As farmer leaders suspend their protest against Central Agriculture Laws that were rolled back by the Narendra Modi government, LokMarg team speaks to the protesters who had been camping at various border points of Delhi for over a year.
Most of the farmers say while the rollback has not come in a day too late, they are happy to bring an arrogant NDA government to its knees by their persistence and support from India and across the world.
Sukhbir Singh, 55, a son of soil from Sangrur, Punjab says abolishment of Central Farm Laws is nonetheless a tribute to the indomitable spirit of Punjab farmers
Words cannot describe my happiness about the repealing of the Farm Laws. Our mehnat, our struggle and our belief has borne fruit and on what a beautiful day: Guru Nanak Jayanti. Maybe the day was symbolically chosen by the BJP government to call truce, but victory nevertheless tasted sweeter on Gurpurab day. I was literally jumping with joy when the news was flashed on TV screens that the Farm Laws bad been rolled back by Prime Minister Modi.
I wouldn’t say it is a change of heart that brought about the roll back, but rather out of political compulsion: as a step to save the vote banks or not antagonise other voters during the forthcoming Punjab and Uttar Pradesh elections. Yet, no matter what the reason, finally seems like the government has come to its senses.
Born into a family of farmers, and having literally grown up on farms, I know how we deal with challenges year after year. It has been an uphill task to manage the different hardships from reducing ground water table, struggling to get right prices for non-staple crops in the absence of minimum support price, rising unpaid loans during a bad season to many other things. The repealing of Farm Laws is therefore just the first step; the government needs to walk a long road with the farmers if it truly wants to support them. Authentic and honest dialogue is important between the government and the farmers.
Hamari ekta, hamara sangharsh karne ka jazba, hamari sach ka sath dene ki takat, in sab cheezon ne hi humein aaj jeet dilayi hai aur aage bhi dilayegi (Our unity, our indomitable spirit, and our courage to always stand by the truth has got us this victory today and will yield greater results in the future too).
I am proud of all my farmer brothers and sisters from other parts of the country, but I am especially proud of us Sikhs. We give everything we had to the purpose at hand fearlessly. Guru Nanak Dev Ji and the successive Gurus have taught us to believe in both ourselves and a cause that moves us. Many people think that farmers have been unreasonable in not budging an inch, but the entry of corporates into farming would have meant an increase in price of almost all eatables. Perhaps then those people would have understood. We are people of the soil and we know what we are doing.
The government should understand that the voter in a democracy has a lot of power and Indian democracy is a robust one. We took everything in our stride during the year-long protests and finally the government had to bend. The government needs to understand that it is serving the people and needs to understand their fears and concerns and maybe suggestions too before bringing in new laws that affect huge sections of people.
Gauravdeep Singh, 24, founder of Initiators of Change, a Ludhiana-based NGO, is running medical service camps for protesting farmers at Singhu border with the help of his team and young volunteers
The founder of Sikhism, Guru Nanak Dev Ji spent his last years (1521-1539) as a farmer on the banks of River Ravi (now known as the Kartarpur corridor), and therefore Sikhs revere farming as a service to humanity. Farming is the foundation on which all other services are built, which is why I thought it was important for me to come out and help the farming community in these trying times.
So I came here along with my team members at Singhu border to provide basic medical support to the farmers. We are a group of nearly 200 volunteers, divided in about 20 teams spread across both the Singhu and Tikri borders. The volunteers are drawn largely from the NGO I run, Initiators of Change as well as the Gurmat Gian Missionary College which was started by my family. We also have dedicated pharmacists and paramedics working with us.
We have been here from day one of the protests. I believe if we can take care of their physical wellbeing by way of medical support, they will gather more strength to nurture the soul of this country. Tending to the wounds of the farmers who had faced batons, water cannons, rough handling etc was one of the first tasks we had to take up at Delhi borders. We have carried on since.
