The recent times have witnessed two countervailing journeys across India, one of an ‘exodus’ where one saw heart wrenching scenes of hundreds of thousands of migrant workers taking a route to home by walk, the other where peasants were marching to storm the bastions of power in Delhi stomping the barricades erected by the state en route. The first journey reminded the lines from a Bob Marley’s song, The Exodus, ‘We’re leaving Babylon’. The peasants march braving the water cannons and crossing trenches dug out on the highways reminded the song, ‘Dilli dur nahin hai yaaro, Dilli ke asli haqdaro’..
The two journeys appear to be in opposing directions one away from the cities and other toward the Delhi, the seat of power. They also appear to be taken up by two different social forces, migrant workers from rural areas and the peasants from the villages. Yet, they are much closely linked to the direction that the country is going to take.
The first one, the march of the migrant workers was a pointer to the journey of people who came into the cities in search of a life and livelihood. The pandemic has only exposed the cruel workings the economy and the heartless abandonment of the state. That they were forced to walk back to the place where they started is also a pointer to the journey of the Indian economy at large. During the Lockdown, there was the image of one person weeping inconsolably on the Nizamuddin bridge across river Yamuna as he was desperate to reach home to see his ailing son 1200 km away. It captured the desperation and grief. Yes, it was a silent journey along the bleeding pathways afflicted by the economy of apathy. It seemed like a journey into despair, yet it was also a journey which showcased the perseverance to reach the destination, the home in the village. The question of their return, whether out of compulsion or on their own volition, is a question of the development models.
The second one, a journey instigated by the state as it formally abdicated its hither to nominal role in supporting and aims to firmly foist the corporate at the helm. There is the image of a youth jumping on to a police vehicle to turn off the water cannon. It symbolized the resistance to the brutish attempt to block the march to Delhi. Keen observers also can notice the fact that the centers of once green revolution are now in the forefront voicing the opposition notwithstanding the claims about green Revolution 2.0. Yes, it was a daunting journey braving the water cannons in the cold winter and blockages imposed by state at every level. Yet, it is a march determined to make the deaf hear the voice.
We now have a situation where workers were driven home to villages and the farmers in the villages are marching to Delhi as they perceive the risk to their lives and livelihood as the threat of corporatization of agriculture looms ahead. Thus, we have reached a full circle.
Imagine a situation when these journeys converge, and other social classes join forces. Delhi appeared a formidable city, turned into a fortress, and a very far place for the journey in a gloomy environment. Yet the current incidents prove that it is not too far even as the journey still appears to be arduous. It is riddled with challenges and blocked with barricades and deep trenches dug out by the state. Yet what was originally planned as a blockade to the marching farmers turned the city into a besieged one choking the supply lines. The mighty will crumble as their feet are made of clay. One must thank farmers for showing the way forward. A long battle still lies ahead…