Delhi streets turn red as thousands of farmers, labourers take out rally

The protesters demand minimum wage and loan waiver

Protesters during a rally against the policies of the Narendra Modi government in Delhi | Arvind Jain

Streets of the national capital witnessed a red wave from early morning on Wednesday. Close to a lakh protesters, comprising of peasants, farm labourers and anganwadi workers from several states marched to gherao the Parliament on Wednesday.

The rally was conducted as part of the 'Mazdoor Kisan Sangharsh Rally' backed by Centre of Indian Trade Unions (CITU), All India Kisan Sabha (AIKS), All India Agriculture Workers Union (AIAWU) and Democratic Youth Federation of India (DYFI).

The September 5 rally was announced by AIKS in March this year, subsequent to which participants in a number of states were reached out by the farmers' union.

The primary demands of the protesters are about changes made to labour laws, minimum wages for farmers, lack of employment opportunities for youth and recognition of anganwadi and ASHA (Accredited Social Health Activist) as workforce.

The CPI(M) claimed on its website that more than one lakh people from states like Himachal Pradesh, Punjab, Kerala, Telengana, Maharashtra, Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh, West Bengal and Tripura attended the rally.

"This is the biggest rally in the history of Delhi after independence," the CPI(M) statement said. The party claimed that the rally was the first of its kind when peasants, agri-workers, anganwadi workers and unemployed youth took to street together.

Left leaders like Sitaram Yechury, Prakash Karat and Brinda Karat, and a host of leaders from states like West Bengal, Kerala and Tripura addressed the rally.

A protester holds a boy on his shoulder during a rally in Delhi | Arvind Jain

Invoking Urdu poet Faiz's lines about the worker seeking his rights from the rest of society, Ashok Dhawale, president, AIKS said: "This worker-peasant alliance is a challenge to the Modi government who had always followed anti-farmer and anti-worker policies."

"Modi had made promises of doubling farmers' incomes and providing jobs to our youths. Yet, farmers are selling their crops below minimum support prices. Youth and farmers in the country are committing suicide after facing the economic humiliation they were subjected to by this government," said Dhawale.

Those attended the rally also included a number of farmers who had flooded the streets of Mumbai with a red wave in March. "We are seeking farming rights on the forest land that we have tilled for generations," said Yogi Satpute, a farmer from Nashik's tribal block Peint. 

"The BJP-led Maharashtra government fooled us in March promising a loan waiver. We have come to Delhi to register our protest against the BJP government," said Satpute, who came along with his son-in-law and brothers' sons.

Another farmer, Swarup K. Ravindran, 31, from Palakkad, came to attend the rally despite the devastation from floods in Kerala. "I, along with my three friends, came riding motorcycle and meeting farmers across many states to reach Delhi," Ravindran  said about his seven-day long journey.

"The farmers in the country are in extreme distress. The time has now come to seek their rights," said Ravindran. He was seen leading a contingent of protesters from Kerala, who had assembled and camped at a mud and slush filled Ram Lila Maidan for the past two nights.

Women formed a large part of Wednesday's protest gathering. "As an anganwadi worker, I am responsible for implementation of 18 government initiated health schemes," said Neha Chandravanshi, hailing from Gopalganj, Madhya Pradesh.

"My salary should be minimum Rs 18,000 per month and not Rs 1,000 per month," she said.

Peasants attending Wednesday's rally are also seeking a Rs 18,000 per month minimum pay from the government.

"The Mazdoor Kisan Mahsangharsh rally does not end here. This was just the trailer and we will be organising more such rallies in a number of states as well as in the capital till March 2019," said Tapan Sen, general secretary, CITU.

From September 10 onwards, left parties would be taking out similar rallies in all major cities and districts of West Bengal, to protest against the policies and governance of Chief Minister Mamata Bannerjee.

"This rally also has another focus and that is to raise our voice against the environment of communalism and casteism and in defence of secularism and democratic values," said Sen.

The major demands of Wednesday's march are:

1. Curb price rise; universalise public distribution system; ban forward trading in essential commodities

2. Concrete measures for generation of decent employment

3. Minimum wage of not less than Rs 18,000 per month for all workers

4. Stop anti-worker labour law amendments

5. Remunerative price for the peasants as per Swaminathan Committee recommendations; ensure public procurement

6. Debt waiver for peasants and farm workers

7. Comprehensive legislation for farm workers

8. Implementation of MGNREGA in all rural areas; amendment to the Act to cover urban areas

9. Food security, health, education and housing for all

10. No contract system in workers' employment

11. Grant of universal social security 

12. Land re-distribution; stop forcible land acquisition

13. Relief and rehabilitation for victims of natural calamities

14. Reversal of “neo-liberal” policies of Modi government, which benefited only large corporates and scamsters