“Who will give pensions to old people like us? No one,” an elderly man sitting in a chair at an election rally complains loudly. The candidate answers, “ tau , you will get it and tai will also get 6,000 rupees a month.” An elderly man who is listening lifts his turban and blesses the candidate by putting it on his head as he finishes his speech. A sign of honour in this northern state.

The candidate was Deepender Singh Hooda, campaigning for the 2024 Lok Sabha elections in his constituency, Rohtak. People listened. A few of them asked questions and shared what was on their minds.

(Update: Deepender Singh Hooda of the Indian National Congress won the seat with 7,83,578 votes. Results were announced on June 4, 2024.)


“Why vote for a party which attempted to take away farmers’ land and called it reform?”  Krishn asks PARI in early May, well before the polling date of May 25. We are in Nigana, a village in Kalanaur block of Rohtak district. It is the harvest season. The wheat crop is cut and farmers are waiting for the monsoon, preparing their fields for the upcoming paddy season. With not a cloud in sight, the dust from the roads and smoke from burning fields move freely with the wind.

The mercury is touching 42 degrees Celsius; election fever is rising. In his early forties, Krishn is an electrician and is working in a house nearby. He gets a daily wage of Rs. 500 for work that will last for a week. He also does other wage labour and runs a small shop. In this part of Rohtak district, most of the people depend on farm labour, work at construction sites and MGNREGA (Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act) for their survival.

PHOTO • Amir Malik
PHOTO • Amir Malik

Krishn (left) is a daily wage labourer from Nigana. He says, 'why vote for a party which attempted to take away farmers’ land and called it reform?' In this part of Rohtak district, most depend on farm labour, work at construction sites and MGNREGA

On the way to his home, we reach a junction. “Farmers and workers are at a crossroad,” he says, “and are getting thrashed from all four sides with Saam - Daam - Dand - Bhed .” Krishn is referring to the four key principles of rule – patience, persuasion using gifts or money, punishment and brute force - laid down in the Arthashastra by Kautilya, also identified as Chanakya, an Indian teacher, strategist and royal adviser who lived in the third Century, BCE).

But Krishn’s mention of Chanakya is more about the modern one!

“The ruling party [BJP] took no responsibility for the deaths of over 700 farmers on the Delhi border,” he says referring to the historic farmers’ protests in 2020 and condemns the BJP for its much-criticised farm laws, taken back after more than a year.

“Remember, how Teni [BJP leader’s son] mowed down farmers in Lakhimpur Kheri? Ye maarne mein kanjoosi nahi karte . [They are not misers when it comes to killing].” The 2021 incident from Uttar Pradesh is etched in his mind.

The fact that BJP didn't take any action against its own lawmaker and Wrestling Federation of India (WFI) president Brij Bhushan Singh, accused of sexual harassment, has not gone down well with people like him. “Sakshi Malik and many renowned wrestlers had protested for months in New Delhi last year. They were demanding his arrest for allegedly sexually harassing several women, including a minor,” he says.

In 2014, BJP had promised to curtail violence against women. “What happened to all those promises?” Krishn asks. “They promised to bring black money from Switzerland and put 15 lakhs into our accounts. What we finally got was hunger and ration.”

PHOTO • Amir Malik
PHOTO • Amir Malik

Babli (left) is a 42 year-old worker from Nigana in Rohtak district of Haryana. She says, ‘life was not easier a decade ago but it was not this tough back then.' A billboard (right) with world champion Neeraj Chopra requesting people to cast their votes in the General Election 2024

At his home, his sister-in-law Babli has just finished preparing breakfast on a chulha . She lost her husband to a liver ailment six years ago. Since then, 42-year-old Babli has been working on the MGNREGA sites.

“I hardly get a full month’s work. If I do, I do not get paid on time. If indeed I get paid on time, the payment is so low that it’s hard to run the household,” she says. In March 2024 she worked for seven days but her wages of Rs. 2,345 is yet to be paid.

Haryana has seen a sharp decline in available work on the MGNREGA in last four years. In 2020-21, more than 14,000 households in the state got 100 days of work as promised under the Act. That number fell to 3,447 in 2023-2024. In Rohtak district, only 479 households got 100 days of work in 2023 as against 1,030 in 2021-22.

“Life was not easier a decade ago but it was not this tough back then,” says Babli.

