Harvest  2020:  Lessons farmers of India taught the world

India’s farmer protests of 2020 will go down in world history as one of the largest resistance movements of modern times

farmers protest

Lakhs of farmers have been sitting in protest across the country, against a law the government rushed to pass unilaterally, without consulting those who will be impacted the most.  The Union Government turned a deaf ear to the concerns they raised months ago, when the Farmers’ Produce Trade and Commerce (Promotion and Facilitation) Act, 2020, the Farmers (Empowerment and Protection) Agreement on Price Assurance and Farm Services Act, 2020, and the Essential Commodities (Amendment) Act, 2020, were not yet laws. 

On September 20, 2020, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) led Union Government passed the three controversial agricultural Bills in the Rajya Sabha despite lacking the required number of votes. Ironically the Ministry of Agriculture and Farmers Welfare had admitted to the agrarian crisis on September 18, and said that more than 10,000 farmers, cultivators had died by suicide the year before. The political opposition was similarly silenced as these bills were rushed through a hastily conceived session of the Indian parliament. 

Farmers across India have demanded that those laws be repealed, and have rejected the amendments offered by the Union Government. They are focused, on the demand, and have not changed their stance, not even when they were shot at with teargas shells, water cannons, hit batons, as they walked towards the National Capital Delhi, crossing barbed wires, concrete barricades, deep trenches. They have been camping on Delhi’s borders, braving the cold wave conditions, fuelled by the support and solidarity of civil society, workers unions, and the ordinary citizens, for well over a month now. 

The Farmers Protest 2020 is now backed by at least 250 farmers’ unions coming together. The protests began in Punjab in August, and held its first mass protest on September 25 with a Bharat Bandh call. The farmers marched towards Delhi on November 26, and now massive crowds sit in protest at key border points across Delhi’s borders and stage dharnas (sit-ins) across the country. The farmers have said that as 2021 dawns, the struggle will intensify, if the government does not pay heed. The government has so far refused to even acknowledge the many deaths that have been reported from the protest sites. There were deaths by suicide, of a lawyer from Punjab on December 27, 2020 a  Sikh priest, on December 16,  and many more died of heart attacks, hypothermia, and in accidents  while  as they were participating in the protest and camping on roads. Meanwhile, the Union Government seemed to be fuelling a ‘sarkari stalemate’. 

Farmer leaders have continued to express disappointment at the government’s response to the letter sent by them on December 26, 2020 saying it was “woefully short of any attempt to resolve issues.” The farmers even listed modalities for the repeal of the three Central farm Acts, mechanisms to make remunerative MSP into a legally guaranteed entitlement, amendments in the Commission for the Air Quality Management in National Capital Region and Adjoining Areas Ordinance, 2020 and changes to the draft Electricity Amendment Bill 2020 to protect farmers as its agenda items. 

While the government of India remains unresponsive to the farmers, the right wing cadre, often led by Union Ministers has been trying to communalise, discredit, divide, and vilify the farmer’s movement. They have called the farmers: Maoists, Leftists, paid protestors, terrorists, too rich to be farmers, too organised to be farmers, freeloaders, politically motivated. 

BJP-led state governments have tried to crack down on farmers: 

●        Senior officials of Uttar Pradesh police and revenue department were reportedly instructed to fan out to the districts to confirm whether (or nor) local farmers intend to participate in farmers’ struggle. 

●        Income tax raids on Arhtiyas (commission agents). The Arhtiyas called the I-T raids an ‘act of revenge’ by the central government. Multiple I-T raids were conducted on arhtiya leaders on December 18 and December 19. They shut down vegetable mandis (markets) or wholesale markets in protest on December 25 to protest “pressure tactics’ by the central government to discourage support for the farmers’ struggle. 

●        Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) tried to ‘infiltrate’ and discredit the farmers’ protest. A RSS worker when caught admitted to distributing pamphlets against the farmers’ struggle at the Singhu border on December 20, 2020. He was reportedly caught distributing pamphlets, stickers to defame Kisan andolan, to discourage people from supporting the peasant movement. Small time self-proclaimed Hindutva leaders joined the anti-farmers chant, and called for violence.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi has held photo opportunities, with a small group of farmers from his home state Gujarat, has visited a Delhi Gurudwara, tele-addressed farmers in BJP ruled Madhya Pradesh, and blamed the Opposition for ‘misleading’ the farmers about the laws. He is yet to talk to the protestors directly. The Farmers have dismissed all such claims of the central government. They have called out the Centre’s ignorance about the agricultural sector and remind the sarkar about the condition of farmers in BJP-led states. 

It is now up to the Union Government to take the next, decisive step, and agree to the farmers’ demand of repealing the law. Failing which, this is a revolution that may last well into 2021. After all, we can only reap what we sow, and the farmers of India, have already given the world a lesson on planting the seeds of revolution.

 As the year draws to a close, and the talks between the government are set to resume on December 30, there is cautious optimism among the protesters. That the Modi 2.0 government is speaking its quintessential version of doublespeak, a real breakthrough may take much more time coming, however.

(Compiled by Karuna John)


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