Mumbai: Dozens of Muslims associated with various NGOs past midnight on Sunday opened their arms to provide the protesting farmers with food and medical aide when they reached Byculla and Bhendi Bazaar area in South Mumbai.
With packets of fruits, food items, snacks, biscuits and drinking water they waited near JJ Flyover Bridge for hours to help the farmers who entered Mumbai Sunday and walked overnight from Vikhroli to Azad Maidan near Mumbai CST. Among the Muslim volunteers was also a team of doctors with ambulance ready to assist the farmers who had injured themselves because they walked barefoot, and many others who complained of nausea and dehydration because of walking since last six days under intense heat.
“Our NGO is working for downtrodden and weaker section of the society. These farmers have walked more than 180 kms to highlight their legitimate demands. By our little effort, we are trying to help them in their fight for their right and extend our support to them”, a Muslim volunteer said.
In Vikhroli and Sion area of Mumbai. Sikh groups were also seen helping with food packets and drinking water to protesting farmers. Members of Muslim Council Trust led by Ibrahim Tai, Mumbai Aman Committee led by Fareed Shaikh, and other Muslim NGOs including Jamiat-e-Ulema, Ulema Council, All India Muslim Personal Law Board were also present near Crawford Market and Mumbai CST to distribute water bottles, snacks and fruits to protesting farmers.
Some 20,000 thousand farmers, including a good number of women and children, led by Akhil Bhartiya Kisan Sabha (ABKS) started their Paidal March from Nashik on Tuesday March 06, 2018. Their number swelled to more than 50,000 as they crossed Thane and reached Mumbai on Sunday as more and more farmers and Tribal from the adjoining district joined them.
After the overnight stay at Somaiya Ground in Vikhroli, they were scheduled to begin their march to Mantralaya – the Maharashtra Secretariat or Vidhan Sabha, Monday morning. However paying heed to a request by Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis that students who are appearing for Class 10 SSC exams will suffer, the organisers decided to walk to Azad Maidan Sunday night.
"We will begin our rally after 11 am today so that students appearing for their Class 10 board exam don't face any difficulties," CPI (M) leader Ashok Dhawle was quoted as saying by news agency PTI.
Fadnavis had also invited the farmers for a meeting. "We will talk to them and sort out their issues. The government is positive on their demands. Most of the agitators are tribals, and their main demand is forest land rights," Fadnavis told news agency PTI.
A meeting between a group of ministers and a delegation of farmers is expected to take place around 2pm at Vidhan Bhavan. It has been postponed slightly for the condolence motion following the demise of Congress leader Patangrao Kadam and for filing of nominations for Rajya Sabha.
All opposition parties including Congress, NCP, Left, MNS and also BJP ally Shiv Sena have extended their support to protesting farmers. "This government will not do anything for you", Raj Thackeray, MNS Chief said.
The 180-km march of the farmers, who are also accompanied by a large number of women and children, has come at a time when a billionaire like Nirav Modi had fled the country by looting banks of around Rs 12,600 crore in the form of unpaid loans. The farmers and their supporters say that when the country's agricultural sector is facing a massive crisis due to drought, suicides of farmers, rising debt of farmers and failure to get minimum support price (MSP), among others, the farmers deserve full waiver of loans.
"Why not? When the government can waive off the loans of businessmen and corporate, why not ours? It is the farmers who voted for you in large numbers, not the industrialists", the agitating farmers had recently told BJP President Amit Shah.
The protesting farmers say that they are miffed with the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party's (BJP) "anti-farmer policies". Around 1,753 debt-ridden farmers have committed suicide in the western state since June last year, claims the All India Kisan Sabha (AIKS).
"The government is pro-rich and anti-poor. How can the government let billionaires like Nirav Modi and Vijay Mallya (another fugitive) have gala time at foreign shores and farmers suffer because of increasing debts?" asked a protesting farmer.
The Maharashtra government had in 2017 announced partial loan waiver but the protesting farmers said even this was not properly implemented. Along with proper implementation of the loan waiver package announced by the Chief Minister, the farmers in Maharashtra, who are struggling to cope with the agrarian crisis and natural calamities, are also demanding the implementation of recommendations of the Swaminathan Commission.
“The state government declared a loan waiver package, but 1,753 farmers have committed suicide since then because of its poor implementation. More than 25,000 farmers are now on the highway in intense heat demanding their rights,” said Ajit Nawale, State General Secretary, ABKS.
“In 2015, we had protested for the farmers to get their [rights to the] forest land, better rates for crops, a loan waiver and so on. The government is merely pretending to fulfil its promises. This time it is now or never", he added.
More than 50,000 farmers are now camping at Azad Maidan as their leaders are busy in talks with the BJP government. At Azad Maidan, Mumbai’s dabbawalas came to their rescue and provided them with food and drinking water. "We thought about helping the farmers with food as they are our food-providers and have come from remote parts of the state. We asked our men working between Dadar (in Central Mumbai) and Colaba (South Mumnbai) to collect food and deliver it to our farmer brothers at the Azad Maidan," Subhash Talekar, the spokesperson of Mumbai Dabbawala Association, told the media.
Dabbawalas, the tiffin-carriers known for their efficient delivery service, provided food to the protesters as a part of their 'roti-bank' initiative. Under this initiative, the dabbawalas routinely deploy GPS-tracked vans to collect excess food from eateries, hotels, public functions, and households, so that it can be distributed to the poor and hungry people.
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