‘Films To Farms, It Has Been A Strong Learning Curve’

Monica Gill (32), an American model, actress and beauty pageant title holder left her flourishing career in glamour world to support Punjab farmers protesting against central laws

I started off my career in modelling at a very young age. I took a break during college years and after that I re-joined pageantry. I won Miss India Massachusetts, Miss India USA in 2013, and Miss India Worldwide 2014 after which I was picked up by Tips Industries to do Punjabi films.

I did Ambarsariya opposite Diljit Dosanjh, Kaptaan with Gippy Grewal. I made my Hindi film debut with the film Firangi. I then did Sat Shri Akaal England with Ammy Virk. My second Hindi film was a J P Dutta movie titled Paltan opposite Harshvardhan Rane. My last Punjabi film was Punjabi-language period drama Yaara Ve in 2019.

It was on the spur of an emotional moment that I decided to drop behind tinsel world and took up the cause of Punjab farmers battling against implementation of new Agri Laws. The single most important thing that led me to this decision was my grandma and her reaction. The farmers’ protests started in June in Punjab and was going on for a while before the farmers moved to Delhi and pitched makeshift tents on various state borders.

When in November they moved from Punjab through Haryana towards Delhi, they faced unprecedented police and paramilitary brutality. Such was the intensity of police force that for my grandma it brought forth deep traumas within her from 1947, and from 1984, when Sikhs had faced largescale massacres. I knew that we had to win this battle for her; for those traumas heal. Otherwise she was going to die with this burden: “Is this world safe for my grandchildren?”

Once active in the glamour industry, Gill has found fulfilment in the field of human rights

I wanted her to know that this isn’t the same world that it was in 1947 or in 1984. This world is a better place. Yes, as Sikhs we are minorities but we are not helpless. We have people in so many powerful positions across the world that we can make a difference, and that is exactly what happened and I am grateful for that.

Leaving behind camera flashbulbs, I joined the Sikh Human Rights Group, an NGO with special consultative status at the UN. It has been a strong learning curve. I struggle at times because I am not an academic. I am not someone who come from a different background but my boss is quite patient with me and for that I am grateful. I have found a sense of peace working in the field of Human Rights. It is extremely fulfilling.

ALSO READ: Farm Laws – Winners, Losers and Future

I consider myself lucky to have found this organisation which was willing to take me and give me a chance to learn and give me an opportunity to fight for my community. My family was supportive of me in making this career switch and I hope to stay in this field for a while.

My mantra in life is: your voice matters, you matter. If it wasn’t for the diaspora and the youth waking up, the voice of the Indian farmers wouldn’t have gone as loud as it did. One of my friends says that there is a Pakistan Punjab and there is an India Punjab but there is a third Punjab that lives throughout the world. And when Punjab is in turmoil that third Punjab rises up. And that voice cannot be shut down.

That is what the Indian government didn’t understand. That third Punjab stood up and it was beautiful to see. So to all the youngsters reading this I just want to say: You matter, your voice matters. Rise up, speak up and create chaos.

‘Farmers Have Won, But Vested Interests Want Protest To Go On’

Gurpreet Wasi, a protester against Farm Laws, says the groundswell against BJP in Uttar Pradesh ahead of elections scared Modi

It serves many people in many ways to keep the farmers’ protest alive. The last in line for anyone’s consideration is the small farmer. Drawing room activists say, ‘Farmers should not go back. They should continue protesting. Modi may be lying.’ My question is: How many of you, since January 2021, have shown the gall to visit the sites. All the selfies at the protest bandwagon disappeared after the Red Fort fiasco. It only serves their Left-leaning heart that these poor souls keep lying in the bitter cold so that they can say “Ohh! That monster Modi.”

The announcement of farm laws rollback came as a blessing. Everyone’s spirit was wearing out. They would ask: why doesn’t anyone care? It was harvest time, all the younger people had gone back to Punjab. It was very difficult to persuade people who had gone back to return to protest sites. Because they see nothing happening. There was no public support, the NGOs and langars were kind of waning.

The government started the whole vindictive thing of arresting people who were supporting the farmer protest, they started stopping the funding, punishing people who were the backbone of the protest etc.

And there was so much infighting. What I unfortunately was seeing was that how the movement was going to end, probably another few months and this year a very harsh winter is expected. So I wasn’t too sure what was going to happen.

