December 7th 2010: In Bikaner, Nokha, Nawalgarh and other places in Rajasthan
We began our day in biting cold. The Urmul Sethu campus that we stayed in was a large campus with buildings scattered at a distance from each other. The earlier night (night, morning?), when we reached the campus at midnight, there was hot food waiting for us. Given that we all had to skip our lunch in the afternoon, no one minded eating at that time of the day!
This day, the Yatra was to split into two teams to go on two separate routes within Rajasthan. This update is from the Bikaner-Jodhpur team. We set off for Bikaner for a press conference together. We reached there in time (by around 10.45 am) to find that the local team was still not there and that the meeting in Nokha was scheduled for 12 noon for the “bus team” (the smaller team consisted of six persons who traveled with Mr Ashok Mathur in a hired car). This team decided to skip the press conference and left for Nokha after waiting for a little while.
The Nokha public meeting was at the Ambedkar Chowk and it was obvious that many of the farmers here were poor farmers, who spend most of their time working hard in the fields (this appeared to be a contrast to some of the meetings in Punjab). The local farmers presented their main issues to the Yatris:
- No procurement happening of Bajra, though support prices have been announced
- Farmers’ lands are being sold off without them knowing about it because of a land mafia operating – cases of at least 80 such farmers are already documented
- The younger generation is selling off lands that their ancestors have steadfastly held on to – there are instances when the parents are not even informed fully about such deals
- Compound interest being charged by banks on agricultural loans is an issue – this is illegal by some provisions made in the state
- Resorting to depending on seeds supplied by companies has resulted in some cases of lack of germination and so on
We presented the issues that the Yatra has been raising and this found a resounding endorsement from everyone present there. A farmer called Mahavirji came running to the bus just as we were leaving this place for lunch to say that marketing of grain the local market yard is causing major problems for the farmers. The traders keep the farmers waiting sometimes for more than fifteen days, he said. He wanted the issue to be highlighted.
After lunch, we went to a village called Sri Balaji. Here, a villager called Narendra Kumar Gehlot felt that our address to the farmers on the highway was not enough and that we should go into the main chowk of the village. After spending a little time talking to farmers at the bus station on the highway, we went into the village – the rally in the village streets drew much attention. Farmers here were also very receptive – the demand for a Farmers Income Commission found a loud endorsement.
Before leaving the village, we met with Mahavir Gahlot, the father of Narendra Kumar and veteran freedom fighter. He lamented the fact that the country did not aim to fulfill the dreams of people like Gandhi. This 95-year old told us about the one time that he got to see Gandhi in person in Pune and talked about the number of times he went to jail during the independence struggle.
We then left for Jodhpur.