Two weeks ago, over 40,000 farmers walked for 6 days continuously from their homes in western Maharashtra to protest in Mumbai. Many of are them over 50 years in age. Wearing red topis (caps) to identify themselves, they walked barefoot. They even walked in the dark for the final part of their 180 km journey so that they wouldn’t inconvenience students taking board exams on Monday morning.
We know that they are in the news a lot, and that they are very upset as they are not earning enough money. The rainy season has not been very regular or generous over the past few years and there have been droughts which have reduced the productivity of their land.
But what are their other problems?
Loans with high interest rates: Many of these farmers are adivasis or tribal people who for centuries have lived harmoniously with nature in the dense forest that used to cover most parts of Maharashtra. According to a new law passed in 2006, tribals have the right to own forest land if they have been tilling (growing crops on) it for many years. But in many parts of the state, they still have not been given ownership of their land, or of comparable land that is not forest land. This means that although they do get some loans from the government, since the land is not theirs, they can’t take as much as they actually need. They need to borrow from money lenders who charge them very high rates.
Expensive seeds: Their traditional methods of farming have given way to a dependence on high-yielding seeds promoted by the government. However these high-yielding seeds are expensive to buy and require much more fertilizer and pesticide than regular seeds do. Many farmers have taken large loans to pay for the seeds, fertilizers and pesticides.
No real minimum support price for their products: The government who had promised to purchase their crops at a minimum price have not done so, so many farmers have not made enough money to pay back their loans.
Back to the protest! Burdened by debts and with no savings or security, the farmers decided to come to Mumbai to protest and to demand that the government both transfer their land to their names and to cancel some of their loans. They got here and the Chief Minister of Maharastra, Mr. Devendra Fadnavis, and other leaders met with the leaders of the protest. They have agreed to some of the farmers’ demands and have agreed to address the others within 6 months.