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)

‘Choking Water Supply At Singhu Was Mindless, Heartless’

Wazihul, 19, describes the humanitarian and health crisis caused by hasty barricading of farmers protests sites at Singhu and Ghazipur borders. But protesters were not disheartened, he says

I am an engineering student and I feel strongly about the ongoing farmer protests, which is why I ensure that I extend my support to them whenever and wherever possible. Sometimes I go to the Ghazipur Border, which is closer home and sometimes to the Singhu Border, to express my solidarity with the farmers. Post the turn of events on Republic Day and in anticipation of the Chakka Jam on February 6, the government decided to barricade the farmers wherever they were positioned.

The hasty barricading was done using nails, concrete and barbed wires at the Ghazipur site and blocking even water tankers at Singhu. Clearly, not much thought was put into it. Which is why for many days the farmers couldn’t make use of portable toilets at Singhu Border. This was no less than a humanitarian and health crisis.

Barricading the protest site triggered a crisis

Even the policemen on duty and the public which had come in to extend support to farmers, were using whatever few facilities were functional. I leave it to your imagination to understand the situation created by the heartless and mindless decision. Women were having the most difficult time because of the lack of public facilities. Some were forced to relieve themselves in the open.

In times like these, when the pandemic hasn’t yet subsided (and even otherwise) hygiene is of paramount importance, the basic facilities should have been taken care of.

One of the things which I noticed was that the langar sewa, a lifeline of sorts for the protesting farmers, was also affected because of the protest sites being turned into literal fortresses. Perishable grocery items were difficult to reach because of the bandobast.

ALSO READ: ‘Providing Food To Farmers Is Sacred Act’

Earlier, we could access the main protest site directly, but later we had to take a long detour to reach the spot. Needless to say that this path was full of mounds of waste materials and one needed to be extremely careful while entering and exiting the protest site.

Even though the farmers and their supporters were disappointed with the measures in place, they were certainly not dispirited. In what can be said to be an extremely impressive step, as far as marks of protest go, the farmers planted various saplings of flowering plants as well as vegetables etc. Talk about keel ka jawab paudhon se dena (a fitting response by planting saplings to defy steel spikes).

Farmers planted saplings in response to spikes and barricades

The whole world is watching us and I feel that the way the government is treating the farmers is not in good taste. I hope the farmers remain optimistic and the government, a bit considerate and the matter gets resolved soon in favour of the farmers.

Watch – ‘We Feel Blessed By Serving The Farmers’

As farmers from Punjab and Haryana camp at Singhu border to demand rollback of three Agriculture Laws, members of the Sikh community have come out in support of the demonstrators. Many of them are providing free ‘Seva’ in the form of piping hot tea, fresh snacks and other food items to keep the protesters warm in the cold weather.

LokMarg this week spoke to several such ‘sevadaars’ who have set up langars that provide ‘Badam Chai’, an almond tea with snacks, and healthy snacks 24×7 to the protesters. These service providers say the facilities will continue as long as the farmers are stationed at the Singhu border. There is little doubt in their minds that the Centre will have to roll back the ‘black laws’ in the interest of the farmers.

Watch the full video here

Watch – ‘We Have Faced Colder Nights In Our Fields’

Even as cold wave sweeps north India and mercury dips close to 1 Degree Celsius, farmers protesting at various Delhi borders have dug their feet in. LokMarg speaks to several farmers camping near Singhu border as to what keeps them going despites such cold weather.

Most farmers make light of the biting cold, saying that they have faced colder nights working in their fields. They also reiterate that till the Centre repeals the ‘black laws’ they are not going anywhere, weather be damned.

Watch Full Video Here:

Watch – ‘We Don’t Trust This Jumlebaaz Govt’s Word’

Agitating farmers at Singhu border tell LokMarg that ground situation about state procurement is different from what Modi government managers are speaking on the media. Haryana farmers list out their hardships in selling their millet and groundnut crops, their counterpart from Punjab say the current regime is working under the pressure of capitalists who want to establish monopoly in the agriculture sector

They have little faith in the verbal assurance from the government over minimum support price or Mandi system. “The very fact that the Centre is ready to amend the laws shows they have inherent flaws,” the farmers on the site say.

Watch full video here

Also Watch: ‘Govt Has Sold Itself To Adani-Ambani’

Also Watch: ‘Won’t Go Back Till Black Laws Withdrawn’

Watch – ‘Modi Govt Has Sold Itself To Adani-Ambani’

Agitating farmers at Singhu border say their massive protests have brought the NDA government down on its knees and first they will bring down Haryana government in a few weeks, and later the Union government if their demands are not met.

Haryana farmers are also angry that their electoral support had been taken for granted by dynast Dushyant Chautala and Khattar government. They feel betrayed by political class as well as the media for portraying the kisan movement as Khalistani movement.

The farmers say the government has sold itself to Ambani-Adanis. They are confident that the government will have to take back the laws as the protesters are ready for a long haul.

