Two hundred thousand farm workers form all over the country marched to the Indian capital of New Delhi on Tuesday (20 March).
Two hundred thousand farm workers form all over the country marched to the Indian capital of New Delhi on Tuesday (20 March). The demonstrators were protesting at the lack of government reforms in the agriculture industry. When the procession reached the Red Fort square, the crowd was addressed by the General Secretary of the Moscow-backed Communist party of India, Mr. Rajeshwara Rao. Later representatives took a list of demands to the Indian Parliament.
SYNOPSIS: Half the demonstrators were landless farmers and harijans from the state of Bihar near the Bangladesh border. Their leaders are angry at the government's apparent inability to implement laws which would have given land to agricultural workers. Attempts by the landless harijans to apply these laws have reportedly triggered off murder, arson and rape of the harijan women. The marchers claimed that, in 1977 alone, there were almost eleven thousand incidents of atrocities against harijans. A brass band lightened the proceedings, but the demonstrators were determined to deliver their demands to the government.
A member of parliament Mr. Bhupesh Gupta, was one noted figure among the marchers. India's economic performance over the last eighteen months has improved markedly. But the government realises the recovery is benefitting only small sections of society, and half of India's population of six hundred and twenty-five million are as poor as ever.
The budget last month increased taxes on India's richer urban classes, and included exemptions on agricultural machinery. Government policy now places more emphasis on rural development, with extra money provided to create jobs in village industries.
Many demonstrators were members of the farm labour wing of the Communist party of India. During his speech Party General Secretary, Rajeshwara Rao made a scathing attack on government policy, and spelled out the five-point charter of demands he would present to parliament. The demands included an end to all atrocities, implementation of existing land reforms, a minimum wage for agricultural workers, security of employment and provision of proper housing facilities. Unless their demands were met, said Mr. Rao, the agricultural workers would combine with other trade unions and in July, begin a nationwide campaign for agricultural reforms.