Kisan Mukti March: ‘Ayodhya Nahin, Karz Maafi Chahiye,’ Thunder 1 Lakh Farmers In Delhi

“None of the previous governments have ever fulfilled their promises. But, this government is the worst. Not only they are breaking their promises of waiving off our loans, but also burdening us with rising cost of production. They want that we all should die,” thundered 60-year-old Jaagir Singh, a farmer from Lakhimpur Kheri in Uttar Pradesh. Singh isn’t the only one. His anger with the current government is shared by lakhs of farmers, who have thronged the national capital to register their protest against government’s attention towards burgeoning agrarian crisis in the country. Fearing clashes, around 3,500 extra security personnel were deployed along the March route in the national capital.

Under the banner of All India Kisan Sangharsh Coordination Committee (AIKSCC), an umbrella organisation of 200 farmers’ outfits, tens of thousands of farmers and agricultural laborers started a mega protest march from Delhi’ iconic Ramlila Maidan to Parliament street on November 30. Representatives of 21 political parties, including Congress’ Rahul Gandhi, Delhi CM Arvind Kejriwal, Sitaram Yechury, Yogendra Yadav and Sharad Pawar also supported the protest and their demands for higher MSP, loan waiver, and implementation of Swaminathan Commission report that has been lying untouched for past 14 years.

Addressing the gathering at Jantar Mantar Congress president Rahul Gandhi said, “While the government is unwilling to waive off farmers’ loan, it is writing off Rs 3.5 lakh crores of loan to at least 15 big industrialists.” He further added that if the government ignores farmers’ plight, they’ll be removed from power in 2019 elections.

Delhi CM Arvind Kejriwal too joined the opposition parties in cornering BJP-led NDA government at the Centre . “The prime minister and BJP haven’t kept their promise of implementing the Swaminathan report. And their Kisan Bima Yojana is only benefitting firms, not farmers,” Kejriwal lashed out at the Centre.

What Are The Farmers Demanding?

From raising slogans like ‘Ayodhya Nahin, Karz maafi chahiye’ to Tamil Nadu farmers wearing nothing but skulls and bones of their fellow farmers who committed suicide, farmers expressed anti-government sentiments at Jantar Mantar on November 30.

Coming from different states in tractors, buses, and trains, these farmers are demanding a special parliamentary session and the passage of two private members’ bills- Farmers’ Right to Guaranteed Remunerative Minimum Support Prices for Agricultural Commodities Bill, 2018, and Farmers’ Freedom from Indebtedness Bill, 2018. They are also demanding the implementation of Swaminathan Commission report that guarantees fair MSP for the farm produce. The current MSP, as determined under 2018-19 Union budget, is 40% less than the recommended price.

The BJP had promised to implement the recommendations made by Swaminathan Commission in its 2014 election pitch. However, the government has switched its stand multiple times over the past four years.

Explaining the need to implement Swaminathan recommendations award-winning journalist and author of ‘Everybody Loves A Good Drought’ P Sainath told Youth Ki Awaaz, “The cost of farm produce and subsequent MSP is decided on three formulas- A2, A2+FL, and C2. For instance, under A2, the cost of production of cheapest quality of wheat will be Rs 500 and subsequent MSP would be Rs 750. In A2+FL, the cost of production will be Rs 800, making the MSP Rs 1200. However, under the Swaminathan commission’s recommended formula,C2, the cost of production for the same quality of wheat will be estimated at Rs 1200 and MSP at Rs 1800. There is a huge difference between Rs 1800 and Rs 750. C2 is the most comprehensive formula that includes total paid out costs, imputed value of family labour, and the rent on the land.”

Sainath further noted that in response to the ongoing protest government may announce high MSPs but that will not translate into increased incomes for farmers because they will hold back their procurement of farm produce, like they have been doing so far.

b.) Sugarcane Arrears:

With the bumper sugarcane production and subsequent price crash in the market, sugarcane farmers are staring at acute payment crisis and sugar mills claim to be cash trapped. India produced around 35.5 million tonnes of sugar in 2018-19, while the demand staggered at 25 million tonnes. Moreover, the global prices of sugar have drastically gone down. As a result, big corporates are finding importing sugar a lot more profitable.

Further, payment of pending sugarcane arrears was BJP’s election pitch that played a major role in their sweeping victory in 2017 UP assembly elections. While government’s State Advised Price (SAP) in UP increased by 54% from Rs 205 per quintal in 2010-11 to Rs 315 per quintal in 2017-18, sugar prices and revenues from by-products has not risen in tandem.Consequently, sugar mills are cash trapped and delaying payments to farmers. As per the data, total dues to sugarcane farmers in India stood at Rs 17,493 crore in August this year.

c.) Loan Waiver:

According to the data from All India Debt and Investment Survey (AIDIS), more than 70% of the rural population has one or more standing loans. Decreasing farm income, rising cost of production, and uncertainty of the market has led to the crippling debts in the farm sector. In 2016, India’s total outstanding agricultural loan stood at Rs 12.6 lakh crores. While the state governments have been announcing loan waivers, the strategy has failed to bring any change due to shoddy implementation and financial discrepancies in such policies. Further, according to several media reports, the UP farm loan waiver was an insult to the injury as many farmers received less than Rs 1.

While the recent agitation has put the current government in the focus, the present distress is the culmination of decades of ignorance. Over 3 lakh farmers have committed suicide between 1995 and 2015, making it a big humanitarian crisis.

Staging their protest at Jantar Mantar, farmers demanded they government to waive off their loans as they have failed to increase their incomes in past to decades.

Why Are They Here

The ongoing protest is the culmination of an year-long farmers’ protests across the country. In March 2018, 35,000 farmers walked 182 kms barefoot from Nasik to Mumbai to demand land rights and fair prices for their produce. In June, farmers from Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh, Punjab, Haryana, and Rajasthan staged 10-day protest to demand a guaranteed minimum income. In September, thousands of farmers took out Kisan Kranti March and were locked in a stand-off with security forces at UP-Delhi border. In october, farmers again staged two-day protest in Maharashtra.

More than 60% farmers are selling their produce below the MSP, which is as such not enough to cover their total input cost. Further, hiked electricity prices coupled with rising fuel prices are causing major dent in the already low farmers’ income.

“For decades, government policies have been taking the agriculture away from the community. We’ve been following US’ corporate-driven and community-driven agriculture model. It was about time for the community to rise up directly take charge of their grievances. Let them address the nation through the parliament and narrate their story of distress,” noted Sainath.

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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

Read more about his campaign.

Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Read more about her campaign. 

A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

Read more about the campaign here.

A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

Read more about the campaign here.

A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform Change.org, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on Change.org has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in Change.org’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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