ALSO READ: ‘Rollback For Political Reasons, Not Change Of Heart’

I think the Modi camp misread the situation, the kind of international backlash, the kind of bad PR and what is happening in Uttar Pradesh scared them. This move of withdrawing the laws is I think the suggestion of Capt Amarinder in Punjab. He is bitten by the rejection from Congress. He also knows that Punjab is very emotional about GuruPurab, especially Guru Nanak’s birthday is probably the most important day in all our lives so he knew how to swing the emotion for Modi.

It seems like it’s a Punjab farmers’ victory, in the sense that their honours have been restored. What have they not been called: from terrorists to anti-nationals to murderers…? So it is the restoration of honour for a Punjabi farmer.

But the real reason is the UP elections. There is a larger agenda in place with the BJP going all out (taking back the laws) to win upcoming elections. UP is very very important. The Lakhimpur incident turned the tide against BJP in UP. Although the media isn’t covering it but Tikait is going from village to village and panchayat after panchayat is telling villagers not to vote for BJP. The opposition too has put its forces unitedly behind farmers. I think that scared Modi.

But at the end of the day, innocent people who have been used by everybody including all political parties, for their political gain. For the small farmer sitting there, the older people – this exit is just necessary. They have made a point which I think is the biggest point made ever since Independence and I do not think anything else is needed. I think whatever they set out to do at that point is being driven home but now we must let them go.

As Told To Mamta Sharma

‘Farm Laws Abolished Due To Political Compulsion, Not Change Of Heart’

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.

Singh (in his 20s and now at 55) says having grown up on farms, he knows Central laws are not beneficial to 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.

‘People Will Draw Strength From Farmers’ Resolve & Victory’

Dr Sumit Kaur, who was part of a free medical facility for protesters at Tikri border, says farmers’ resolve made Prime Minister Modi see reason

This is such a huge victory for the farmers that the Centre has accepted their demands and announced it will repeal the three controversial Farm Laws. But we are not done yet. Even though this is a milestone in the farmer’s protest, we have a longer road to tread. For, the protest was not only about the Farm Laws being taken back, but also about the need for the government to look into important matters ailing the agricultural sector like MSP guarantee, farmers’ suicide, farm loan waivers etc.

I hope the Prime Minister has finally understood that leadership does not mean imposing arbitrary laws, but taking into consideration all the stakeholders involved. The farmers’ undying spirit, especially those of Sikh farmers, has made Modiji see reason. Hope he understands the importance of dialogue.

Kaur with her teammates who set up a medical langar for protesting farmers

Perhaps others will draw strength from the victory of farmers and will stand beside the issues they believe in. I am feeling overwhelmed and equally proud at this victory. The international support is of no less importance. Support for the farmers poured in from everywhere and no matter what names we were called or whatever was thrown our way, we didn’t give up and we didn’t lose sight of our aim: better life for our farmers.

We braved everything from extreme cold and pollution last year, to fear of catching Covid among large gatherings and crowds, lack of basic amenities and everything else in between. But in the end we did manage to make the current government see reason. Our conviction has paid. Democracy has prevailed.

Perhaps other leaders should take note from Rakesh Tikait on how to lead. Tikait Sahab ne protests me nai jaan phoonk di (Tikait breathed life into the protest). He said that he wouldn’t go home unless the Farm Laws were repealed and he stood by his word. That’s how leaders should be, with one ear always on the ground as to what the janta wants. No doubt farmers from Punjab have been the most vocal during the protests. We always stand by what is right and what is beneficial for everyone involved.

Kaur at the protest site and her makeshift camp

I am currently in Punjab, but I so want to be with my friends at the protest site at the Delhi borders right now. It takes your joy to a whole new level, when you can share it with those who have undertaken the journey with you. Here’s hoping this is the start of a beautiful journey for the agricultural sector. I salute the farmers, the protesters and the independent media alike.

As Told To Yog Maya Singh

‘Jai Jawan Jai Kisan Is Over, This Govt Wants To Kill Kisan’

Sumit Choudhary, a protesting farmer from Amroha, Uttar Pradesh, who spoke to eyewitnesses of the Lakhimpur Kheri incident, says there is consensus among residents that it was a premeditated murder

What happened at Lakhimpur Kheri on Sunday (October 4) is beyond words. I have been to farmer protests in Delhi on various occasions and I can understand the spirit of the people of Lakhimpur Kheri who had gone to register their voice in the farmer protests. The new Central farm laws is an issue all the farmers are deeply wary of and concerned about.

