Her feet were swollen, her legs weary and her body aching, but Sunita Devi was indefatigable as she held aloft a red flag and walked through the capital on a rain-drenched Wednesday morning, one of the many thousands of workers and farmers in a long and winding road of red.
Driven by desperation and determined to be heard, the Left-affiliated rallyists gathered from all corners of the country, some walking for miles, others hopping on to buses or trains, to press for their demands.
The charter includes implementation of remunerative prices for farm produce, loan waivers, just labour laws and a minimum wage of Rs 18,000 a month.
Bound by their desire for a better life, they all had their stories.
Sunita Devi, 50, said she came from all the way from Jodhpur, leaving her family.
“I have seen my land been taken by landlords as I couldn’t pay back the loan my husband took for buying new seeds. This government often talks about loan waiver, but my loans have never been waived.
“I am here to raise my voice against this government. It has done nothing for farmers like us,” she said determinedly.
The Mazdoor Kisan Sangharsh Rally - organised jointly by the Centre of Indian Trade Unions (CITU), All India Kisan Sabha (AIKS) and the All India Agricultural Workers’ Union (AIAWU) -- began from Ramlila Maidan in the rain and passed through various roads to culminate at Parliament Street.
Carrying red flags, the marchers raised slogans against the policies of the BJP government and assailed the ruling party’s “communal and divisive” agenda.
Also in the gathering was Bhau Ram Shivram Ghumare, a 42-year-old from Nashik who arrived in the capital two days ago only to find that the rain had washed away the arrangements made for them at Ramlila Maidan.
But he was undeterred.
For Ghumare, the Delhi rally is a continuation of the “Long March” he took part in in March when he walked from Nashik to Mumbai.
He was just 11 when he started farming with his father. Three decades on, he has not been able to get his own land.
“We travelled from Nashik to Mumbai for our demands, but the Maharashtra government fooled us then. So now we have travelled to Delhi to demand our rights. They tell us to trust them each time, but don’t fulfil their promise,” he said.
Swaroop, 25, covered the distance from Kerala to Delhi with his three friends on a motorcycles.
“My friends and I travelled from Kerala to Delhi in seven days crossing many states like Karnataka, Tamil Nadu, Telegana, Andhra Pradesh, Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh and Uttar Pradesh meeting farmers on our way. We realised that the state of farmers is seriously bad. We told them that the time has come to raise our voice against the government’s policies,” Swaroop said.
Estimating that about 1.5 lakh people had gathered, organisers said this was the first time after Independence that farmers and workers jointly participated in a rally against the government.
According to AIKS general secretary Hannan Mollah, the government has not done anything for farmers since it came to power.
“For the last four years, this BJP government has fooled us. It has never done anything for farmers. We have always demanded that the government should give farmers a remunerative price as per the recommendations of the Swaminathan Committee. We have asked for the minimum wage for the workers which should be not less than Rs. 18,000 per month,” he said.
He alleged that the government has ignored their demands. “Now it is high time. We will continue our struggle till our demands are met,” Mollah told the gathering.
The leaders warned that they would continue their struggle till they “change the Central government”.
“Workers and farmers coming together has enthused the other sections of the society. Now the Youth Federation has decided to organise a rally on November 3 protesting against unemployment in the country. Before that, they will hold a 24-hour dharna in front of all central government offices in all districts,” said Tapan Sen, CITU general secretary.