After covering 180km on foot over five days, protesting farmers from across Maharashtra reached Mumbai yesterday and converged at Azad Maidan in south Mumbai by 7am this morning, so that rush hour commuters, especially students headed for Board exams, are not inconvenienced.
This graceful gesture has won people’s hearts, even as they try to understand what the farmers are protesting and what their demand are.
But, across the city, individuals, resident welfare associations, religious groups and political parties lined up the roads to welcome them and feed them.
“Since yesterday there has been so much help that an entire truck we had brought is still full of food and will last us another four days,” said Kisan Gujar, state president of the All India Kisan Sabha. The farmers association, which is part of the Communist Party of India, has organised the protest to demand loan waivers, the implementation of the Forest Rights Act, updated land records, and better crop prices.
A truck carrying food supplies had travelled with the farmers along the Nashik-Mumbai highway. They had halted periodically to cook their own food. “We did not ask anyone for help. We had come prepared to manage on our own.”
At major junctions on the highway, both rural and urban residents had come out in support of the farmers, supplying them with water. When the protestors reached Mumbai in the blazing humid heat on Sunday, this scaled up, with various groups not only distributing water, but also poha and biscuit packets. A Sikh group arranged free food for them. Resident welfare associations called for water tankers, in case the farmers needed more water.
At around 2 am, the marchers began to walk once more, covering 20 km to Azad Maidan in south Mumbai. When they passed Byculla at around 4.30 am, Muslim residents were ready to distribute water, dates and biscuits.
Even on Monday morning, local worker organisations brought in breakfast and water for the protestors who had walked around 30 kilometres each day.
The marchers have a mixed bag of demands. Many of them are Adivasi farmers from Nashik, Ahmednagar and Thane in western Maharashtra, who are demanding the implementation of the Forest Rights Act as well as better prices for their crops.