How did the incident even happen? I believe it was a deliberate act, for how can you not have enough space to drive in an area where there is a helipad? Moreover, the vehicle did not stop immediately after trampling people. It is normal human reaction to stop immediately.

Sumit’s father Jaspal Singh (left) with farmers leader Rakesh Tikait

My father is the Mandal Mahasachiv (circle general secretary) of the Bharatiya Kisan Union led by Rakesh Tikait and one of his friends was present at the location where this incident happened. He shared the incident in great detail and was sad and agitated at what happened. He said: achanak se kafi afra tafri mach gayi aur logon ko kuch samajh hi nahi aaya ke kya ho raha hai. Tab tak kuch logon ki jan ja chuki thi. (There was a sudden commotion and no one could understand for a moment what was going on. Till the time people could make sense of things, a few people had lost their lives). Their bodies had been dragged for a little distance.

Both as humans, farmers and active members of the kisan union, this incident hit us differently. My father went to Lakhimpur Kheri post the incident, though I myself could not make it. And now even opposition leaders and other big party leaders are finding it difficult to reach the place.

ALSO READ: ‘UP Mahapanchayat Has Revived Farmers Protest’

Sometimes I feel the government doesn’t care at all. The Prime Minister is busy creating an image both nationally and internationally (which was at display during his recent US visit) but doing little work on the ground to bring about solid changes.

Why doesn’t the PM do press conferences rather than just giving statements on how he thinks the farmers protests are motivated? We need dialogues, and very sincere dialogues at that. My father has been a part of the army before he turned a farmer full-time. Jai Jawan, Jai Kisan was our nation’s motto. How did we reach from Jai Jawan, Jai Kisan to Lakhimpur Kheri cold-blooded murder of farmers?

These farmers protests are based on Gandhiji’s principles. We can be beaten, but we won’t be kept down for too long. We are ready to take the long road and fight for as long as it takes. And I am sure people all over the country who make the democracy what it is, will understand that our cause is a genuine one.

‘Mahapanchayat Has Revived The Farmers Movement’

Kuldeep Singh Khalsa, 32, who travelled from Tikri Border to Muzaffarnagar in Uttar Pradesh to attend Kisan Mahapanchayat, says this is a do-or-die battle for protesting farmers

When we received the call to attend the Kisan Mahapanchayat at Muzaffarnagar in Uttar Pradesh on September 5, we didn’t waste a single moment. We moved straight from Tikri Border (where we had been protesting till then) to the Mahapanchayat site. We were a group of 20 people who went to participate in the important Mahapanchayat and we lend our full support to the cause as well as the kisan leader Rakesh Tikait Saheb.

The place was full of protestors and not even a single patch of the ground at the protest site (Government Inter College Ground) was unoccupied. People kept pouring in with each passing hour. The Mahapanchayat was organised smoothly and there was no inconvenience to us for the days we were there.

Our spirits have been revived and attendance in such huge numbers has given the movement a fresh shot in the arm. It shows that the protest isn’t going to die down anytime soon until a concrete solution is offered by the government.

We have zero faith in the current government and the corporate entities it is seemingly supporting. If corporates get into farming, we will turn into gulams all over again. The very fabric of our country will be torn, for people without land are people without identities. The farmers don’t have the means or resources to fight these corporates. As individuals, farmers are powerless but collectively we can be a force to reckon with. Which is why such a huge number of farmers with landholdings big and small attended the Mahapanchayat.

Khalsa says corporates have little knowledge of farm procedures or crop cycles

Tikait Saheb has taken a vow that he will not enter his house until our demands are fully met. Such leadership gives us the motivation to carry on. It is this trust that was evident at the Mahapanchayat. The atmosphere was one of hope and faith that the tide would turn fully in our favour soon. There were farmers from various nooks and corners of the country at the meet, including female protesters. For, this time it is aar ya paar ki ladai (do-or-die battle).

It has been nearly one year since we started protesting and even though the ministers say that there have been multiple rounds of meeting with farmer leaders, those meetings had little substance. Forget MSP, even farm loan waivers haven’t been worked upon. The pandemic has already made our condition worse. If we don’t give this fight all we have, we could be at the mercy of such corporates who have no idea of farming procedures or crop cycles.

