People's Democracy

(Weekly Organ of the Communist Party of India (Marxist)


No. 11

March 17, 2013




Rich Experiences of the

 Southern Jatha


Vijoo Krishnan & Vipin



THE Southern leg of the Sangharsh Sandesh Jatha, after having travelled over 3350 kilometres over the last 17 days, touching over 10 lakh people directly with the message of struggles, merged with the Western Jatha at Bhopal on March 12, 2013.  People received it with great enthusiasm everywhere and reaffirmed their commitment to struggles.  


The Southern Jatha was flagged off on February 24, 2013 from Kanyakumari by CPI(M) general secretary Prakash Karat by handing the Red Flag to the jatha leader S Ramachandran Pillai and the team members. The jatha completed its journey in the four South Indian states of Kerala, Tamilnadu, Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh, as well as Maharashtra and Madhya Pradesh before merging with the Western Jatha at Bhopal.  The jatha leaders addressed meetings at seventy venues and had receptions in more than fifty locations. In addition to this people lined the streets to greet the jatha all through the route. It was received everywhere with great fervour, with different cultural programmes and folk art forms as well as the guard of honour by red volunteers.


The jatha traversed through the different venues of heroic struggles like Marthandam in Tamilnadu, the venue of protests against the oppression of the princely State of Travancore, revolutionary Punnapra-Vayalar anti-feudal struggle, the places of Moplah rebellion in Malappuram, Tiruppur, the venue of martyrdom of Kumaran in the independence struggle and workers’ struggles, Salem, the venue of the martyrdom in the Jail rebellion, Dharmapuri, witness to the heroic Vachathi struggle of adivasis and struggles of aalits against caste oppression, Kurnool, witness to resistance against the British and the regions witness to the historic Telangana armed struggle against feudal landlords and the Nizam, which was an added source of inspiration. The jatha members garlanded the statue of Babasaheb Ambedkar at many places and resolved to take forward his struggle against caste discrimination and oppression. The jatha members stayed at Sewagram in Wardha and visited the Ashram of Mahatma Gandhi.


The jatha went through regions facing extreme agrarian distress and expressed solidarity with many family members of farmers who committed suicide. The hoisting of the Party flag at Khanapur in Adilabad district wherein tribal people have occupied government land and built huts was a memorable experience. Drought-prone regions, wet-lands, rain-fed regions, arid regions, coastal, highland and plain regions were covered touching different topographically and climatically varied regions. It travelled through regions growing different crops ranging from paddy to cotton, mustard to wheat, sugarcane to oil palms, plantation crops and horticultural crops. Important industrial centres of Kochi, Coimbatore, Bangalore, Adoni, Hyderabad, Nagpur and Bhopal were covered by the jatha. The plight of the weavers in Doddaballapur and Adoni (also known as second Mumbai) as well as workers in the textile units in Tiruppur was serious. Large scale retrenchment, migration and suicides also were reported.


All sections of toiling masses, the landless, homeless, peasants, agricultural workers, fishers, fish workers, coir workers, cashew workers, weavers, religious minorities, dalits, adivasis, students, youth and women including anganwadi workers, ASHA workers, domestic workers, home-based workers and other unorganised sections, came in large numbers and felicitated the jatha as well as submitted memoranda on their problems. The jatha received more than 200 memoranda by different sections of society. The participation of women in the various meetings and receptions all through the route was impressive.


Freedom fighters, eminent academicians, film personalities, folk artists, retired judges, artists, poets and sportspersons met the jatha leaders and expressed solidarity to the CPI(M)’s message of struggle. The jatha leaders also felicitated more than a hundred families of martyrs, freedom fighters, cultural personalities, sportspersons and social activists.


People’s anger against the anti-people policies, landlessness, homelessness, water shortage, closure of factories, ruin of traditional industries, rising prices, falling employment, corruption, violence against women and social injustice was palpable all through the route of the jatha.


Jatha Enters MP


March 10-12, 2013


Nagpur welcomed the Southern Jatha with receptions at different points in the city. The first reception was at Khapri where the workers from Central Institute of Cotton Research, students, youth and women welcomed the jatha. There were two other receptions in the city and comrades led the way in bikes. The jatha vehicle was taken through the crowded streets of Nagpur to a hall meeting at the Shikshak Sahakari Bhavan. The meeting was addressed by the jatha leaders. Over 500 people from all sections of society attended the hall meeting. Notably leaders of other Left and Democratic Parties like CPI, Forward Bloc, All India Bolshevik Party and the Republican Party of India also attended the meeting.


