Bharat Jodo Yatra: The pride and the pain

They are visibly exhausted and surely some of them wonder if they will last. Even the prospect of walking 3,570 kilometres, all the way to Kashmir over 150 days, must be daunting

Photos: Ashlin Mathew
Photos: Ashlin Mathew

Ashlin Mathew

Five days and a hundred kilometres later, there are many with bruised, bleeding feet. Blisters, swollen ankles, painful knees and sundry aches and pains are common. They are visibly exhausted and surely some of them wonder if they will last. Even the prospect of walking 3,570 kilometres, all the way to Kashmir over 150 days, must be daunting.

But the thought of dropping out has apparently not occurred to them. The Bharat Yatris (those who will walk the entire route) were warned that the first few hundred kilometres would be the hardest. They are waiting for the promised turnaround moment when body and feet have adjusted to the daily grind of walking 20-25 kilometres. Past that inflection point, they’ve heard from seasoned padayatris like Digvijaya Singh, the long march will be a breeze. They are not there yet, but, buoyed by a willing spirit, they are determined to test their pain barriers.

They know media hyenas lurk, waiting for someone to drop out. Surely the TV channels will go berserk if that were to happen, they confide with a smile. They see 81-year-old AK Antony, who is out to walk with the Yatris, in a show of solidarity. They are also in awe of Rahul Gandhi, who walks briskly and is not showing any real signs that it takes an effort.

An infectious comradely energy envelops the Yatris. Their pain often slows them down, but they hold each other’s hands, exchange smiles, raise slogans and walk on. The words of encouragement they hear from people on the way, the bystanders who wave enthusiastically and offer them water, or flowers and garlands no doubt lift their spirit. “A little pain for a big cause,” one of them says.

Ratna Painkra from Jashpur, Chhattisgarh, is limping. She has searing pain in her knee but insists on walking the distance. Her family has been supportive of her decision to walk all the way from Kanyakumari to Kashmir. Painkra is a zila parishad member. She says: “The country is disintegrating. For people to prosper, we need unity. We cannot waste time on petty politics; we cannot allow another division of the country or a civil war.”

For Daylabeevi, a resident of Nemom in Thiruvananthapuram, it is all about Rahul Gandhi. “It is important to support politicians who work for peace and communal harmony in the country and work for the welfare of the poor,” she says. She is a ‘Pradesh Yatri’.

Anulekha Boosa from Telangana is a lawyer and national secretary of the Congress-affiliated NSUI (National Students Union of India) in-charge of Odisha. “You won’t see them on TV or hear their voices in TV studios, but there are Indians who desperately want change. They need to be heard and their concerns amplified,” she says.

Another Telangana resident, Dhanalakshmi, who is also the state president of the Sarpanch Forum, says: “I want to visit all the states and understand the issues of farmers and women. I’ve now learnt that Kerala is short of land but there is unity among its people.” For Dhanalakshmi, the walk comes easy—she’d walked 600 kilometres from Bhoodan Pochampally in Telangana to Sevagram in Maharashtra to mark the 75th anniversary of the Bhoodan movement

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