UP farmers sound the bugle against government
The battlelines have been drawn and the bugle has been sounded. Sahim Salim witnessed the anger amongst farmers against the government acquisition of their land for the Yamuna Expressway project.
Thirty-seven-year-old Nagender Singh raised his bugle high in the air and gave two short blasts, declaring war on the government.
So began the protests as thousands of farmers from Uttar Pradesh marched to the Parliament on Thursday with war cries of Dilli chalo.
The entire road from Jantar Mantar was filled to capacity with at least 10,000 farmers from all parts across Uttar Pradesh. Dressed in their traditional farmer attire -- Kurta and dhoti -- the farmers huddled in groups on the road with some of them puffing away at their hukkas (pipe).
Farmers arrived from Ghaziabad, Muzaffarpur, Bhagpat, Meerut and other places in buses and got down at Rajghat, before walking to Jantar Mantar.
Because of the swaggering numbers, traffic on various roads in Central Delhi came to a standstill for hours.
Image: Nagender Singh sounds the bugle at Jantar Mantar in New Delhi
Photographs: Sahim Salim
'I will give my life, but not my land'
Armed with their flags and shouting anti-government slogans on the hot sunny Thursday afternoon, the farmers protested against a government acquisition of their land for the Yamuna Expressway project, which connects Agra with New Delhi.
"Our government is extremely powerful because they have the British-era rule which allows them to acquire lands, which we have tilled for years. How can they just come and take our lands by paying 10 per cent of the market rate? Do they take us to be fools?" asks Nagender Singh, a farmer in Chimodi Village in Meerut.
Thrity-eight-year-old Arvind Kumar, a farmer in Ghaziabad's Sadarpur area, says 14 years back, the government had taken over his land at Rs. 1,100 per gaj (nine square feet).
"Today, I see that field, where my family had worked on for years, housing a residential complex. On enquiries, I also found that the government had sold the plot at Rs. 40,000 per gaj. I had sold then without protests because I was uneducated and thought that the government was giving a good rate. Today I know the reality. They want to take over my land again. I will give my life, but I won't give up my land," Arvind Kumar says.
Image: Farmers listen to their leaders with attention
'Should we just sign off all our lands to them?'
"That ridiculous law has to go first. If it is not amended, the farmers in India are doomed. They have been capturing our lands with this law for the past many years. Today, they are doing the same for their expressway, which will not benefit the farmers of their families -- it will not give our children employment and it will also take away our lands. Tomorrow, they will want to build more expressways like this. Should we just sign off all our lands to them," asks 63-year-old Ombir Singh from Shahpur Badoli in Bhagpat.
Rashtriya Lok Dal had given the call to farmers to gherao Parliament on Thursday. Thousands responded and poured to the capital in truck and busloads.
Image: Ombir Singh from Shahpur Badoli in Bhagpat
Opposition joins farmers' cause
The Yamuna Expressway involves land acquisition in 115 villages in Gautam Buddha Nagar, Aligarh, Mahamaya Nagar and Mathura districts of Uttar Pradesh.
The project is expected to reduce the driving time from Delhi to Agra to 90minutes.
After large-scale violence in northern Uttar Pradesh, which claimed lives of three farmers, the Mayawati-government had increased the compensation amount from Rs 449 per square metre to Rs 570.
Farmers, however, rejected the increase, saying they wanted Rs 880 per square metre that was paid in Greater Noida.
Image: A farmer smokes his hookah as others sit beside him during the protest