Maha Julloos observes public meeting to decry anti-farmer laws

Human rights defender and journalist Teesta Setalvad addressed the public meeting, praising the historic 'Kisan Morcha' for making the Modi regime accountable for its actions... something no urban citizen's movement has really managed so far.

Maharashtra’s Sanyukta Shetkari Kamgar Morcha (SSKM) called a massive public meeting on January 25, 2021 welcoming farmer leaders and former ministers to discuss the three farm laws forcibly passed by the Central government.

Leaders such as Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) Chief Sharad Pawar, All India Kisan Sabha (AIKS) General Secretary Hannan Mollah , National Alliance of People’s Movement (NAPM) Founder Medha Patkar and human rights defender and journalist Teesta Setalvad attended the event.

NCP chief and architect of the Maha Vikas Aghadi alliance in the state, the 80-year old Sharad Pawar criticised the government for giving “no thought to the farmers surviving the cold at Delhi borders.” He questioned whether Prime Minister Narendra Modi enquired about them. He  he asked the mass of people assembled at Azad Maidan, “The government says these are Punjab farmers. So? Are Punjab farmers from Pakistan? Have they not participated in our freedom struggle?”

Pawar asked a sea of farmers at Mumbai’s Azad Maidan where they had gathered today in support of their comrades camped in protest in and around Delhi. Hailing them for having come to the city all the way from Nashik, in solidarity with those gearing up for a massive tractor ally in the national capital, the senior leader condemned the Union government’s view of those agitating.

“We have seen for the past 60 days, without bothering about the cold, the sun, or rain, the farmers from UP, Haryana, and Punjab have been protesting. They (Centre) say these are Punjab farmers. Is Punjab Pakistan? They are our own,” said Pawar. NCP is a part of the Shiv Sena-led ruling coalition in Maharashtra, along with the Congress.

He slammed the way the three agricultural laws being protested by farmers were passed in Parliament apparently without much discussion. Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government, he said, did not listen to the Opposition when it demanded a debate, even though all top leaders were present in Parliament at the time.

“We said ‘send it (the laws) to a select committee where people of all parties are there’. But the Central government said, ‘No discussion. We came with this and we will pass it without discussion. You all have come here to support’,” Pawar recalled, pointing at how the farmers have turned the tables on the government. “Today every farmer is saying first repeal these laws and then we can discuss,” he said.

Pawar also recalled how Mumbai had witnessed multiple agitations since pre-independence and how the farmers gathered today represented only the latest in a long chain of protests. 

Women farmers, Dalit farmers, Adivasi farmers present at the ground on Monday morning following a two-day long vehicle jatha from Nashik, hailed Sharad Pawar for his speech.

AIKS secretary, Hannan Mollah made a powerful speech outlining of at every stage during the past 60 odd days the central government had not only let down but showed contempt for the protesting farmers. “This is an inhuman, arrogant and autocratic government,” he said. “When farmers have been protesting for seven months before the Bills were introduced and passed, where were you and why were you not listening? We were not allowed inside Delhi and the Ram Lila Maidan, water cannons were sprayed on us in the bitter cold, over 100 lives have been sacrificed to this protest,” he said. “The farmer is the true Indian, she works eighteen hours a day to bring food to the table and is not going to be tired or defeated,” concluded Mollah. 

Later, AIKS State Secretary Ajeet Navale said that Maharashtra’s farmers will follow suit with Delhi farmers and declared, “Until our struggle is not victorious, we will not withdraw our unrest.”

He questioned the narrative that farmers out on the streets were not real farmers when he could see farmers from all over the state assembled at Azad Maidan. Accordingly, he demanded that these farmers be given identity to their land that were usurped under religious and other claims. He also demanded immediate implementation of the Mahatma Phule Loan Waiver scheme to alleviate the grief of state farmers who died by suicide due to outstanding loans. 

Similarly, All India Democratic Women’s Association (AIDWA) General Secretary Mariam Dhawale that the three laws – the Farmers (Empowerment and Protection) Agreement on Price Assurance & Farm Services Act, the Farmer’s Produce Trade and Commerce (Promotion and Facilitation) Act and the Essential Commodities (Amendment) Act – adversely affect women farmers who suffer severe debt.

“In every rural area of Maharashtra, women suffer huge debts while the central government boasts of surplus food. The Supreme Courts tell us to leave protest areas. Why? Today, women are here in large numbers,” she said.

Dhawale pointed out that 80 percent of all agricultural labour in India is carried out by women. Yet only 12 percent of agricultural land in India is recognised as women farmers’ land. She warned that even this 12 percent of land will be lost due to these laws.

Taking this a step further, human rights defender Teesta Setalvad said that India’s farmers have compelled the central government to account for their actions within 70 days or protest – a feat that no urban citizen has dared to do so far.

Setalvad said that India’s economy and social fabric required welfare policies in light of the severe effects of coronavirus in 2020. However, the BJP-government chose to withdraw pre-existing labour laws and replace them with new codes that attacked labour rights. Then it introduced farm laws in September 2020 in a manner that insulted the Parliament procedure of India.

“I will only say that if you [the Centre] want to pass laws in the Parliament then how can you not talk to the people for whom you are passing these laws? You won’t take their laws? You want to talk to their representatives? And then you pass laws that commercialise the agriculture sector. Women farmers, small and marginal farmers will lose control over their production and land. This we do not accept,” said Setalvad.

She hoped that the Maha Vikas Aghadi government will stand with farmers not simply by supporting the protest but by giving due consideration to the demands for Minimum Support Price (MSP) and improvement of mandi system.

She appealed to Mumbai and Maharashtra, known for their precursory and revolutionary history, to remember its past and stand by India’s annadaatas.

Meanwhile, Bharatiya Mahila Federation leader Lata Desa talked about other government policies such as the National Education Policy (NEP) 2020 passed by the central government.

Children’s enrolment in rural schools has lessened over the years. The online schooling system is not helping peasants’ children who cannot afford 4G smartphones. She warned that NEP 2020 will slowly remove economically-disadvantaged sections of society who due to the hunger crisis are not able to avail ration in recent days.

Regarding the farm laws, she talked about contract farming as a dangerous threat looming over farmers especially women farmers.

“They want to centralise farmers. They want everything in their power. They do not care about farmers, women, children, no one. Until all these laws are repealed, we will stay united and decry these government decisions,” she said.

The agitation will conclude on the morning of January 26, Republic Day, with the hoisting of the national flag, the singing of the national anthem and with a pledge to make the current struggle of farmers and workers victorious at all costs.

Other leaders such as State Cabinet Minister Sunil Kedare Satyashodhak Shetkari Sabha member Kishore Damale and Kamgar Sanghatana Sanyukta Krishi Samiti member Advocate Ravi Joshi also attended the event.


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