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“Won’t Commit Suicide, Will Fight For Our Land,” Say Maha Farmers

‘We work hard on it, we grow our crops on it, we have owned it for generations, it is ours,’ says Shikkubai Wagle.

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3 min read
A woman protester carried her three-year-old and marched to Mumbai from Nashik.
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Shikkubai Wagle has her feed bandaged due to blisters after walking 180 kms.
Shikkubai Wagle has her feed bandaged due to blisters after walking 180 kms.
(Photo Courtesy: The Quint/Ankita Sinha)

Shikkubai Wagle, aged 62, looked distinctly uncomfortable as she sat with her family members in the scorching heat of Mumbai’s Azad Maidan. She marched all the way from Nashik with over 30,000 farmers. The extreme heat and exhaustion have taken a toll on her feet, which are now bandaged, after they were covered in blisters.

But despite the pain, she is certain about one thing – she won’t budge from Mumbai till the land she and her forefathers lived in, and cultivate crops in till today, are officially handed over to her.

My slippers broke on the way, and the ground was very hot, but I couldn’t just stop there. I want to ask the Government to give me and my family our land. We work hard on it, we grow our crops on it, we have owned it for generations, it is ours. We want it to be ours on paper as well. In addition to this, we also want a monthly pension.
Shikkubai Wagle, farmer
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Shikkubai’s demands resonate with all the other Adivasis sitting around her in Azad Maidan. Barely at an arm’s distance from her, 11-year-old Samarth nods in approval.

Eleven-year-old Samarth walked 180 km with his grandparents.
Eleven-year-old Samarth walked 180 km with his grandparents.
(Photo Courtesy: The Quint/Ankita Sinha)
I’m from Varkhed district and I am the son of a farmer. I walked here all the way with my parents and grandparents from Nashik. It was very difficult to walk all the way to Mumbai, but we made it. 
Samarth, farmer’s son
Farmers sit under the shade and hear their representatives speak at Azad Maidan.
Farmers sit under the shade and hear their representatives speak at Azad Maidan.
(Photo Courtesy: The Quint/Ankita Sinha)

While loan waiver is a key issue among farmers who marched to Mumbai, most belonging to the tribal community are not even entitled to a loan. Despite living and cultivating on acres of land for decades, Maharashtra’s Adivasis have no legal record of ownership of their land. This, despite the Recognition of Forest Rights Act being implemented back in 2006.

Farmers wait for their breakfast at Azad Maidan.
Farmers wait for their breakfast at Azad Maidan.
(Photo Courtesy: The Quint/Ankita Sinha)

Eighty-five-year-old Kamli Bahota, a farmer from Palghar, has been fighting for ownership title of her five acre farm where she cultivates rice, Jawar, Urad and Tur dal.

Kamli Bahota has taken her fight to ministers in Delhi, Nashik, Nagpur and now Mumbai.
Kamli Bahota has taken her fight to ministers in Delhi, Nashik, Nagpur and now Mumbai.
(Photo Courtesy: The Quint/Ankita Sinha)
I have been fighting to get our land registered in our name for 40 years now. Forest officers trouble us a lot. They say, this is not our plot and we must leave. I went to Delhi twice, and to Nashik, Nagpur and now I’m in Mumbai to plead with the Ministers to help us. Our land is like our mother, what will we eat without it? How will we live without it?
Kamli Bahota, Farmer
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Fifty-eight-year-old Devidas Bhuple owns the land where he cultivates onion crops, he is, however, struggling to repay loans worth Rs 40,000. He was initially very hopeful after Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis announced a loan waiver last June, but hope has dwindled fast.

Devidas Bhuple (Middle) raises slogans along with other farmers from his village.
Devidas Bhuple (Middle) raises slogans along with other farmers from his village.
(Photo Courtesy: The Quint/Ankita Sinha)
They haven’t even waived off Re 1 from my loans. The authorities ask us to go to the bank and inquire, banks say they haven’t received any message from the higher-ups, but there’s nothing. They just make promises but do nothing. Those of us cultivating onions, have been suffering losses for five-six years now. We don’t even recover our expense. Farmers have no choice but to commit suicide because of this. But today, we will not commit suicide. We will make the government accountable and demand what we deserve.
Devidas Bhuple, Farmer

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