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Although He’s Just ‘A Call Away’, Farmers Are Still ‘Waiting For Godot’

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The fall of 2020 annihilated the farmers. India has an agrarian economy and the introduction of the three farm laws poses a threat to the autonomy of the farmers by opening up the markets to private players, taking away the government responsibilities. But according to the government, the Farmers’ Produce Trade and Commission Act grants them additional autonomy, as by dismantling the APMCs they will be able to sell their crops to anyone at any price.

The Start Of The Farmer Protests

The laws were passed without the consent of the state, agriculture comes under state list, entry 14, and it has distressed many stakeholders of the states. Soon after the introduction of the bills, farmer unions began to protest locally, mostly in Punjab.

After two months, on November 26, 2020, the farmers, notably from Haryana and Punjab marched towards Delhi, raging a cry of ‘Dilli Chalo’ slogans, and on their way to peaceful protests, they were even attacked by the police personnel. The farmers have been protesting since then on the borders of Delhi, waiting for the government to listen to their demands, just like Vladimir and Estragon are waiting under a tree in Becket’s Waiting for Godot, and there is ‘Nothing to be done.

The play symbolizes nothingness and ends with nothingness but for the farmers only time will tell if it will end with nothingness. The agriculture sector of our country engages over 50% of the workforce and the bills have made them question their identity and their purpose. And nobody is ready to solve their dilemma or answer their questions. Even in the play, Becket leaves the question of identity and purpose open-ended for his readers and emphasizes that every person in this world is like Estragon and Vladimir, who is waiting for something but most of the time one cannot get what one wants and their life ends in despair, which illustrates the meaninglessness of life.

The farmers have been sitting on the borders leaving their household and farms, and cannot find a meaning to their lives sitting aimlessly at the borders. Even the people of our country have become mere spectators and as Estragon puts it, “People are bloody ignorant apes.” The farmers are also gazing into the distance.

But without hope nothing is possible. The farmers are very optimistic and are still waiting for Godot, hoping that one day He will contrive their adversities. The Indian farmers have already been living a miserable life with an alarming number of suicides every year. We have a democratic form of government, which is for the people, by the people, and of the people, then why the government is still ignorant about the major population of the country.

Negotiations Between The Government And Farmers

Why aren’t they ready to listen to the problems the farmers have with the bills, the center just wants to impose their ideas and form a middle path according to their convenience. In the 11th round of negotiations between the farmers and the government, which was held on January 22, the government broke down with both sides and is not ready to step down from the position to repeal the laws. The farmers are adamant about repealing the agricultural laws, whereas the government is ready to suspend the laws for a year and a half. No compromises were made and for the first time, no date was fixed for the next session.

Farmers were curious about the government’s offer, just like Vladimir and Estragon were curious about Godot’s offer and similarly the farmers accorded that if it’s not in their favor, “we’ll take it or leave it”. Estragon’s and Vladimir’s demands from Godot were not very definite, they were more like a prayer, unlike the farmers’, who are sturdy in their demands and knows exactly what they want.

Farmers demand two things from the government, one, to repeal the three farm laws because according to them it will hurt their livelihoods, and two, a law guaranteeing minimum support prices (MSP) for their farm produce. Even though the farmers are clear in their demands, the answer that they got from the government is synonymous with Godot’s.

Estragon: And what did he reply?

Vladimir: That he’d see. 

Estragon: That he couldn’t promise anything. 

Vladimir: That he’d have to think it over. 

Estragon: In the quiet of his home. 

Vladimir: Consult his family. 

Estragon: His friends. 

Vladimir: His agents. 

Estragon: His correspondents. 

Vladimir: His books. 

Estragon: His bank account. 

Vladimir: Before taking a decision. 

Estragon: It’s the normal thing. 

Vladimir: Is it not? 

Estragon: I think it is. 

Vladimir: I think so too. Silence.

The center should not introduce the radical reforms via the ‘ordinance route but through democratic debate, engaging all stakeholders and through the political process, for it to succeed’. If the government had discussed it earlier, there would not have been a need to hold the discussions now. Now the government is bound to include all the stakeholders and is therefore having long-hour discussions which is a total waste of time, energy, and resources.

Farmers carry placards at a site of a protest against the newly passed farm bills at Singhu border near Delhi, India, November 28, 2020. REUTERS/Anushree Fadnavis

The Need For Consultation

Estragon mentioned that it is a normal thing to consult everybody, and for a democratic government of such a huge state, it becomes an obligation to include all the stakeholders, which was neglected at the very beginning. This presents the difference in the human race created via hegemony, as also presented by Becket via Lucky and Pozzo. Farmers believe that the government wants to serve only the private players, which vividly depicts the difference of the human race, the workers- the miserable ones and the feudal class- the dominating ones. The feudal class, “wishes to assert his prerogatives”, comments Vladimir.

The government has labeled them as ‘Andolan Jeevi (protester)’, ‘Atankwadi (terrorist)’, ‘khalistani’, and whatnot, but is their nationalism defined by their protests? And the difference in opinion? Do they have no right to speak against the judgments formed by ‘their government’, and if they have a different notion? There could be nothing more nationalistic than questioning your government and getting a response back.

Why Aren’t We Listening?

It has been almost five months now that the people are on the roads during a pandemic, bearing the unsettling cold and pelting rains. Our Prime Minister said that he’s just a call away and the farmers can reach out to him anytime but the question is how and why it hasn’t been initiated yet? Farm bills are long lost now but what about the empathy that the government should have felt? Don’t the farmers have a right to be heard? Don’t they have the freedom of speech and expression? A similar dilemma is presented by Becket:

Estragon: We’ve no rights anymore? 

Vladimir: You’d make me laugh if it wasn’t prohibited. 

Estragon: We’ve lost our rights? 

Vladimir (distinctly): We got rid of them. Silence. (They remain motionless, arms dangling, heads sunk, sagging at the knees.)

Estragon (feebly): We’re not tied? (Pause.) We’re not-

The farmers got together for peaceful protests to protect their livelihoods and they expected that the government would listen to them, as the lawmakers are accountable to their people. The system should work for all, considering the all. Now only time will tell how the protest will end for the farmers, when will Godot come or will he even come.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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