Over a hundred thousand farmers marched Wednesday waving red flags in New Delhi, the capital city of India, demanding Labor rights. The long march, organized by the All India Kisan Sabha (All India Farmers’ Association), AIKS, Center of Indian Trade Unions (CITU) affiliated with the Communist Party of India and All India Agriculture Workers Union (AIAWU), witnessed participation from 23 states of India.
They marched from Ramlila Maidan to Jantar Mantar, Parliament Street. The march started at 9:00 a.m. The farmers started arriving in New Delhi from different states on Sept. 2. They were camping inside the Ramlila Maidan where tents were set up to house the protesters.
The protesters demanded effective implementation of labor laws, a minimum wage, debt waivers for poor farmers, more employment, increasing minimum support price for crops, an end to anti-worker labor reform, social and food security benefits for all, and recognition of more than 10 million Anganwadi and ASHA workers as a workforce.
Anganwadi means courtyard shelter. It is a type of rural child care center in India started in 1975 to combat child hunger and malnutrition. An Anganwadi center provides basic health care and preschool activities in Indian villages. Most of the Anganwadi workers are women from poor backgrounds. They are not recognized as a formal sector of workers and don't get any benefits from the government. They are paid around US$150 per month which makes it hard for them to make ends meet.
ASHA (Accredited Social Health Activists) comes under the National Rural Health Mission of the Indian Government. ASHA workers, all women, look after the women and children in Indian villages where hospitals and health care are not easily accessible. Despite consisting of a large workforce, ASHA workers are also neglected by the government.
Both these sectors of workers joined the peasants in their long march. Tapan Sen, general secretary of the Center of Indian Trade Unions, said “This is a historic union. For the first time, workers and farmers have marched together in such numbers to protest government policies.”
He also said, “Our purpose is to make the toiling people understand that they are running the engines of the country, and understand that the real enemy is neoliberal policy and their operators in the government. If they understand this, there will be an impact on elections as well.”
“We oppose neoliberal policies, communal divisive agenda, and authoritarian attacks of the BJP-led government at the center,” said K. Hemlata, the president of CITU.
This farmer's march took place after a similar rally was organized in March by AIKS in Maharashtra where over 50,000 farmers marched from Nashik to Mumbai, India’s financial capital, demanding the same rights as those demanded by the protesters of Wednesday's march.
“From November 28 to 30, we will hold a ‘Long March of the Dispossessed’. It will not just be farmers, but also the landless, Adivasis, Dalits, and workers who will come to surround the four corners of Delhi,” said Vijoo Krishnan, joint secretary of AIKS who was instrumental in organizing the long march of farmers from Nashik to Mumbai in March.