December 6th 2010: First Day in Rajasthan – Yatra covers long distances to reach out to citizens in Dhaban village, Hanumangarh town, Ganganagar town and in Gharsana village
The day began at 3 am, as per plan. There was not enough hot water nor was it hot enough; however, Mandeep Singh Dhaliwal’s (a Punjabi engineer who returned from New Zealand after a bout of chronic illness to take up natural farming here) wonderful tea made up for the little practical problems related to waking up so early and taking a cold bath in Rajasthan in the middle of winter.
The first event was somewhat surreal. We joined the Prabhat Pheri that is taken up by scores of citizens of Dhaban village. We reached the village at the promised time, at 5.15 am and were welcomed warmly in the Gurudwara. The priest wished the yatra all success and then we set off on the Prabhat Pheri. Little puppies, boys and girls, men and women and all the Kisan Swaraj Yatris were part of a one and a half hour long walk around the village streets…..There was much singing of both Shabad Kirtans and Bhajans. The communal harmony being built here was very much evident. Many families welcomed the Prabhat Pheri with lamps lit outside their homes. It was a beautiful sight to behold. No one felt cold, incidentally. It was warm glowing feeling inside. Some came out to specially welcome the Yatra people. Gurjeet Singh’s which had a bereavement in the family just three days ago did not hesitate to come out with their sweets to welcome the Yatra folks. The streets were all swept clean by the women of the houses that we walked past. Little babies, straddled on the hips of their parents were also out to greet the early morning walkers. When it all ended in the Gurudwara, Aarti Pankharaj, Pankaj Bhushan and Kavitha Kuruganti spoke to the villagers at length, including more than hundred women who gathered. The villagers were touched by the efforts being put in by the Kisan Swaraj Yatris in pursuing the cause they have taken up. Several of them were keen on joining the Rajghat event.
We then visited the natural farm (kinnow and grapes orchard and wheat farms) of Kishan Jakhar, who is following the zero-budget farming principles spread by Subhash Palekar ji. He also heads the Khet Kalyan Morcha which as around ten thousand members to resolve the local issues of farmers here. The farm visit however took longer than we thought. The MP, Karnataka and Andhra farmers in the team were full of questions about various practices adopted.
We rushed to Hanumangarh town and we were already running more than an hour late by then. Here, at the Bhagat Singh Chowk, there was an impromptu meeting, which collected a crowd soon enough (Mr Ashok Mathur of Dainik Lokmat was there to receive us and accompany us through the next set of events). Mr Arun Khileri who is the Chair of the Agriculture Marketing Board and Mr Goswami, the Vice Chair of the Municipal Corporation were there to welcome the Yatris and there was the presence of electronic media persons by the time we began the meeting.
From here, we moved to Shri Ganganagar town where Kisan Morcha people (Mr Tej Kumar and others) and NHCPM representatives (Mr Maniram Punia) who did years of work supporting the local communities’ rights over their resources including atrocities by the Indian defence services in the area, the non-payment of compensation to tenant farmers and agricultural workers for the landmines placed in agricultural fields, the issue of non-supply of irrigation water which was picked up by farmers in Gharsana and neighboring villages, the subsequent police firing a few years back where seven farmers had to lay down their lives and so on.
After a rushed meeting in Shri Ganganagar outside the Collector’s office where we had a small discussion on whether it is better to continue with the interaction with the farmers present there on the issue of Monsanto’s tie-up with the state government (Project Golden Rays, for the spread of hybrid maize with tribal farmers in five districts of the state) or move to Gharsana village, where farmers would be waiting for us, we rushed to Gharsana. The plan sent to us mentioned that it was fifty kilometers away – then we discovered that it is actually one hundred and seventy kilometers away! Some of us raced on the desert roads, close to the international border, so that we can catch at least some farmers in Gharsana village. Starting from five pm, we started getting calls that farmers are returning to their villages since the last buses that would take them to their villages are leaving! By the time we reached Gharsana, it was 6.30 pm and there were around 20 farmers still waiting for us. We sat in the cold and discussed the irrigation-related issues of the local farmers and shared what the Kisan Swaraj Yatra was about. Farmers assured us that they are not likely to fall into the trap of MNCs here and that even Bt Cotton did not make much inroads here.
After a meeting that lasted for nearly one and a half hours here, we traveled a long distance again to reach Urmul Setu’s campus at around 11.30 pm and have the second meal of the day, before calling it a day.