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Farmer’s Satyagraha And The Unbecoming Governance Around It

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“My grandfather used to say that once in your life you need a doctor, a lawyer, a policeman, and a preacher. But every day, three times a day, you need a farmer.” ~Brenda Schoepp

Farmers are the apogee of the Nishkam Karma philosophy mentioned in the Bhagawad Gita in a discourse between Arjun & Lord Krishna: “Do your duty without expecting the fruits of your labour”. “A 1991 moment for agriculture” is what the renowned farm economist Dr. Ashok Gulati said at the inception of much-awaited reforms in our agrarian economy. These bills (now acts) seek to democratise farmer’s produce by giving him more options to sell, cushion his interests through contract farming & proliferate his income.

 Grievances 

  • The Farmers’ Produce Trade and Commerce (Promotion and Facilitation) Bill, 2020

The farmers of the states (Punjab, Haryana and Western Uttar Pradesh) are primarily protesting because the government procurement infrastructure has been consolidated in this region since the inception of Green Revolution. Farmers have perceived the dismantling of APMC’s (agricultural produce market committee) monopoly as a precursor to their closure & eventually the end of MSP (minimum support price) procurement mechanism.

Waiting for their cause to be heard.

Government’s one-way communication hasn’t been of any convenience to alleviate their issue. States, which are already aggrieved due to inadequate tax devolution and recurring delays in GST dues, could also lose a major chunk of their revenue.

The outcome of Bihar doing away with its APMC system in 2006 is hidden from no one. Arguments against APMC mandis are well established but simply shifting from APMC to non-APMC areas, without a regulatory framework, the new law is unlikely to ensure better price realisation for farmers.

Antithetically, it might even lead to dwindling of APMC infrastructure if sufficient revenue for its sustenance and development isn’t generated.

“Delhi Chalo” is the consequence of doling out government policies, some essentially beneficial for long term gains, in haste without an effective approval by the citizenry. Execution determines efficacy, be it of GST, CAA and this time around the farm bills.

 “If any class of economic agents of our country has been denied the constitutional right of freedom of trade, it is farmers.” ~Venkaiah Naidu

“APMCs have been a leaking & creaking shelter over farmers heads. However removing this shelter instead of repairing it, is going to expose them” ~Yogendra Yadav

  • The Farmers (Empowerment and Protection) Agreement on Price Assurance and Farm Services Bill, 2020

This bill will surely transform India’s agricultural landscape by attracting private investment. Government’s maxim of “maximum governance and minimum government” is undoubtedly a good move to give impetus to our economy by opening it, but its execution is what lies at the core of any policy. What has given rise to farmer’s perturbation is that the corporates might legally outwit them and put liability clause on them due to the absence of level playing field.

There have been recommendations that the government should promote FPOs (Farmer produce organisation). This fear is genuine since private companies work on profit margins and deploy methods (sometimes unscrupulous ones) to get maximum raw material at minimum prices.

Deluding ourselves by expecting “Gandhian” attitude (Commerce with morality) from business houses in a highly competitive world would show poor knowledge on our part about the on-ground reality. When the politicians themselves are tempted by money and power and end up defecting despite all the amendments under the Anti-Defection Law, how do they expect that a businessman won’t exploit the loopholes and put the farmer again at the receiving end?

RBI recent report of an Internal Working Group (IWG), which has nothing to say on the farming issue, has made a recommendation that business houses should be allowed to be owners & controllers of banks. This has engendered alarming thoughts in the minds of economists, calling a spade a spade i.e.  “authoritarian cronyism”. Such trends have been on the cards since long now & have aggravated concerns vis-à-vis corporatisation of Indian economy by allocating benefits to a few well-settled companies & not giving opportunity for “creative destruction”.

Legislation

Deserted Upper House

Economic reforms in India have often seen the face of coalition governments & that is why covertly legislated. On the contrary, these farm laws were railroaded by a regime which has an overwhelming majority in the parliament.

The government did try to allay farmer’s fears, but the hasty passage of these “historic” bills: first through ordinance route and then through a voice note in Rajya Sabha (rather than recommending it to a joint parliamentary committee) without little debate inside or outside the law-making body did little to pacify them. And the fact that these bills were enacted in the time of Covid-19 – the reason given for not allowing farmers to gather – only augmented farmer’s distrust.

“There is a sense that if the government can get away with promulgating such significant legislation without adequate consultation with farmers, it will sound the death knell of farmers as a political force.”~Pratap Bhanu Mehta 

Rajya Sabha is the house for greater deliberations as members aren’t compelled to act according to political exigencies. Bicameralism reinforces federalism as indirectly elected members make a clarion call for their states. Desolated view of it, when historic bills are being passed, is dismal. The hubris in turning it’s back on to consensus-building measures in the state & trampling over federalism is an insidious problem.