ALSO READ: Solution To Farm Crisis Lies With Canada Sikh MPs

This time it is not only the elders who are fighting, even children of farmers and other youngsters are taking extra initiative, be it then amplifying the cause through their social media handles or volunteering in any capacity.

The Samyukt Kisan Morcha has given a call for nationwide bandh on September 27 and we fully support it. Just how many voices will the government ignore? The government should show genuine interest to solve the problem otherwise elections are right down the corner. The vote speaks louder than words. In my opinion, forget six months (to the Assembly elections), if the jazba (spirit) is right and the cause just, then even one month is enough to take on the matter politically.

‘Media Glare Is Fading, Not The Resolve Of Sikh Farmers’

Amrit Pal Singh (23), a BBA student who assists a US-based doctor at Tikri Border in providing medical support to protesting farmers, says they are ready to ‘weather’ any challenge

It has been nearly six months of the farmers’ protest, but we are in for the long haul. The numbers might be dwindling par jazba poora barkarar hai (the resolve is firm). You will find many of us from Punjab staying put here until a proper solution is found to the farmers’ grievances. The media interest is also dwindling but we know that those mediapersons who are still coming here are the ones who were truly invested in the issue right from the beginning. It warms my heart to see the exchange of views between protestors and mediapersons; after all interviews are about exchange of views.

I have been assisting Dr Swaiman Singh, a US-based doctor who has set up camp at Tikri Border and has been providing seva non-stop to protesters since January. Apart from registering my voice at the protest, I also serve as his assistant and accountant.

Amrit with Dr Swamiman Singh (seated first from the left)

After taking due permissions, we have turned a local bus depot into a medical camp where we provide basic medicines, first-aid facilities and have provisions for dental as well as eye check-ups. We also provide masks, sanitisers and have been trying to step up the processes here when it comes to Covid testing.

Apart from this, I do seva wherever it is required, right from providing medical support serving langars, to doing basic everyday chores like cleaning the washrooms etc. Summers are fully upon us and the trolleys that kept us safe during winters are now turning into tandoors literally, we can’t sleep in them any longer. So I contribute in the making of temporary bamboo and iron shelters to keep us safe from the heat.

Amrit with his team of medical volunteers at the protest site

While we are providing coolers wherever possible, we farmers are used to working in extreme heat and cold conditions. So extreme weather does not bother us too much. However, we need to take care of our elders and others and hence these shelters.

We had anticipated water shortage in the beginning of summers and we did suffer a bit because of shortage of water and milk, but things are back on track now and we have proper water supply. Dr Swaiman has set up big water filters at regular intervals so that the protesting public can access clean drinking water.

Amrit Pal with fellow protesters at Tikri Border

The recent Baishakhi celebrations provided us with renewed vigour and that day saw a huge rise in numbers. Many common people, artists and sportspersons came to show their solidarity and gave us a much needed shot in the arm. They might have gone back home as of now but they have told us that they are with us in spirit.

We are ready to ‘weather’ anything in order to find a solution to the problems of farmers but we sincerely hope that the government listens to us. Hamare buzurg itna kuch jhel rahe hain, wo sacchai ke liye sab kuch jhel sakte hain to hum bhi jhel sakte hain. They are our guiding light summer or winter cannot dampen our jazba.

India Has Violated Its Obligations To UN On Peasant Rights

When the offices of the UN Secretary General, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, and the UN Special Rapporteur on the Rights to Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association supported the Indian peasants’ right of peaceful protest and assembly, they were reminding the Indian government of its general human rights obligations under the UN treaties that India has ratified and voluntarily undertaken to enforce at the national level.

These top UN diplomats were cognisant of India’s response to the largely peaceful and unprecedented peasant protests in the form of disproportionate and impermissible law and order measures. Such measures are tantamount to criminalising the current peasant protests and are prohibited by the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Peasants and Other People Working in Rural Areas (the UNDROP).

It took more than seventeen years of campaign by the La Via Campesina, a global network campaign of peasants and rural workers organisations, to reach the milestone of the UNDROP’s adoption by the UN General Assembly on December 17, 2018. At this time, the Indian government has committed to follow the UNDROP which it not only voted for but actually proactively co-sponsored and campaigned for at the UN General Assembly.