We provide basic medicines like pain killers, antacids, throat lozenges, pain relief gels, warm bandages etc. In addition, we keep supplies of facemasks, hand sanitizers, sanitary pads with us to encourage hygiene among protesters.
My day starts at 6 am. We visit each trolley in a zone to distribute blankets. There is breakfast at 9 am and thence to the medical camps. Along with medicines we also provide daily-use items like toiletries, books etc. The teams work in shifts, so everyone, including me, gets sufficient rest. The entire supplies, so far, have been managed from our own pockets.
Hum Sikhs kisi se nahi darte, hum sar ko hath pe rakhte hain, humein sirf sacchai pyari hai (A Sikh is not afraid of anything. We hold truth higher than life). The government perhaps underestimated the power of the common man. They removed Shaheen Bagh protesters in the name of coronavirus, but they have to answer the farmer now.
I find the demands of farmers completely valid, which is why I am giving my whole-hearted support to this protest. I was given the National Youth Award in 2017 for creating voting awareness among the youth of Punjab. I decided to return my award for the voters’ will was not given due respect by this government.
India is majorly an agrarian economy, so shouldn’t farmers be included in the policy making? Should they be conveniently ignored and side-lined as has been done by the Union government? A government is answerable to the public.
One cannot expect the corporates to behave on the basis of goodwill, for they operate on the basis of profitability. Ye jo langar system hai na jisne poori insaniyat ko sath bandh rakha hai, ke duniya me jahan bhi koi bhookha hoga, aur koi Gurudwara hoga, wahan khana zaroor milega, wo bhi khatm ho jayega agar ye farm bills pass ho gaye toh. (These farm laws are anti-thesis of our langar service, which binds humanity by feeding one and all). We can provide medicines to the body, but the government must step forward to heal the wounds that are festering in the hearts of farmers.
Bharatiya Kisan Union leader Nirdesh Choudhary, 40, has been protesting at Delhi-UP border for several days in the cold. Choudhary says farmers are willing to endure the hardship for their children’s future
A farmer’s nerves are made of steel and
the resolve firm as a stone. We don’t protest on small matters, but when we do
the government better sit up and take notice. We can bear hunger, thirst, rain,
winter nights and what have you… only to ensure that the future of our children
After all, we go through all these while
working in the fields. Hum raton me kai
baar khet pe hi sote hain, bahut zyada thand me bhi, sadkon ki thand hamara kya
bigadegi (We often sleep in the fields to take care of our crops, at times
in the dead of winters. So, we can tolerate the cold here). I have been using
my voice to protest the three agriculture bills since November 28. I went back
home briefly to check on my family and house, and am back with renewed strength
We are not scared of the police or their
batons or water cannons. I was roughed up by cops, but I take it as my contribution
to a larger cause. We have put everything at stake to let the government know
that this is not the way to treat farmers. The government thinks corporates
will bring about another revolution for the farmers, but it won’t.
We want the government to give us in writing that the MSP will be maintained or the protests can go on indefinitely. Ye kale kanoon hum nahi manne wale. The thing is we farmers have nothing to lose anymore. The farmer was anyway at the lowest rung in the profit chain and the pandemic this year has meant even lesser earnings. Maybe we fight the best when we have nothing to lose. We as farmers are not going to get bogged down this time.
It does get difficult sometimes, like I
had to take a bus to reach the spot and then had to walk a decent distance to
reach the venue because of the barricades. Sometimes you wonder about your kids
back home but then you remember the larger cause and forget the personal
issues. We have got our own dry rations to cook and eat here, and all this gets
tiring sometimes, but then we take strength from the collective spirit.
Covid looms large but we are maintaining
full social distance and taking all necessary precautions; we distribute masks
every day and ask people to carry sanitizers. We try to maintain utmost hygiene
while cooking, eating etc. However, the government needs to understand that if
we survive the pandemic we need something to survive further.
