On November 26, farmers from Adivasi communities gathered for a rasta roka in Maharashtra’s Palghar district, in solidarity with the ongoing protests in Haryana-Delhi, and with their own 21-demand charter
“We will not back down today,” said Tukaram Valavi. “We are being attacked by this government. If we ask to be given 10 acres of land where we have been cultivating for years, they give us only 10 gunta [a quarter acre]. If we ask for five acres, they will give us three gunta. How will we eat without our land? We have no money, no work and no food.”
Valavi, 61, who is from the Warli Adivasi community and cultivates three acres in a hamlet of Gargaon village in Wada taluka of Palghar district, was at a protest this week along with (an estimated) 3,000 farmers and agricultural labourers from various villages of Palghar, many from the Warli community.
Together, on November 26, they staged a rasta roko at Khandeshwari Naka in Wada against the three new farm laws passed on September 27, “aimed at the transformation of agriculture in the country and raising farmers’ income.” These, the government claims, will open up the agricultural sector to private investors and global markets. The passing of these laws has since September led to widespread protests by farmers – especially in Haryana, Punjab and western Uttar Pradesh.
With all the attention on the pitched battles famers have fought on the Haryana and Delhi borders in recent days, the protests by their counterparts in many states – in solidarity with their demands, as well as adding on some local ones too – have received little media attention. In Maharashtra, for instance, at least 60,000 people participated in a series of protest actions on November 25-26 across the state – from Nashik to Palghar to Raigad. Even within these districts, the protests have been dispersed across many centres in different talukas.
In Wada this week, Valavi’s pressing concern – land titles – was among the demands at the rally, which was organised by the All India Kisan Sabha (AIKS). It’s a demand that has recurred at several protests by Adivasi farmers in Maharashtra for some years now. Valavi has been doing the rounds of courts for 15 years to get the title for his plot. “In [our] villages, those who cultivate forest land have faced injustice by the forest department,” he said. “We have to fight these cases in court. We don’t have money to pay for our bail. Where will we poor people bring that kind of money from?”
Top left: Tukaram Valavi: ‘We will not back down today’. Top right: Rama Tarvi: ‘The forest department does not let us cultivate our land’. Bottom left: Suganda Jadhav: ‘The government has forced us to come out on the streets’. Bottom right: Sunita Savare, who has been trying to get her Aadhaar card for years, said: ‘I don’t understand what the people at the card office say,” she said. “I can’t read or write. I don’t know what form to fill. They ask me to go here, go there, come at this date, that date. I am tired’
At the November 26 rally, they had a charter of 21 demands, which the farmers presented at the tehsildar’s office in Wada taluka. Almost everyone who came wore masks or covered their faces with scarfs/handkerchiefs, and a few AIKS volunteers distributed masks and soaps to the protesters.
The 21 demands include a withdrawal of the three recently passed farm laws. The other demands cover a wide range, including stricter implementation of the Forest Rights Act (FRA) of 2006, adequate compensation for crop losses due to unseasonal rains, improving the public healthcare system (in the context of Covdi-19), and an end to online classes.
The charter also includes a call for income support of Rs. 7,500 for each family, and 10 kilos of rations for each family member for six months during these pandemic times – a demand many farmers at the rally spoke of.
“The [FRA] plots are our only means of livelihood and yet even during Covid they are making us risk our lives and come out to demand [rights to] our plots that we have cultivated for years,” said 50-year-old Suganda Jadhav; her family cultivates rice, bajra, urad and millets on two acres. “We have protested and demonstrated so many times, but the government does not listen. The government has forced us to come out on the streets again.”
On November 26, farmers getting ready to walk towards Khandheshwari Naka in Wada taluka for a rasta roko protest
Waiting outside the Communist Party of India (Marxist) office at Wada taluka’s Kiravali Naka
Renuka Kaluram (on the right, in a green saree) earns 150 rupees a day as an agricultural labourer in Paghar’s Karanje village. She has three small children who attend the local anganwadi: We want the government to stop online studies. Our children are not learning anything online. We don’t have big phones and there is no signal in our area’
Left: Gulab Dongarkar, an agricultural labourer from Kanchad village: We have been sitting here since 10 a.m. It’s been very hard for us to get work during Covid. We want the government to give us at least 10 kilos of rations [instead of five, which too many did cannot access]’. Right: Janki Kangra and her 11-member family cultivate rice, jowar, bajra and millets on three acres, while battling, she said, the forest department’s strictures
Policemen outside the Communist Party of India (Marxist) office in Wada taluka’s Kiravali Naka
Members from the All India Kisan Sabha distribute masks and soaps to the Adivasi farmers at the protest
Left: Sukhi Wagh, a construction labourer, carries her three-year-old grandson Sainath on her shoulder as they march towards Khandeshwari Naka for the rasta roko protest. ‘Give us rations, we have no work’, she said. Right: Protestors walking towards Khandeshwari Naka
On the two-kilometre road from Kiravali Naka to Khandeshwari Naka in Palghar district for the rasta roko protest
Chandu Dhangda, All India Kisan Sabha’s member, leading the protest at Khandeshwari Naka in Wada taluka
At the November 26 rally, protestars had a charter of 21 demands, which they presented at the tehsildar’s office in Wada taluka
Asha Gaware, who cultivates rice, bajra, jowar and millets on two acres said, ‘Our crops were destroyed this year due to heavy rains. We suffered losses of nearly 10,000 rupees. Nobody is ready to loan us money anymore. We want the government to give us compensation or else we will never recover from these losses’. Dev Wagh, from Palghar’s Kanchad village, demanded that electricity charges be waived off: ‘We have not even worked on our fields and we are getting such a high bill. We want that for six months we shouldn’t be asked to pay the electricity bills’. The charter of 21 demands included a call to scrap the new Electricity (Amendment) Bill, 2020, that will bring steeply higher tariffs for farmers and others in rural India. Many were also protesting against highly increased (or inflated) bills since April this year
Hope, determination and solidarity at Khandeshwari Naka in Wada taluka