Farmers' 18-Day March From Champaran to Varanasi Reaches Siwan
Lucknow: Following the footprints of Mahatma Gandhi who had launched a movement for the right of indigo planters in Bihar’s Champaran, around two thousand farmers from across the country including Odisha, Bihar, Bengal, Madhya Pradesh, Punjab, Haryana and Uttar Pradesh kicked off their 350 kilometres ‘Padayatra' (foot march) from Champaran to Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s parliamentary constituency, Varanasi on October 2, Gandhi Jayanti. The padayatra is being held under the banner of the Samyukta Kisan Morcha (SKM)- an umbrella body of at least 42 farmers’ organisations- and Navnirman Kisan Sangathan (NKS).
A large number of farmers, workers and women took a pledge on the historic Chandrahiya, in East Champaran, to ensure the success of the ongoing farmers’ agitation.
"The march is a re-enactment of Gandhi’s Satyagraha that he started from Champaran in 1917," a union leader of NKS said. The 18-day foot march would cover around 350 kilometres while crossing 35 areas of Bihar and eastern Uttar Pradesh. This includes veteran socialist leader Loknayak Jayaprakash Narayan’s village Sitab Diara. The march would culminate in Varanasi on October 20, with approximately 50,000 farmers joining by then.
The foot march was commenced with at least ten questions prepared for PM Modi, seeking clarity on the farm laws and Minimum Support Price (MSP) and probing the silence of the government on farmer deaths and protests on Delhi borders. Other questions are on unemployment, inflation, healthcare infrastructure during the COVID-19 pandemic and the role of corporates in the country.
Akshay Kumar, a convener of Navnirman Kisan Sangathan who is leading the foot march, said when asked why Champaran, “Chandrahiya village of East Champaran district in Bihar played a very significant role in history. Gandhiji came to Motihari when he got to know that Indian farmers were being exploited by the British government. The Britishers also gave a free hand to a British company to misappropriate the farmers’ hard-earned money. This is what is happening under the current regime to give benefits to big corporate companies. Therefore, we chose Chandrahiya to begin our protest,” Kumar told NewsClick, adding that the “atrocities by the British empire were lesser as compared to what Narendra Modi government is doing to farmers and labourers.”
He went on to add, “This padayatra was the need of the hour since the Indian farmers are once again at the mercy of corporates. The purpose of this march is to identify issues of peasants of every district. We seek to understand the plight of farmers and organise them under one banner,” Kumar said.
After completing a walk of about 80 km from Champaran, today the padayatra is halted at a school in Madarpur market, in Siwan district, with the help of local farmers. When the foot march of farmers started, hundreds of farmers from different villages of the district came forward to participate in it. Farmers carrying tricolours, placards and banners started walking on foot ignoring the extreme weather conditions.
"Scorching heat and rain cannot dampen our spirits," said a farmer, adding that it is high time for the government to realise that it has to step back sooner or later.
Himanshu Tiwari, another convenor of padayatra, said, “We have covered around 80 km from Champaran in four days, the rest 270 km will be covered in the next 13 days. We halted at a school in Madnapur of Siwan district today with the help of local peasants. We are getting good response from peasants and they are also joining the caravan,” he told NewsClick, adding that the purpose of the foot march is to repeal the three black laws and demand that there should be a legal guarantee of MSP.
Farmers walk about twenty kilometres every day in the padayatra. Pedestrians are moving ahead towards their destination while holding meetings and performing ‘nukkad natak’ at every intersection and nooks.
“There is a welcome committee in between, which organises meetings and dialogues with local farmers at many places. We persuade them how and why three Agri laws are dangerous for farmers. We spoke to farmers in villages on the way and were surprised that they have been receiving below-MSP rates for their crops,” Tiwari said.
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