Small, marginal tribal farmers and labourers from state gather — ‘Missing protest was not an option’

Suvarna Gangurde, a mother of five and a farmer from Nashik district, along with 35 other farmers and their families gathered at Azad Maidan in Mumbai on Monday to show solidarity with the farmers protesting in Delhi against the new farm laws.

Unlike the farmers from Punjab and Haryana, who are protesting at Delhi and own large tracts of land, many gathered at Azad Maidan like Gangurde were small and marginal tribal farmers and labourers from Nashik, Dahanu, Palghar, Dhule and Nandurbar.

Gangurde, like many in her village, has small landholdings – around 5 acre in Dindori taluka, around 191 km from Mumbai.

If the harvest is good, she grows jowar, local millet and paddy on the land, which she is in an ownership dispute with the forest department.

The produce from her land is mainly for the consumption of her family and sometimes for a few others in the village. They are not meant for the agricultural produce markets. While Gangurde might not be directly affected by the three farm laws of the Union government, she said: “I am here to show solidarity. Government cannot (and we will not let it) take what is rightfully ours.”

Like Gangurde, many have come to Azad Maidan to demand rights to their land under the Forest Rights Act, 2006.

Savita Kodape, who has travelled from Wardha along with her husband, said: “Someone will have to step out of the house and demand what is rightfully ours. Our children are with their grandparents. I am here to support farmers and labourers like us. I participated in the 2018 rally as well, we have to make our voices heard.”

The majority of the farmers who participated had been mobilised by the CPM-affiliated All India Kisan Sabha (AIKS) from its strongholds in the tribal pockets of Nashik, Palghar, Nandurbar, Dhule and Ahmednagar.

The AIKS cadre since 2018 have organised two such farmers marches to Mumbai. The Kisan long march of 2018, which had also started from Nashik and was headed to Mumbai, had seen a mobilisation of around 30,000 farmers who gheraoed Vidhan Bhavan seeking among other demands the implementation of the loan waiver scheme of 2017.

In early 2020, too, a similar march was organised but the agitation was called off midway in Nasik after assurances from then BJP government.

Many of those present in Azad Maidan on Monday were veterans of these earlier marches.

Reading the Communist Party of India (Marxist- Leninist) mouthpiece Pratirodh-ka-Swar, Keshav Vale, a labourer from Nandurbar, said: “We are here to fight for our rights. We don’t want anything other than food to sustain ourselves and to live with dignity.”

On Monday, more farmers with bags full of provisions to sustain them and their families for the duration of the protests, joined the others at Azad Maidan.

Janabai Laxman Mengar, who has came from Akola, has packed bedsheets, bhakris (chapatis) and a change of clothes for her husband and herself to last them till Monday. “We had to come, missing the protest was not an option. We brought food, there are water tankers here, we slept here on the Maidan last night. This struggle is nothing as compared to the fight ahead of us.

A large tent with the stage was erected at Azad Maidan on Sunday morning along with seven mobile toilet vans, three of them pay and use. Two water tankers and one ambulance have also been stationed at the site.

The BMC has set up a medical centre at the protest site, with arrangements for antigen tests for Covid-19. Till Sunday evening, 309 farmers had consulted the centre with headache and dehydration related complaints. Of them, 28 were given medicines.