On March 11, the jatha left early for Madhya Pradesh and travelled over 350 kilometres. The jatha was received at Sosar on the Maharashtra-Madhya Pradesh border by comrades. There were meetings at at Chhindwara, Kareli and Ghadwara in Narasinghpur district. At Kareli, the jatha members marched for about a kilometre through the market place with slogan shouting comrades accompanying them. A press conference was held at Kareli. At Ghadarwara, comrades were waiting despite the four hour delay in the arrival of the jatha. M A Baby and Ramnarayan Kuraria, secretary, Madhya Pradesh Kisan Sabha addressed the gathering.


On March 12, the day began with a reception and meeting at Saalichowka in Narassinghpur district. Comrades received the jatha with slogans and the beating of the “Dhol”. A meeting was held which was addressed by S Ramachandran Pillai, Ramnarayan Kuraria and Salil Shukla, CITU leader.


A Man in Loin Cloth


Sevagram, Wardha: March 9


Undoubtedly Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi is India's most known face. India's only Mahatma, with staunch beliefs in non-violence, self-reliance, and undying hatred against subjugation to imperialist forces, social injustice and inequality, spent some part of his life in the sleepy town of Wardha, which is a centre of cotton trade in the Vidarbha region.


And obviously, Wardha bears the signs of the agrarian crisis gripping the country due to the anti-peasant, domestic trade policies of the subsequent governments both at the centre and Maharashtra.  Incidentally both are led by the Congress party.


Atmaram Godbole is a cotton trader for over three decades now and has his well furnished office on Wardha's main road, which takes one to Sevagram, where the Gandhi Ashram and its affiliated organisation operates out of its 250 odd acres of land.


Godbole, who employs five workers to assist, is a classical small town commodity trader. He doesn't have trading terminals and depends on his instincts to trade and uses a bound notebook to keep his accounts. He had a not so good year. “Volumes are low. Margins are falling. Don't know what happens in the future months”, mumbles the trader with gold rings on almost all his fingers to ward of any possible ill-fate. Although he doesn't talk about the margin he makes, back of the envelope calculations estimate it to be close to 30 per cent.


Wardha is facing all the problems of a region caught in a crisis. “We do not have pucca houses; there is no water or electricity. In case of a rain or a storm, our houses collapse. We don't have permanent jobs”, says a group of women who stopped the jatha as it went through the roads of Wardha and brought their problems to the notice of the leaders.


“Bapu led struggles like the Dandi March to oust British from India. And the Congress party is now welcoming companies like Walmart to India”, points out CPI (M) Polit Bureau member M A Baby.


Wardha's Sevagram Ashram had an important role to play in India's struggle for freedom. The meeting to finalise the call for the Quit India Movement was taken here in 1942. The Ashram complex is a perfect example of Gandhian philosophy and gets a steady stream of visitors from India and abroad.


Many of us forget that Gandhi learnt about the loin cloth wearing Indian only after extensively touring India. It is to identify himself with them that he too started wearing the loin cloth. If only all of those ruling the country in the name of Gandhi and paying tributes to him every year could also see the man with the loin cloth roaming on the roads around – the man who lost his land and livelihood.




Dried water, Indebted Lives


Mahagaon: March 9


Every morning Gulam Sheikh treks over ten kilometres to make it to the cloth shop he works in Mahagaon, a dusty roadside market in Maharshtra. Sheikh, 80, is not alone. There is a group of former farmers who trek through the thick undercover of the nearby forest, braving wild animals and forest guards, who often make it a point to mistake them for poachers, to work in a group of printing shops, kirana stores and factories in Mahagaon and nearby areas.


This stream of people have been steady, but has intensified in the last few years. They are the former farmers, who quit their land and non-viable farming option and turned construction workers and other job seekers. Elderly like Sheikh, have opted for easy jobs like working in shops.


Sheikh and his two sons worked in the 60 acres of land and grew cotton, pulses and vegetable until a few years back when drought turned their lives upside down.


“We don't have irrigation facilities. All the water sources have dried. We get very little as loans from banks. We have lost our land to moneylenders. My sons have gone to Mumbai for jobs and I have opted for the job here”, says Sheikh, managing the shop. The job pays him Rs 1,000 a month, ie, 33 rupees per day, for toiling almost 10 hours a day.


It is an irony that Mahagaon is just under 100 kilometers from Sevagram, which has the ashram of Mahatma Gandhi, who worked for the upliftment of people like Sheikh, who have been exploited by the wealthy.