The farmer has no safety net at all, no pension, nothing to fall back on except crops, and if even that is taken up by corporates, where do we go? There are few women out here, numbering between 100- 150 and if need be more women will join the protests. Female farmers are one of the most resilient, hardworking and smart people you will come across. We are not scared of risk taking and have the capacity to make quick decisions.
Farmers have decided we will not go to
Burari site, we will go straight to Jantar Mantar. I wonder why Modiji said
that other parties are misleading us into protesting. As if we don’t have a
mind of our own. If we are smart enough to raise crops year after year that
feeds the whole country, aren’t we smart enough to make our own decisions? Kisan apne ghar se nikal aaya hai aur is
baar baatcheet poori honesty se honi
moments captured on camera often express a historical event which shakes the
conscience of the civil society for all times to come. Captured in a fleeting
flash, they remain etched in public memory: the Afghan girl, Sharbat Gula, then
nameless, shot by Steve McCurry in June 1985 in a Pakistani refugee camp,
celebrated on the cover of National
Geographic; one thin man standing in defiance against a row of tanks at
Tiananmen Square in Beijing, June 1989; earlier than that, naked children
running from a napalm bomb during the Vietnam war; and Che Guevara’s dead body somewhere
in a jungle in Bolivia, shot dead by CIA mercenaries.
contemporary India, as thousands of farmers wait steadfastly at the
Delhi-Haryana-UP borders, deciding their next move, some images have already
captured the imagination: A dignified old Sikh farmer, totally non-violent,
with flowing white beard, in a white kurta -pyjama and jacket, being threatened
by a young, wiry cop, belligerent, aggressive and remorseless, his fingers
clenched around a rod, his body tensed up with machismo and power.
There are other iconic images too of the struggle: a young protester jumping from a trolley to a police water cannon vehicle, switching off the tap showering dirty water on a cold day on farmers, and jumping back. (He and his father have reportedly been charged now for murder)
endearing moments have arrived yet again: women and men cooking in community
kitchens on the highway; women driving a convoy of tractors in protest; and farmers
giving food and water to grateful cops.
last image would have been appreciated by the likes of Nelson Mandela, Martin
Luther King and Mahatma Gandhi. This is because the cops, many of them children
of hardworking farmers from humble rural backgrounds, had earlier gone all out
against the peaceful protesters. They had drenched them with water, in this
cold, teargassed them, threatened them with lathis,
dug medieval war-like trenches, brought in iron barricades, sand and mud
trucks, huge cement slabs, sand bag walls, ship containers, barbed wires, and
an endless row of cops in full gear, ready to charge.
farmers have been protesting in Punjab and Haryana since September. November 26
was a national protest day organized jointly by farmer organisations and trade
unions against the labour laws being unilaterally enacted by the Centre despite
the economic collapse and mass unemployment of millions in the organized and
informal sector. These might include draconian provisions like hire and fire,
12 hours work, mass sackings, major changes in pro-worker acts like the Inter-state Migrant Workers
Act, Contract Workers Act, the Factories Act, the Industrial Disputes Act, etc,
and changes in wages, safety and compensation, while contractors will be calling
the shots with no regulations. These trade unions are also opposing unbridled
privatisation of the public sector, including banks, railways and airports,
whereby certain favoured industrialists of the ruling regime in Delhi are being
Significantly, there are more than 250 farmers’ organization in the All India Kisan Sangharsh Coordination Committee, and they actually joined hands with the workers on November 26 all over the country, including in West Bengal and South India. The farmers march to Delhi from Punjab and Haryana, and also other Hindi heartland states like Uttarakhand, UP and Rajasthan, however, became the epicenter of this mass uprising, and it is not going to die down so soon.
question is, why the government is so adamant after pushing the three farm bills
in Parliament without consensus? Why is it refusing to make the MSP a law? And
why is it so rigidly refusing to budge, to negotiate with flexibility, using
strong-arm tactics? What is that unsurmountable, one-dimensional pressure on
the Narendra Modi regime that it is ready to alienate farmers, while choosing
to block, barricade and brutalise them?
