All over the country, August 9, 2007 was observed as a day of protest. Giving the call “Corporations, Quit retail!”, protest actions were organised in Delhi, Mumbai, Kolkatta, Bangalore, Chennai and many other towns and cities.
The Vyapar Rozgar Bachao Andolan, a joint front of organisations that was spearheading this agitation, had appealed not only to traders, but also to farmers, trade unions, cooperatives, peoples’ rights organisations and others to oppose corporatisation of retail trade.
In Delhi, a big protest action was organised in the busy Chandni Chowk area, braving the searing mid day heat. Several hundred school children came in a procession bearing placards against Wal Mart, Bharti, Reliance, Metro, Bimani and other monopoly corporations in the retail trade. They were followed by traders and workers, who congregated in a protest dharna. As a sign of their anger, the protestors burnt effigies of Wal Mart and Bharti, who had recently announced their tieup as well as entry into wholesale trade.
Activists of the Rangbhoomi Natya Manch presented moving patriotic songs. Following this, representatives of various organisations in the struggle addressed the gathering. Among those who spoke were Ms Geeta, from the Unorganised Workers Union from Tamilnadu, Dr Venkatesh Sunderam of the Lok Raj Sangathan, H S Rawat of Delhi Hawkers Welfare Association, Praveen Khandelwal of the Confederation of All India Traders, Dharmendra Kumar from the India FDI Watch, Shyam Bihari Mishra of Bhartiya Udyog Vyapar Mandal, Indu Prakash Singh and D Leena from the Campaign for Judicial Accountability and Reforms,Vandana Shiva from Navdanya, and Banwarilal Sharma of the Azadi Bachao Andolan.
The speakers pointed out that the entry of big corporations would not only threaten the livelihood of hundreds of thousands of small retailers and traders across the country, but also millions of hawkers, workers in the small establishments, and others. The entry of big corporates in wholesale and retail trade would inevitably lead to monopolisation and control of the market by them. This would have disastrous consequences for peasants who would be forced to sell produce at prices dictated by these corporations. Control of market by the monopolies would mean that working people in towns and cities would have to pay much more for their daily necessities in order to satisfy the greed of these big corporates for profit.
It was pointed out that the drive to seal shops and establishments in Delhi and other cities as well as demolitions also were designed to further the interests of the monopolies. These actions were ruinous to hundreds of thousands of small retailers in Delhi itself, facilitating the entry of companies like Reliance Fresh and others in the retail trade in these cities. It was simply not true that the government was neutral in this matter – the government had clearly thrown its weight behind the big corporates, making and amending laws to facilitate their entry, acting through sealing and demolition drives to ruin them, and more. While big corporates claim to eliminate middle men to benefit both the peasants and the working people of towns and cities, the fact is that they themselves were playing the role of very big middle men, usurping and increasing the profits from retail as well as from wholesale trade. Chandni Chowk, where the protest was being held, was the scene of a massive revolt a hundred and fifty years ago – when the people of India rose against the British colonialists. It is only appropriate that those who have gathered here rededicate themselves to the task of overthrowing those who seek to oppress us and build a system which can guarantee sukh and suraksha to the people of this land!
The streets of Chandni Chowk reverberated with the slogan “Inquilab Zindabad!” as the protestors dispersed, vowing to draw in more sections of people and intensify their struggle.