“Gandhiji called us farmers the ‘backbone’ of the country – now that very backbone is tired and broken“, said Jai Kumar, a farmer from Salem district of Tamil Nadu, expressing grief over the agrarian crisis in India. “We have marched today from Ramlila Maidan to Parliament street to tell the government that the day when they will also have no food to eat is the day they will empathise with us,” he added, expressing his anger at the Modi led BJP government.
The ‘Kisan Mukti March’, organised by All India Kisan Sabha (AIKS) and left political parties was a two-day gathering of thousands of farmers from all across the nation in the national capital on Thursday and Friday. In Delhi, it is the second farmers’ protest in two months.
That there is a severe distress in the rural agrarian sector of the nation is not news. Despite several massive protests and marches in the past two years, no resolution has been reached yet. In November last year, thousands of farmers had come together to the national capital, New Delhi demanding a loan waiver and fair crop prices. One year has passed, nothing seems to have changed. Ensuring the minimum selling price on crops, water supply, loan waivers – the demands remain more or less the same, except one – the demand for a special 21 day parliamentary session to discuss the agrarian issues in the country during this year’s winter session.
Despite several massive protests and marches in the past two years, no resolution has been reached yet
The protest consisted of several marches, protests, performances and participation of politicians such as Congress President Rahul Gandhi, Delhi CM Arvind Kejriwal, Former CM of Kashmir Farooq Abdullah, Yogendra Yadav, National Congress Party (NCP) chief Sharad Pawar, Swaraj India’s Yogendra Yadav and CPI (M) Secretary General Sitaram Yechury. Under the banner of AIKS, farmers in huge numbers gathered at Ramlila Maidan on Thursday and marched towards the Parliament to protest against the plight of farmers in the country on Friday.
Education and Healthcare: ‘Far Off Dreams’ for Indian Farmers
“A lot of people think that it is just the South of India that suffers from water scarcity and loan problems, and that farmers in Haryana, Punjab, U.P. and other parts of North India are doing okay. Well, that is a complete myth. After months of efforts into the harvest, we don’t even get the right price for our crops. We don’t have any other work or source of income and this is why we suffer so much when we can’t sell it for the right amount,” Manjeet Singh, a farmer settled in Pilibhit district of Uttar Pradesh said.
Many farmers have purposely distanced their next generation from farming because they don’t want them to similarly suffer. Ram Kumar, a farmer from Haryana said, “I had taken a loan of INR 1,00,000 last year and couldn’t repay it this year. Now I will have to wait until the next harvest to see if I will be able to. Why should I allow my children to lead such an uncertain life?”
Talking about loans, Bhim Singh Nandu, President of Bhartiya Kisan Yojana said, “All farmers are victims of unpaid loans. Unless the Swaminathan committee guidelines are implemented, it will not change.” Swaminathan Commission, set up in 2004 by the Manmohan Singh led government recommends that farmers should have assured access to basic resources such as water, land, fertilisers required for farming. It also recommends the government to ensure that a Minimum Support Price (MSP) is being provided to the farmers over the cost of production. “When farmers are not even able to provide basic food to their families, proper education and healthcare remain far off dreams to them“, Nandu added.
Swaminathan Commission recommends that farmers should have assured access to basic resources such as water, land, fertilisers required for farming
Unheard Voices Of The March: Its Women
“How will I have any money in hand when even my husband doesn’t save any from the little money that we make?” shot back Rashida Ben Ratilal, a farmer from Gujarat, in response to how much money she makes from farming. Most women, despite working hard in the fields have little or no access to the income that comes from it. In case the income is so little, the women hardly have a shot at any money at all.
Women from all across the nation had participated in the march, yet had little representation of the issues they face because of language barriers and hesitation in speaking out. While most men from the same areas were able to communicate in Hindi or English, most women knew no other language except their regional languages. Some rare groups did not even have women with them. When asked where the women are, some even denied their participation in farming activities. Talking about the language barrier, one said, “What will she do by learning to talk in Hindi when she doesn’t have to go out and interact with people?”
Most women, despite working hard in the fields have little or no access to the income that comes from it
“There are so many problems that the farming community face, but for us women it is mostly the scarcity of water sources in our villages because of which we have to walk for 10-12 KMs to get water for irrigation. We have to go to far off wells to find water as all the wells and other water sources in our village are dry. Even when we have to go to buy seeds and fertilisers from the market, we have to spend about INR 200-300 every time for transportation,” said Meera, a farmer belonging to Jawa district in Madhya Pradesh.
Unhappy With the Current Government
“When I voted for BJP in 2014, I thought I was voting for progress. He said he would double our profits, but look, it has come down to 1/4th of what we used to make“, said Kamaljeet Singh, a farmer from Amroha in U.P., talking about his disillusionment with the Modi led BJP government. He added, “I will vote for whoever talks about our welfare in 2019 now…”
Another farmer and president of Maharashtra Kisan Sabha, Kisan Gujjar from Nashik, Maharashtra said, “The BJP government didn’t at all practice what they preached – even if they had allotted any money for farmers after the long march, we didn’t get any of it,” referring to the Kisan Long March that took place in the month of March earlier this year. The Maharashtra government had agreed to waive off loans of farmers taken upto June in 2017. “The state government as well as the central government has failed us, where are our ‘achche din’?” he asked.
Sanjay Leni, a Maharashtrian farmer said, “It’s been 8 months since the Long March, but we haven’t received any benefits. Maybe now that elections are near, the government will pretend to care about us.”
If there is one common thread among all farmers besides their tragedies of suicides and poverty, it is that they are all unhappy with the Modi led BJP government.
Several leaders of the opposition parties and about 21 political parties extended support for this protest and severely criticised the current government for not paying heed to the farmers’ plight. Congress President Rahul Gandhi said, “The two major issues that today’s India is suffering from are the farmers’ plight and unemployment in youth.” He added, “The Indian farmers are not asking for free gifts from the government, they are only asking for their rights. The PM had promised to increase the MSP prices for their produce and bonus money, but look at how it is today. They had only made empty promises.”
If there is one common thread among all farmers besides their tragedies of suicides and poverty, it is that they are all unhappy with the Modi led BJP government
Addressing the gathering, Delhi CM Arvind Kejriwal said, “It’s a pity that you all have come to Delhi with such distress that I can’t even properly welcome you here. The central government has despite promising, declined to implement the Swaminathan Committee recommendations, clearly betraying the entire farming community. Our farmers will become self-sufficient only if we help them.”
Ayyakkammu, leader of National South Indian River Interlinking Farmers’ Association (NSRIFA) and a known face from the long protests done by Tamil Nadu farmers in 2017, demanding a loan waiver due to a high number of suicides and distress in the state, said, “Last year we did all sorts of things, from eating rats to holding skulls of the dead farmers of our state to catch the attention of the government, but nobody paid heed. This time, it’s the entire nation that has come together to ask for its rights, the government will have to oblige us.” He added, “If the state can write off crores of loans of corporate giants – they can surely write off the loans of people who feed the entire nation.”
Kisan Gujjar, president of Maharashtra Kisan Sabha said, “Even after the long march this year, the Modi government didn’t practice what they had preached. They had allotted some money for our welfare, but we didn’t get any of it. Modi government had promised during his 2014 campaign that we’d be his first priority, but I now feel like we’re his last.”
“Modi’s era is over, we’re not here to request but to tell him that he has done nothing for us. What good will Mandir-Masjid do for us?” asked Bhim Singh Nandu, president of Bhartiya Kisan Yojana.
All images courtesy the author