Watch full video here:

Watch Part I Of Farmers Voice: ‘Won’t Go Back Till Laws Repealed’

Watch – ‘Won’t Go Back Till Black Laws Are Withdrawn’

LokMarg visits Singhu Border where farmers from Punjab and Haryana have been holding sit-in protest against Central Agriculture Laws. The protestors are firm in their resolve to stay put till the time Modi government withdraws the ‘black laws’. These farmers are angry over what they call “false reassurances” on MSP and farmers mandis only after prolonged protests.

There is also anger and distrust over private participation in procurement of farm yield, which they say will harm both the producer and the consumer. Some even liken the current regime to British Raj in its nonchalance toward the care and condition of the farming community

Watch Part I of the video here:

‘We Are Prepared To Die, Let Govt Test Our Mettle’

Digambar Singh, a farmer from Bhadana, Punjab, says Narendra Modi machinery underestimated their resolve in putting up a brave fight against Central laws

Iss bar to aar-par ki ladai hai (It is a do or die situation this time). Just how much can the farmer bear? Some things are better left out of the purview of corporates. We are sons of the soil and we understand the land and its needs much better than corporates. The land we till is our mother, and not a profit making machine, even though we all like to earn well.

When I set out from Bhadana (Punjab) to reach Delhi for protest against the Central Agriculture Laws, I was sad to see that midway in Haryana, the roads had been dug overnight so that we couldn’t reach the protest sites. Heavy concrete barricades had also been placed to block us. Farmers were also being badmouthed. Tear gas, water cannons, lathicharge… but our resolve was firm. Nothing is going to stop us this time.

The government says the various laws are for our benefit and will open up bigger and better markets for us. But if I am a farmer who grows his crops in Punjab, should I go and check out the bigger, better markets in, say, Karnataka or should I be busy sowing the crops? There is already a system in place (adhatiyas) for purchase of our crops and the farmers have been reaping its benefits because of a guaranteed MSP.

ALSO READ: ‘A Farmer Isn’t Afraid Of Police Baton, Water Cannon’

Digambar Singh with fellow protesters at UP Gate protest site

Why try fix a thing that isn’t broken in the first place? You may improve on the existing processes but why do a complete overhaul and that too without proper dialogue with the parties concerned. Farming requires groundwork but the new laws are silent on MSP.

At present I am at the UP Gate (Delhi-UP Ghazipur border) with fellow farmers to register my protest and if the government is going to ignore our voice, then we will also ignore their voice during elections. Fir satta se bahar jane ki taiyari kar lein wo (They better be prepared to stay out of power in that case). Farmers across the country have been committing suicide for many years now and this year the Coronavirus has wreaked a deadly blow to our income. This is the time to protect farmers and let them know they are valued.

The nights here are cold, but we are well-prepared. We have brought rations to last us for a few days and we have also brought bhattis along to cook the food. Let’s see for how long we will need to protest. Sometimes you have to muster up all the strength you have to survive. We are not scared of Coronavirus even though we are taking all necessary precautions.

Our kids have lost precious study time, as rural households don’t have easy access to online learning. Our old parents are suffering. I hear the hospitals are in bad shape due to the pandemic pressure. Par jab marna hi hai to kyu na ladte mara jaye (But if we are destined to die, we shall put up a brave fight?). If the government really wants to help farmers, why not do it directly by strengthening the health and education systems in rural, agrarian zones?

WATCH: ‘Shoot Us In The Chest, We Won’t Turn Back’

Protesters have been camping at Delhi’s Ghazipur border for more than a week now

Watch – ‘Farmers Have Been Betrayed Many Times’

As farmers from Punjab, camping at Delhi-Haryana border, continue with their protests against three Central agriculture laws, the farming community in Haryana has also thrown its weight behind them. To understand the position of farmers in Haryana and Punjab, LokMarg speaks to Veerendra Singh Badkhalsa, general secretary of Bharatiya Kisan Union, Haryana.

Badkhalsa says there is a trust deficit between farmers and the Centre. The farming community has little faith in the motive behind these new Central laws. Critical of politics behind the laws, he points out that laws brought in by Punjab Assembly have no new provision to safeguard farmers’ interest.

Watch the full interview here:

Watch – ‘Shoot Us In The Chest, We Won’t Turn Back’

Delhi Chalo protests by farmers is turning violent. The agitating farmers from Punjab appear determined to break every police barrier to reach Delhi and register their protest against Central Agriculture laws. Their chief demand is: making purchase of crops below minimum support price a punishable offence, instead of allowing corporate sector into the sector.

Women, youth, middle-aged and old from rural Punjab told LokMarg that they would prefer being shot in the chest than run away or turn their back. Calling the Central provisions as Black Laws, the protesters are unfazed by police force or water cannons deployed to bar their entry into Capital.

We apologise for the quality of the video. It was shot by the farmers themselves who are keen to tell the world of their determination. We felt it only right to get their message across. Watch the video: