Yatra takes a record 17 ½ hours to reach Jabalpur from Bhopal!
A Press Conference, a Public Meeting and impromptu outreach in the city…..
The tougher sides of the yatra start showing signs, the second tyre puncture in a week, followed by wrong (longer) route and the worst-ever roads traveled in yatra or for that matter, anywhere else, for a long past. Calling those bad roads is an understatement as the roads were just missing for most parts. It was a collection of potholes for kilometers on end. Add to these a 3-hour traffic jam in the wilderness from around 1.30 am and you have many Murphy’s Laws proven right! It also appeared that we were given wrong advice about which route to take and therefore, ended up traveling some 60-70 kms extra unnecessarily!
The earlier day, after leaving from Bhopal, we stopped at two villages on the highway and started addressing the crowds that gathered. Farmers’ Suicides are on the rise in Madhya Pradesh and two suicides were reported that morning from this part of MP – Raisen. This also is the area from where the Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chauhan hails from.
We finally reached Jabalpur after a marathon 17 ½ hours and had to immediately get ready for the day’s event. We rushed to the Press Conference where we spent considerable time explaining to the media representatives there what we think are the various issues of importance that the Yatra is raising. They agreed that many of the issues have a lot of “feature value” than “news value” and several came forward to study specific issues in the future.
After lunch, we came to the public meeting place in a children’s park near Chowpatti. Competing there for space and sound with us were a group of women practicing for the Navrattri dances! Many social work students joined the meeting.
By now, the Yatris have become more organized and everyone does their job promptly as soon as they get out of the bus – the banners are up, the publications stall is set up, the leaflets are distributed and the donation box goes around quietly.
The public meeting had Bhartiya Kisan Sangh leaders addressing the participants in addition to the Yatris. Speakers stressed on the fact that much about farming will change if the government supports the right kind of agriculture and also ensures remunerative prices. The idea of direct subsidies to farmers was mooted by one the speakers there.
After this meeting, we decided to reach out to the general public by impromptu meetings – Brajkishore Chaurasia started explaining to Jabalpur consumers how the safety of their food is threatened if they don’t support the cause of ecological farming. Soon, we had scores of people coming out of their shops and listening to us in Chopatti. We spent nearly an hour here, taking turns to address and with loud slogan-shouting. We found that as soon as people read the big banner announcing the “Kisan Swaraj Yatra”, they would even stop their cars in the middle of the road, find out what is happening, eagerly seek the handbills we were distributing and then move on. After an hour or so of this, we went to Gwari Ghat on the banks of the Narmada. By that time, it was dark and the lamps floating on the river had a ethereal feel. Across the river, on the other side, the temple was silhouetted sharply against a star-studded sky and Chaurasia’s “bhajan” (a bhajan on environmental conservation) brought in a peaceful end to the day. We had many people joining in the singing on the banks of the Narmada.