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How two women farmers took their fight from fields to the capital

The sight of two elderly women with just a plain cloth covering their bodies among hundreds of protesting farmers in Delhi created quite a stir in Tamil Nadu. Nachamma and Rasamma say it was necessary to highlight their plight.

How two women farmers took their fight from fields to the capital
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Rasamma (left) and Nachamma upon arrival from New Delhi

Chennai

Nachamma M (62) was only supporting her husband Mookan (82) in their seven-acre paddy field until a few years ago. When Mookan was down wit paralysis, she took over the reins, looked after all sorts of work in the field along with her son and daughterin-law. She was dedicated to her work as a full-time farmer, but the crop failure due to drought crumbled her. Finding no other go, she started participating in the protests in Tiruchy and other districts before going all the way to the national capital to participate in a protest organised by the Desiya Thennindiya Nathigal Inappu Sangam (DTNIS) founded by P Ayyakannu in which Nachammal is also an active member. 

“We want nothing but loan waiver as we have been leading a life of misery. Winning our daily bread has become a struggle for us,” said Nachamma, who has been residing at Kadaivelampatti village near Thurvarankurichi, 80 km from Tiruchy. 

As the Centre turned a blind eye on the protests held in the state, Ayyakannu decided to take the protests to the national capital and took the list of willing farmers for the protest at Jantar Mantar in New Delhi. It was a well-planned one and Ayyakannu took the list from the month of December.

Leading by example 

“I was the first to volunteer, but Ayya (Ayyakannu) asked me to wait as he thought I would change my mind later. He inquired me again whether I was ready for a long stay in Delhi and I said yes. Still unconvinced, he asked me whether I would be ready for any type of protest in the national capital,” recalls Nachamma. 

Nachamma had acquired a loan of Rs 2 lakh from Indian bank to dig borewells. “We dug two borewells, one with 800 feet another with 900 feet. However, both the borewells dried up after a few days and the samba crop raised in around four acres withered without water. 

Since meeting the further expense was challenging, I had to borrow another Rs 1.5 lakh for a hefty interest,” says Nachamma. With all doors shut, Nachamma felt only loan waiver could solve the problem.

Fellow farmer from Musiri 

Nachamma was joined by another woman farmer S Rasamma (60) of Pappapatti in Musiri, who volunteered to register her name to participate in the Delhi protest. Rasamma had obtained a loan of Rs 2.50 lakh and, she says, she had repaid upto Rs 1.60 lakh. But the private firm which had lent her insisted that she settle the entire defaulted amount after she had missed two months of EMI. “Ayya (Ayyakannu) asked me not to participate in the protest as I cannot cope with the climate in Delhi. But I didn’t give up. I told him I was ready even to die there (in Delhi) for the cause of loan waiver. Seeing my determination, he let me join the protestors,” said Rasamma. 

Difficult journey to Delhi 

Even to book the tickets to New Delhi was made difficult to the protestors. When Ayyakannu went to book tickets for 100 farmers on December 28, the booking official at the Tiruchy railway junction allegedly refused him the bulk booking option. However, farmers staged a protest in front of the counter and later were issued tickets. On March 12, the group of farmers including the two women farmers began their journey from Tiruchy to Delhi for a 100-day protest. “When we reached Delhi, we went straight to Jantar Mantar and stayed there all the 41 days. For the first four days, we were offered food from a nearby Gurudwara. After noticing that it was not suitable for us, we were provided with Tamil Nadu food by the community in Delhi,” says Rasamma. 

Protesting days 

Not knowing Hindi was not a problem for both Rasamma and Nachamma, as the Tamil people in Delhi extended their support. “We felt safe. We stayed in a corner during nights and used the public toilet close-by and picked up a few important words such as paani and khaana. Ayyakannu initially asked the women to stay away from half naked protests. “But sensing our determination, we were later allowed,” says Nachamma. The duo was briefed about the next day’s protest and asked to be prepared. “Tamil people, especially the students, were very helpful. They visited us on a daily basis and gave us medical advice,” the women say. 

Ayyakannu proud 

Ayyakannu is overwhelmed by the participation of women in the protest. “I initially asked them not to accompany us to Delhi, but they asked me to look at them as fellow farmers and not just women. They were very active during the protests,” he says. Meanwhile, Nachamma and Rasamma want to go back to Delhi when the protest resumes.

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