The UNDROP brought peasant rights within the ambit of human rights and aimed to strengthen intergovernmental coordination and transnational agrarian solidarity. It is the first ever international law instrument that grants human rights to the majority rural population of global society and provides guidance to the governments on guaranteeing these rights. The UNDROP provides a framework for countries and the international community to strengthen the protection of the human rights of peasants and other rural people and to improve their living conditions.

The UNDROP’s fundamental premise is that the peasant and rural workers constitute 80% of the world’s population and are often victims of human rights violations and suffer from poverty. Peasant and rural landless workers, especially women, do not have equal control over land and other natural resources, or access to education and justice. It recognises the dignity of the world’s rural populations, their contributions to global food production, and their ‘special relationship’ to the land, water and nature, as well as their vulnerabilities to evictions, hazardous working conditions and political repression. 

The UNDROP is a blueprint for potential national legislation dealing with the rights of peasants and rural workers. Although currently it is technically non-binding in a strict sense, it uses the term “shall” implying legal obligations of the countries and is an honour code that all UN members have agreed to uphold and incorporate in their national policy framework. Until it becomes a treaty with its own independent enforcement mechanism, the UN has deferred the UNDROP’s monitoring and instead asked all countries including India to include the UNDROP implementation measures in their periodic reports to the other UN human rights mechanisms.

Importantly, the UNDROP prohibits criminalisation of peasants and rural workers protests and calls upon all countries including India to ensure that it shall not subject them to arbitrary arrest, detention, torture or other cruel, inhuman and degrading treatments when they exercise their right to freedom of expression and assembly. It also recognises the peasants and rural workers’ right to life, security of persons, freedom of movement, thought, opinion and expression, as well as association.

Despite India’s commitment at the UN not to criminalise any peasant struggle, the government introduced drastic measures in response to current protests such as interrupting access to water and electricity, limiting access to protest sites, barricading and fortifying protest sites, deploying paramilitary forces, disrupting internet services, registering criminal cases, arbitrarily detaining, torturing, and inflicting custodial and sexual violence against the protest leaders, protesters, supporters, and journalists.

From the beginning, the government acquiesced to the ruling party’s political propaganda apparatus that has engaged in a systematic vilification and dehumanisation campaign about the protests. It failed to publicly condemn all off and online attacks, and the use of hateful and misogynistic language against those connected with the protest.

The UNDROP requires India to ensure the primacy of peasants’ rights specified in the UNDROP over all international agreements, including those regulating trade, investments and intellectual property rights. For that purpose, it further mandates India to take legislative, administrative measures with full consultation of its rural populations. The government in drafting three farm laws has not made good faith efforts to facilitate the peasants’ right to actively participate in the legislative process.

The UNDROP states that India is obliged to take measures to favour peasants selling their products in markets and allow their families to attain an adequate standard of living. The measures enshrined in the three farm laws including the government’s unwillingness to give statutory power to the Minimum Support Price (MSP), adversely affecting the peasants fair access to the market and adequate standard of living, thereby breaching its commitment to the UNDROP.

Without any philosophical or ideological shift at government level or its explicit reservation to the implementation of the UNDROP, India’s volte face reveals its apparent intent to not comply with the UNDROP’s key provisions. The Indian governmental leadership understands the gravity of the situation about the agrarian crisis and protests, and understands its obligations to the peasants, yet it is making a strategic decision that dispute resolution and conflict prevention efforts are not worth the political costs.

A very simple understanding of the holistic configuration of the current protest dynamics indicates various imminent warning signs for the protests spiraling into a larger unmanageable crisis, with devastating consequences for peasants, rural workers, police and armed forces, their families, and the whole social fabric. Even now, a staggering number of protesters continue to die.

The government’s continuous failure to resolve the farm bill dispute, may result in one or more different scenarios, such as aggressive law enforcement actions or incidents of random and scattered violence or even a prolonged low-intensity rural armed conflict, with unimaginable human and material loss. 

ALSO READ: Farmers Agitation Is Modi Govt’s Biggest Test

The protest has gradually reached a monumental juncture nationally beyond the strategic encampments at various entry points to New Delhi, with increasing global support. It is slowly starting to receive attention from the UN human rights processes. On February 11, 2021, the La Via Campesina representative spoke at a high-level special event of The UN Committee on World Food Security and said that “thousands of farmers in India are on the streets for over [the past] 75 days demanding a fair support price for their harvest. They are worried because of the entry of big agribusinesses and contract farming models that will push down their incomes further and they will have no chance to bargain.”