BJP government is toeing the line of corporate cronies,” said Vijoo Krishnan, speaking
to Lokmarg. He is a top leader of the Left-led All India Kisan Sabha, which led
the massive long march of farmers to Mumbai. “The intention of this government
is total corporatization of Indian agriculture. But the resistance is
unprecedented. Except for the BJP and RSS unions, all other workers and farmers’
unions have joined this resistance. Even state governments like Punjab and
Rajasthan are exercising their federal rights in support of the farmers. Kerala
has declared MSP for 16 agricultural products, and has protected the farmers
during and after the lockdown. Besides, it is providing food to 90 lakh people,
including ‘guest workers’ (migrant workers).”
leader J Hooda from Shamli, Western UP, speaking to Lokmarg at the UP-Delhi
barricades, said: “The farmers have always known their sinister motives – to
sell our land and agriculture to corporates. Modi is doing precisely that to
favour his favourite industrialists. Now the farmers are not going to relent.
Drop the farm bills. Make a new law on MSP.”
says the farmer makes huge losses in the open market, because it is based on market
whims, unscrupulous private players and demand and supply ratio. Often, distress
sale becomes a norm. Without government support in states, or a central MSP, farmers
will be doomed. “They want to abolish local mandis. So where will we go to sell
our produce – can we compete in the international market with massive,
mechanized farming and huge multinational farmer lobbies? Why are they pushing
us into the hands of unethical corporates who are now trying to capture Indian
agriculture through the backdoor backed by the BJP regime?”
while Punjab and Haryana (with UP and MP) are the biggest producers of rice and
wheat, there are 23 crops, including cereals, pulses, commercial crops, on the
list. India is 80 per cent agriculture – the food chain begins at the land of
the tiller and ends long distances in metros and small towns. In this complex
and long chain, thousands of people are involved: farmers, entire families,
landless farmers and sharecroppers, small and middle farmers, local services
and ancillary networks, small markets, shopkeepers, loaders, truckers, workers,
mandis, mills and factories, small scale and big industries, and others. It’s
corporate and government propaganda that only 6 per cent of rich farmers are
benefitting from MSP. What about the millions integrated to the entire process
till the food reaches your table? ask farmers.
Argues Vijoo Krishnan: “MSP ensures at least that much for
farmers if public procurement is there. In states where there is no effective
public procurement, farmers get paid even below the MSP. For instance, while the
MSP of paddy is around Rs 1860 per quintal in Bihar, Odisha etc, farmers are
forced to sell at Rs 1000-1200 per quintal.”
Farmers are also arguing that even the MSP, based on state
averages, is arbitrary. Kerala pays many times more per quintal for paddy, and
the crop produce costs vary from state to state. But the government refuses to
usher in serious policy changes for large scale benefits to the vast rural
sector, even while pampering and subsidising big industrialists and waiving off
their debts etc, while facilitating lucrative contracts for them, like the
privatisation of airports and railways, or the Rafael deal.
are angry that the government is shy on implementing the comprehensive Swaminathan
Commission recommendations, including the guarantee of 50 per cent more than
the stated MSP, among other reforms, like compensating for land, labour, seed,
pesticides, fertilisers, diesel, electricity, water, tractors, machines, and
other things needed for agriculture. They are asking why the government has not
returned the GST to them on all the additional things they have used for
economy is in crisis because crony capitalism by profit sharks have ravaged it with
no signs of recovery during the pandemic. Now they are greedily eyeing the
post-independence public sector and agriculture. If the farmers are driven to
the edge, for the benefit of favoured industrialists and powerful MNCs, then
there is no option left for them but to fight back. That is why, as of now, it
is a do or die struggle for the thousands of defiant and non-violent farmers,
now steadfast at the borders of the capital of India.
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