“Why can’t we believe that fast-tracking does not mean bypassing procedures?” ~Anil Swarup

Liberalisation without consultation is like forcing people to be free. Jean-Jacques Rousseau was called “thinker of paradoxes”. He said: “Man is born free, but everywhere in chains” and on the other hand, “Man should be forced to be free”.

The government may have a bona fide intent to emancipate farmers from the mercy of markets, middlemen and money lenders but its governance and indifference towards farmer’s concerns indicate different signals.

 Governance

Border stand-off

Many non-farmers refute the farmer’s claims as “misguided” and their protests as “politically motivated”.

Parties are bound to raise their political mileage in such situations and if we think pragmatically, every party is an opportunist. Every party discerns ways in which it can win the public trust, especially when the executive’s communication skills are not able to do so and the gulf is widening between the people and the government.

However, if these movements would have been merely an attempt to defame the government or misled by the opposition, then they won’t have witnessed enormous support pan-India. 

Deep down all are aware, that farm laws are not an ‘end’ in itself but ‘means’ to give more freedom to, the pride of our country, farmers & their concern should be heard. But if the targeted beneficiaries are only apprehensive about the consequences of this act then what good are these acts? Before rolling out the bills, we should try to take the stakeholders on board. Let’s for one instance think that farmers are nothing but misguided, then also doesn’t it fall on the part of the government to engage with them, relieves their fears and channelises them in the right direction?

“For an idea to fructify & sustain in a democracy like ours, it has to be politically acceptable, socially desirable, technologically feasible, financially viable, administratively doable, judicially tenable & emotionally relatable.” ~Anil Swarup

Accommodating everyone’s interest in a vast and diverse democracy like ours is indeed onerous and exhausting. But when the call comes from masses shouldn’t an attempt be made to address their concerns & search for solutions at the very least?

Protests

A farmer dutifully abides by his ‘Dharma’ even when his life is at stake.

Over the last few years, protests (every citizen’s constitutional right under Article 19(2) ) are seen as a sign of “Anti-national” movements or “malcontent without cause.”

At this pace, we won’t be able to evolve into a “mature democracy”, rather be contained in the walls of an “electoral democracy”. Nationalism refers to the unity of cultures and loyalty towards the constitution (not towards a political party).

We may disagree or agree with them but choosing to “boycott” everyone (many times even without listening to their cause) who oppose your point of view, subverting the holy book (constitution) by snatching their fundamental rights and polarising protests by giving them a communal angle will unequivocally take our nation to the worst of its times.

It’s abominable to know that today, the assassinator of our father of the nation is celebrated by many and our farmers, the cornerstone of food security, who toil day and night to fill our stomach have to surmount water cannons, tear gas, media-bashing & people’s abuse, to talk with their representatives.

Courtesy: Reuters

Police is an instrument in the state’s armoury to maintain order when the crowd goes riotous and resort to violence to make their voice heard.

But when the protest is on Gandhian lines, recourse to tear gas (Hong Kong police used it against pro-democracy protestors), water cannons (in the chilling cold), digging trenches, taking protestors in preventive custody and seeking permission from the government to convert stadiums into makeshift jails doesn’t augur well for a state which is proud of its democratic credentials at global platforms.

“In other circumstances, one would think this is how we are fighting an enemy invasion. In new India, this is how we are fighting our own farmers.” ~Shashi Tharoor

Constitution Day 2020

Damaging public property (digging trenches), disrupting economic activity (blocking roads), deploying police forces (in states where they are already burdened with investigating heinous crimes), firing tons of water (when many farmers are hit every year by the paucity of water) is certainly not the way, in my opinion, to handle protestors who are marching towards the capital. This is one of the major reason why we have not been able to overcome our colonial past even after 73 years of independence.

We can’t afford to stifle our own when we already are in a quandary due to the “two-front threat” at our borders. We have to come up with more enabling guidelines for a peaceful congregation of citizens. By quashing attempts to peaceful protests (even when the pandemic wasn’t there), we, in the long run, give fuel to fire rather than minimising it. Circumventing dialogue and desisting from making reconciliation efforts is further going to cement their fears rather than assuage them. We also significantly raised the chances of Covid-19 (an apolitical virus) infection by not hearing them in the first place.

The government of the day should resort to pro-active consultation rather than doing damage control after the agitation. It should tap the massive political capital at its disposal to constructively engage with the concerned and ensure “Sabka Saath, Sabka Vikaas & Sabka Vishwaas” to the fullest.

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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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