Michelle Bachelet, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, in her oral updates on the global human rights situation in more than 50 countries at the 46th session opening of the UN Human Rights Council, provided much needed and belated impetus to protests when she highlighted that “continued protests by hundreds of thousands of farmers [in India] highlight the importance of ensuring laws and policies are based on meaningful consultations with those concerned. I trust that ongoing dialogue efforts by both sides will lead to an equitable solution to this crisis that respects the rights of all. Charges of sedition against journalists and activists for reporting or commenting on the protests, and attempts to curb freedom of expression on social media, are disturbing departures from essential human rights principles…”

Given the global attention the protest is receiving, it is likely that peasants and rural workers globally may observe the forthcoming International Day of Peasant’s Struggle on April 17, 2021, in support of the Indian protests. This day commemorates the massacre of the peasants and landless workers by armed forces in 1996 in Brazil while protesting for comprehensive agrarian reform.

If the government had been more transparent nationally during the drafting of the three farm bills, upheld its commitments under the UNDROP, and discharged its ethical responsibility and legal obligations to diligently implement them, it could have averted this crisis that continues to bring immense pain, suffering, and trauma to all, and that also has inflamed a toxic socio-political culture of intolerance.

The writer is a former UN human rights monitor in Yugoslavia and Rwanda

Agriculure In Crisis – 300 Million Landless Labourers

When India became free in 1947, the country’s population was around 340 million. The bulk of the population was involved in agriculture. During the Moghul rule, the land was owned by the emperor and the Jagirdars and Zamindars appointed by the Moghul controlled vast tracts of land for the purpose of collecting the land revenue. The farmers were virtually landless. I have seen these poor exploited souls walk towards the sheds of these landlords like cattle after the day’s toil to sleep for the night and get some rice and daal for food.

During the freedom struggle, a promise had been made that the land will be given to the tiller. The aim was to get rid of feudalism and revive the country’s agricultural economy that had been ruined and could not produce enough food for the nation. Famines were common both during the Moghul and British eras. Nearly three million died during the Bengal famine of 1943

Independent India’s government took quick steps to abolish Zamindari and Jagirdari to distribute land to the landless farmers. Depending upon the availability of land in each area a limit was placed on the maximum that a tiller family could get. The poor farmers were still using ancient techniques in farming that did not bring a good result.

It has taken time to revive agriculture. To the credit of independent India that it fought a threatened famine in Bihar in 1966. I was all over Bihar then and can say with confidence that few millions would have died but for free India. Not a single person died of hunger-of course the food was imported in large quantities from the United States.

Then came the effort to educate the farmers of new practices, new seeds from India’s agricultural research institutes that the country’s first Prime Minister established. India achieved what is known as the green revolution. Today the country feeds a population of 1300 million and its granaries are overflowing with stocks. The country is an exporter of food grains.

However, over the years, with population explosion and subdivision of small holdings of the farmers in the villages upon the death of original landholder the holdings in most cases have become uneconomic and resulted in the creation of landless estimated around 300 million.

The land has passed on into the hands of big rich farmers who bought it from the small farmers for a pittance. The country is once again facing the emergence of new landlords some of whom own village after village, pay no taxes as agricultural income is tax-exempt. These landlords not only own vast chunks of the land but with income-tax-free earnings now run hotels and miscellaneous other businesses. Many of these new feudals are politicians for whom politics is a business of protecting their landholdings.

Where do we go from here? Will the farm laws enacted by the government help the landless and reduce poverty in the countryside or help poor farmers. If one has to go by any other country’s example, then it has to look at the United States of America where small farms have totally disappeared into the hands of Corporates. Do we want that to happen in India? It can happen, after all, India’s corporates will love tax-free income from agriculture.

It is time to talk to the farmers, the landless, the people who know what is happening in rural India if poverty has to be eradicated. The big farmers, rich as they are not happy that the new laws may give them competition from the Corporates. In any case, the rich farmers including Corporate agricultural companies need to be taxed say on income above a certain level. Let it not be forgotten that agriculture was exempted from tax in the past to make it attractive for farmers and others to invest at a time when no one wanted to invest in agriculture.

Corporates in agriculture may pay better wages to the landless or more money to the small farmer for taking his land on contract. Will they? Or will they go for greater mechanical farming reducing the numbers of labourers required America’s agriculture is totally mechanised?