Listening to the speeches of the leaders of Sangharsh Sandesh Jatha in a nearby meeting ground, Sheikh's fellow traveller Prakash Kinjawadekar says, “We didn't leave our farm land on our own. If and when we get it back, we want to get back to farming. But it is difficult”. Kinjawadekar, took a loan of Rs 30,000 in two instalments to invest in a well and irrigation facilities. All lost, he became a fellow traveller of Sheikh.


Another problem the region faces is, shortage of agriculture labourers, as the relatively younger population has migrated in search of jobs and other livelihood options.


The Maharashtra leg of the Southern Jatha was welcomed in Mahagaon by a group of Party members and sympathisers who are largely farmers.



Struggle for Alternate Policies,

Suicides Not the Way

Yavatmal: March 9


Kalavati shot into fame almost instantly, thanks to the half an hour or so long speech by Congress leader Rahul Gandhi, defending the Civil Nuclear Agreement between India and the US. His argument was that nuclear power will alleviate poverty and indebtedness of millions of Indian farmers like Kalavati.


Kalavati, hailing from the Vidarbha region, plunged into debt as a result of loans taken from local moneylenders and absence of proper sound banking system, got huge financial aid from social activists and organisations. However, the plights of the many, like Kalavati, continues. According to people residing in her village, her daughter and son-in-law committed suicide due to mounting debts.


The Vidarbha region witnessed around 35 suicides in the last one month alone. Most of these suicides are a result of high input costs, low prices, failing crops due to lack of irrigation facilities and mounting debts.


“We are finding it difficult to survive. There is no market for our produce”, says Mohan Kamble, a cotton farmer, who has seen a few failed crops in the last five years.


According to Kamble, in the last five years, many farmers have quit farming and moved on to other occupations or migrated to nearby towns for low paying jobs.


Leaders of the jatha met the people and appealed to them not take the route of suicides and exhorted them to take the route of sangharsh. They assured them that the CPI (M) will always remain by their side and lead the struggles against agrarian distress, the result of the ruling class policies. They told them that their condition can be altered only through this struggle for an alternate set of policies to that pursued now by the ruling Congress led government both at the centre and the state.


 Exploitation at its Very Best


Adilabad: March 8


Adilabad is among the most backward districts in Andhra Pradesh and this was evident in the three stops that the Sangharsh Sandesh Jatha made at Nirmal, Khanapur and Jannaram.


At Nirmal, people are being subjected to exploitation by the nexus of officials and businessmen. For example, the 1.2 lakh women beedi workers belonging to minorities, backward class, SC and ST are underpaid by greedy company management and government is ignoring their plight. Although, the government has fixed Rs 162.50 as daily wage for the beedi workers, they get only Rs 120. In addition, water is not released to the full extent to Saraswati Canal, which is the main source for irrigation in the drought-prone area.

The meeting at Nirmal was attended by over 90 per cent women who are mainly beedi workers and scheme workers. M A Baby and Veeraiah addressed the meeting at Nirmal.

From Nirmal, the jatha traversed through the Kavval forests, home to the Gond and Kolam tribes. The government's decision to establish Tiger Zone in Kavval Project Forest has resulted in people from 42 villages being evicted forcefully. It is an irony that while the government is bothered about the Tiger population and their protection, they are least bothered about adequately rehabilitating the tribal people and resettling them in accordance with the Forest Rights Act. While tigers need to be protected, it cannot be at the cost of destroying livelihoods of the tribal people who have for centuries co-existed in these forests with the wildlife.


At Khanpur, four acres of land has been occupied under the leadership of the CPI(M) and about 60 huts have been built on this land belonging to the government by adivasis, dalits and backward castes. The jatha stopped at Khanapur and expressed solidarity with the struggle for land and homes for the poor. S Ramachandran Pillai hoisted the Party Flag at the venue and Sreenivasa Rao said the Party would stand by the people and protect their right to the land occupied. The jatha leaders were welcomed in the traditional way with garlands and the red tilak.


In Jannaram, the landless and homeless people are demanding land and homes for all. Forest land of over 6000 acres spread across six villages has been occupied by tribals, dalits and OBCs and the struggle is going on to regularise it. Over 200 acres are also being cultivated. The government is turning a blind eye to their demands and has resorted to arrests and threats to stifle the movement. Women working in mid-day meal scheme, anganwadis and ASHA workers along with the landless and homeless formed the bulk of the audience of whom over 80 per cent were women.


Another major issue is the forced acquisition of land for open cast projects in Singareni region against which the local people are fighting under the Party banner.


People of Nirmal, Khanapur and Jannaram who are victims of the faulty policies of the government and local administration received the jatha with great enthusiasm.


S Ramachandran Pillai and V Srinivasa Rao addressed the meeting at Jannaram.