PHOTO • Amir Malik
PHOTO • Amir Malik

Kesu Prajapati (left) says the rise in prices is a critical issue in these elections. Ramrati (right) is cook in a government school and says her wages are just not enough

Just six kilometres from Nigana, at Kahnaur, for Kesu Prajapati, the rise in prices remains the most important issue in these elections. Kesu, 44, fits tiles on the flooring in houses and buildings. He measures inflation through prices of staples such as salt and sugar. A daily-wage labourer and a member of Bhawan Nirman Karigar Mazdoor Union, a labour union in Rohtak, Kesu says that a decade ago, milk cost Rs. 30 - Rs. 35 a litre. Now, it’s Rs. 70. A kilogram of salt then cost Rs. 16 , now it’s Rs. 27.

“Ration was our right. Now, it feels like a government dole, for which we have to bow down.” Presently, a yellow card holder gets five kilos wheat, one kilo sugar and cooking oil, while a pink card holder gets 35 kilos wheat a month. “Earlier, the government used to provide kerosene on ration. That’s been stopped and it’s hard to refill the LPG [liquified petroleum gas] cylinders. We also got chana [Bengal gram] and salt,” he says, which is no longer supplied.

With salt no longer on the list, he says “at least, we can say ‘ humne sarkar ka namak nahi khaya’ [we did not eat the salt given by the state and therefore do not need to be loyal to the ruling government].”

The ‘double engine’ government in Haryana with BJP in power at both centre and state, has not done enough for someone like Ramrati, a cook in Kahnaur’s government school. Ramrati, 48 prepares mid-day meals at a government school. “In such heat, where a minute in front of the fire is unbearable, I make around 6,000 rotis a month.” She gets Rs. 7,000 as monthly wages for this work. She feels that half her labour goes unpaid. Inflation has made it very difficult to manage her family of six. She is not even counting her own domestic work. “I work longer than the sun hours,” she says.

PHOTO • Amir Malik

Haryana has seen a sharp decline in available work on the MGNREGA in last four years. In Rohtak district, only 479 households got 100 days of work in 2023 as against 1,030 in 2021-22. From left to right: Workers Harish Kumar, Kala, Pawan Kumar, Hari Chand, Nirmala, Santosh and Pushpa

“I won’t vote for mandir [Ram temple]. Nor do I have anything to do with that Kashmir thing,” says Harish Kumar. The two achievements that the BJP takes pride in – inauguration of a temple in Ayodhya and abolition of Article 370 of the Constitution (relating to Jammu and Kashmir) do not resonate with this daily wage worker.

Harish is busy working at the road construction site at Makrouli Kalan, 30 kilometres from Kahnaur. Heavy vehicles pass by while Harish alongwith a few men and women work in blistering heat. Women lift and pass concrete blocks, one after the other. Men join the red, grey and yellow ones to make a paved road.

Harish is from Sampal village in Kalanaur tehsil. He gets Rs. 500 a day for this work. “Our daily wage didn’t keep pace with inflation. Majboori mein mehnat bechne ko mazdoori kehte hain [Those who live solely by selling their labour out of compulsion are labourers].”

PHOTO • Amir Malik
PHOTO • Amir Malik

At Makrouli Kalan in Rohtak tehsil , women daily wagers lift concrete blocks to make a paved road. Nirmala (right), like others must work through the searing summer heat

PHOTO • Amir Malik
PHOTO • Amir Malik

Harish and Pawan (in a red shirt) lift cement from the tractor. They are working at a road construction site at Makrouli Kalan, 30 kilometres from Kahnaur

As he finishes his lunch, he hurries up as he has to return to his work of mixing concrete. Like almost all his co-workers in India, he too is underpaid and overworked in this harsh climate. “On my first day of work, I thought if I earned money, people would respect me. Till date, I’m still looking for that one bit of respect,” he says.

“A higher wage is not our only demand. We also seek equality.”

More than a century ago, Kalanaur tehsil had witnessed a milestone moment in the Indian freedom struggle. Mahatma Gandhi and Maulana Abul Kalam Azad addressed a public meeting in Kalanaur. On November 8, 1920, at a conference in Rohtak, a resolution was passed to promote the non-cooperation movement in the region. It proved to be a milestone in India’s freedom struggle.

In 2024, people of Rohtak were again at the crossroads waiting for yet another turning point in their nation’s tryst with democracy, and their own struggle for survival.
Amir Malik

Amir Malik is an independent journalist, and a 2022 PARI Fellow.

Other stories by Amir Malik
Editor : Medha Kale

Medha Kale is based in Pune and has worked in the field of women and health. She is the Translations Editor, Marathi, at the People’s Archive of Rural India.

Other stories by Medha Kale