The agitation by the farmers rich or small, whatever, has now run for over four months. There is no end in sight. Farm laws were enacted without consulting the farmers or their unions. It is not just the BJP that is responsible for these laws even the preceding governments had thought of such action.

The way opposition works in the Parliament – shouting slogans, not studying the Bills, with no debate on proposed legislation. These laws which may be seriously defective get passed by a majority because the opposition whose job it is to highlight such defects is usually not there in the House having walked out.

It is time that the Opposition parties seriously consider their role in Parliament. Is it merely to shout slogans, run into the well of the house, walk out and give free hand to the government to get through legislation virtually without any debate or due consideration. The net result people suffer and agitate if a defective law is passed.

To this author, the Farmers agitation has highlighted the crisis in agriculture that the Farm laws fail to address. In the years ahead, with a rising population and hardly any population control measures, the country is only going to witness far greater numbers of landless poor. It is time to consider the solution and face this crisis.

The Prime Minister has promised to double the income of the farmers and the Farm Laws are said to be a step in that direction. Will the Farm laws really do that or just double the income of rich farmers? Time to sort this out in consultation with the farmers big and small. Bring this agitation to an end and find the solution for rural poverty.

(The author of this opinion piece is the chairman of ANI)

EXCLUSIVE–Nodeep Kaur: You Must Fight To Live With Dignity

Nodeep Kaur, the 24-year-old Dalit labour rights activist who was jailed for raising her voice against Haryana factory owners and farm laws, says her fight against injustice is far from over

It is rare and difficult for a woman to become a full-time activist. When a woman raises her voice for a cause, it is taken lightly. I learnt this at an early age, when my mother used to work in the fields and raised her voice for a rape victim. Later, I saw this at every stage of my life and most recently at the farmers protest on Singhu border. There were so many women who had come there but rarely were they given a chance to express their views on stage.

My mother taught me that if we were to live with dignity, we must raise our voice. I have seen her struggle, and the discrimination and the torture that a farm worker may face at the hands of big landlords. My mother always said the poor must stand unitedly to get their voice heard. Or we would be crushed.

Two years back, in 2019, I came to Delhi to be with my sister Rajvir Kaur. This was a time when protests were being held in the capital against Citizenship Act and NRC (national register for citizens). I felt moved by its social impact and actively took part in the demonstration.

When the lockdown was implemented, my father lost his job. As our financial situation dwindled, I looked for a job to support our family. Some of my friends in Kundli (Haryana) told me that I could find work in the factories there and I went ahead. I again witnessed how the factory owners were exploiting the labour.

In every industrial area, the factory owners keep a bunch of roughnecks who do not let labourers raise their voice. The labour is not supposed to challenge the factory owners for their due legal rights. There were longer hours and many workers had long pending wages. The proprietors used lockdown as an excuse to hold their dues. I knew the unity was important if the labour had to take on the owners. I joined the (Mazdoor Adhikar) Sangthan there.

Nodeep Kaur addresses the media during a press conference

When we started helping labourers get their pending wages, the factory owners were alarmed. During one of the protests they even fired at us. And when the protesters retaliated, the police came to their rescue and protection. Law enforcement agencies unabashedly sided by the rich.

Yet, we were able to get the dues of some 300 labourers paid. The factory owners felt the heat. There are thousands of workers in the area with similar cases. Paying their dues would be a financial and prestige setback for the proprietors. Besides, if it worked in Kundli, then they feared that it will have an effect on other industrial areas as well.

Meanwhile, as labourers we lent our support to farmers protesting against Central laws right from November 26, the day when the protests started. We raised a tent at Singhu border from day one and also organized a labour strike to express our solidarity and support to the farmers. More than 2,000 labourers took off from their work and came marching to the farmers protest site.

We thus came across as a threat to both the local industrialists as well as the state. So in a planned manner, when we were protesting peacefully on January 12, the quick response teams of the company came. While I was talking to them, the police began lathicharge on the protesters, including women. They dragged me. It was natural reaction of my fellow labourers to resist the action. But for this, I was charged with unlawful assembly, trespass, criminal assault, intimidation and even attempt to murder. Clearly, they wanted to create a sense of fear in others and keep the factory owners in good humour. That’s why I believe the arrest was all planned in advance and accordingly executed.

As told to Mamta Sharma