara Shri Bala Sahib near Nizamuddin Railway Station, Barat Ghar near Bijwasan Railway Station, Anand Vihar Railway Station and Gurdwara Majnu ka Tila in Civil Lines. Several volunteers will be at hand at these points to provide them with food and medical support.
Overnight camps are being set up in gurdwaras such as Gurdwara Shri Bala Sahib, Gurdwara Shri Dam Dama Sahib and Gurdwara Majnu ka Tila. “We are expecting around 4,000 farmers to arrive,” said Baldev Singh, an organiser from Gurdwara Shri Bala Sahib. He added that the farmers would be given packed food for their march on November 29.
The city’s doctors will be providing their services to farmers on both days of the march. Doctors from the United Resident Doctors’ Association – from various hospitals including the All India Institutes of Medical Sciences, Ram Manohar Lohia Hospital and Jawaharlal Nehru Medical College under Aligarh Muslim University – will have a base at Ramlila Maidan on Thursday, said Dr Harijit Singh Bhatti, who belongs to the association. “Doctors have been collecting medicines from hospitals,” he said. “We have been planning this since two weeks. A team of around 50 doctors will be ready to treat farmers in case of any emergencies.”
Besides Delhi’s residents, those around the city will also lend a helping hand. Gurgaon Nagrik Ekta Manch, a citizen’s group in the satellite town of Gurugram, will prepare packed lunches for farmers for the march that starts from Bijwasan Railway Station in south west Delhi on November 29. “We will be preparing food for around 3,000 farmers,” said Rahul Roy, a member of the group. “There is a realisation that the situation for farmers is very grim. This march is a great opportunity for us in urban areas to support and interact with them.”
VM Singh said that the Aam Aadmi Party-led Delhi government is helping by providing mobile toilets, water tankers and ambulances at every assembly point.
Students for farmers
Students from different universities in Delhi are volunteering to guide farmers before and during the march, while also preparing for their exams.
Sruti MD, a PhD student from Delhi’s Ambedkar University, said that 50 students from the university will be volunteering around Kashmere Gate in North Delhi to direct farmers to gurdwaras, provide medical aid and distribute food. “It is impossible to have a march like this if the residents of the city are not going to participate,” said 25-year-old Sruti. “Farmers feel motivated and supported if residents from urban areas volunteer.”
Students have also mobilised residents in various parts of Delhi by spreading awareness through street plays and by distributing pamphlets. “We went to local markets and performed a play about the farmers’ demands,” said Kawish Reza, 19, a student from Delhi University. He added that he visited areas in Okhla like Jamia Nagar and Zakir Nagar every day for three weeks and distributed pamphlets in Hindi and Urdu that explained why farmers from all over the country were coming to Delhi to protest.
Evita Rodrigues, 19, a Delhi University student, said that students had started an informal group called “Delhi University for Farmers” a month ago. “We started helping Dilli Chalo with mobilisation on social media,” she said. Rodrigues added that 120 volunteers from the group will help with food distribution and set up medical aid stalls at all the four entry points. “There is also a green charter we are following to ensure there is no waste. There will be a clean-up drive on November 30.” She also added that it was easier for students to volunteer for work that included handling social media as they were preparing for exams. “Earlier, we did not have many options to contribute to this cause. Now, we have no excuse.”