It has been 14 days since a group of farmers from the delta region of Tamil Nadu arrived at New Delhi to demand drought relief from the Centre. The nation watched aghast as protesters held skulls of dead farmers in their hands and stood in nothing but loin cloths and dhotis at Jantar Mantar. But even as these farmers are seen braving alien roads, change in weather and lack of accommodation, helping them silently from behind the scenes, is none other than the Tamil community of New Delhi.
Several politicians including Union Minister Pon Radhakrishnan, MDMK Chief Vaiko and even actors such as Prakash Raj and Vishal have expressed their solidarity with the protesters. Last week, a delegation of farmers even met Finance Minister Arun Jaitley, who promised to consult officials on their demands before making decisions. While leaders and actors may have been captured on camera and praised for the support they have extended to these farmers, the real backbone of this protest has gone largely unnoticed.
"When we first came to Jantar Mantar, we had no shade over our heads. We would just sit out in the open," says Premkumar,a farmer from Trichy. "To make matters worse, we ate from a Gurudwara nearby on the first two days. The food didn't agree with the farmers and a lot of us immediately fell ill," he laments. But the farmers, who were new to Delhi, were not left unaided for too long.
Donors and caterers
After their plight on the roads of the capital was highlighted by the media, members of the Tamil community immediately rushed to provide them with the essentials. Leading this effort in Jantar Mantar, was 'Chennai memes', a Facebook page, whose members in New Delhi have taken to support this social cause.
"Many Tamil students and families came to the site of protest and wanted to contribute money. We however, told them to instead help provide food for the farmers," says Rajkumar, a member of the group. "We made a timetable and gave donors the phone numbers of caterers who will provide the protesting farmers with food. We also tell them which meal they can contribute for," he adds. According to the volunteers, it costs close to Rs 5000 to feed the protesters one meal and there are presently close to 80 farmers at Jantar Mantar.
Amongs the caterers preparing food for these agitators, is Sathishwaran, who hails from Theni and owns a catering business in Karol Bagh. "I was brought to Delhi when I was just three months old. I may have grown up here but my heart is that of a Tamilian," he says.
"On the fourth day of the protests, my friends and I pooled in money to prepare food for these farmers but following that we have been receiving orders from other Tamilians in the city. They have willingly come forward to help the farmers from our state," he claims.
So, how does he manage to provide meals to the farmers at such subsidised rates? "We are not looking to make a profit in this particular case. We just about break even, with the money we are paid but it does not matter because we are all doing it for the right cause. You can take a take a Tamilian out of Tamil Nadu but you can't take away the love for his state from him," he laughs.
For the farmers, who are yet to see their demands bear fruit in the capital, this intervention could not have come at a better time. "It is important that we stay in good health because we plan to protest till our three demands are met by the Centre," says Premkumar.
One of their main demands is that the Centre must declare Tamil Nadu a drought-hit state. In addition to this, they want the government to provide relief demanded by the state to the farmers, waive-off their debts and also ensure the interlinking of rivers in the country. "We just can't afford to fall ill right now and Tamil doctors here are ensuring that we have medical aid," he reveals.
Six Tamil doctors, from across the capital have been alternately visiting the site of protest to keep a check on the health of the farmers. Dr Anand from Janakpuri Super Specialty Hospital, is one of these doctors who was at the venue on Monday. "They are out in the sun and are prone to dehydration. In addition to this several of them are suffering from diarrhoea and nausea. We have given them medication for the same. The patients are stable now," he says. Other doctors who visit the farmers are from Santosh Medical College, Maulana Azad Hospital and even Tihar jail. "We have also promised the farmers that they can come to our hospitals if anybody were to fall seriously ill during their agitation here," says Dr Anand.
We are really grateful to these Tamilians who have gone out of their way to help us in Delhi," says Premkumar. "Our fight here is not over and we will need this support to ensure financial assistance for the farmers who are suffering from the drought in Tamil Nadu," he adds.
The High Level Committee (HLC) of the central government, which surveyed the drought situation in Tamil Nadu has approved a financial assistance to the tune of Rs 2014.45 crore for the state. This the highest among the central aid proposed for 10 states affected by natural disasters. However, it falls way short of the Rs 39,565 crore aid sought by the state.