Farmers have been protesting for close to four months now.
The farmers’ protest has gained prominence in the international media because globally known personalities like Rihanna, the popular singer, Greta Thunberg, the environmental activist, Meenakshi Ashley Harris, popularly known as Meena Harris, the American lawyer, activist, author, and founder of the Phenomenal Woman Action Campaign, all tweeted about the condition of the protesting farmers.
Meena Harris, the Harvard Law graduate, drew attention to the fact that the oldest and the largest democracies in the world have been attached within a span of a month. The Capitol Hill incidence in the US and the denial of the ‘right to protest’ to the farmers in India were the reference of her concern. The singer posed a question of why nobody was talking about the issues, and the environment campaigner observed the farmers as custodians of the environment in their role of food producer, deserved support for their cause.
Farming is not just a source of livelihood for the majority of Indians and the major contributor to our local economies and the GDP. It is an important environmental issue. Changing its laws is likely to impact national income, food security and survival for a substantial part of the population. Agriculture is central to climate change, clean air and sustainable use of land and water; and has a gross value addition of about 16-17 % according to the Economic Survey 2019-20.
Therefore, these young women showed their concern for the farmers in India like they have been doing for the other causes affecting people and places globally.
Violation of human rights concerns any right-thinking human being. Emphatic voices of these rational young women have stirred the ‘ecosystem’ of the Indian State. The response from the concerned Ministry (of External Affairs) has catapulted the issue on the international scenario like a self-inflicted goal in a football match. Especially when the farmers’ protest is being labelled as an internal matter. Perhaps because the protest is for the Farm Bills.
But the concerned voices are for the condition of the farmers and the way they have been treated by the state machinery. These young people are thinking women of the modern world. They cannot be stopped by harassment or scare. The troll army’s sick patriarchal reminders of intimate partner violence for one of them, or attacking the age and ability to think independently for another, or sheer impunity to question the comparison between democracies- none has stopped these strong, sensible and upright young women.
The farmers’ protest was obstructed on 25-26 November 2020 with barricades, water cannons, and tear gas, shells.
They were lathi charged-violating their democratic right to protest. Subsequently, the water supply, electricity, toilet, food, and even the internet was withdrawn. It did not stop there. There were efforts to evict them from the protesting sites and create barriers to their entry into the city. The barriers spread in 13 layers including barbed wire, iron barriers, walls, trenches, nails planted on the ground. All those who have been protesting peacefully- and their toil continues to feed us our daily bread even today, deserve the support of all right-thinking people.
India has nurtured the slogan ‘Jai Jawan, Jai Kisan’ for decades. This was given by the second Prime Minister Shri Lal Bahadur Shastri in 1965 when India and Pakistan were at war and there was a scarcity of food grains in the country. This slogan conveys accolades to the soldiers and the farmers and hails them for their role in providing security and food to the country. The slogan was to enthuse the soldier and the farmer to defend the country and produce more food grain to reduce import respectively.
Decades later, we see that a soldier cannot voice concerns regarding their pension or the quality of food in their mess. Remember BSF Jawan Tej Bahadur Yadav who wrote about the food quality at a camp along the India-Pakistan border in Jammu and Kashmir in January 2017 on a social media platform? He was dismissed. Today, we see through virtual platforms and the media, nearly 75+ days old protest staged by the farmers against the Farm Bills (or Indian Agriculture Acts, 2020), passed in the Parliament in a flurry in September 2020 amidst COVID without adequate and desirable discussion.
The intent of bringing an Ordinance that would have long-term implications, for approval in the Parliament, when the country was struggling to tackle the pandemic, appears to be problematic. There have been about a dozen inconsequential talks between the government and the farmers to address the concerns. While the government is categorical in saying that the farm laws are for the good of the farmers, the farmers, on the other hand, are convinced with what is diametrically opposite- disastrous.
If the state machinery is sure of its benefits for the farmers, why is it unable to convey it to the farmers? And if the government’s claim is valid, then why is it that the farmers are up in arms against the state? And for so long? It’s been termed as the world’s largest organised strike in human history. Why is it that the government machinery only has understood the Farm Laws well and are convinced with its positive outcomes?
When others comprehend these laws, they find a number of issues detrimental to the farmers. Not all crops across farmers and regions can be sold at the minimum support price (MSP) is fairly evident from the past experience of the farmers. But the impression being given by the government machinery is that the farmers are being ‘misled’ to believe that the new Farm Laws will harm them.
The government has been arguing that the three new laws will support farmers, by removing taxes and other government-imposed financial burdens to help them sell produce directly to corporate buyers, paving way for private investment in agriculture. Farmers, on the other hand, argue that the new laws prevent them from getting a guaranteed, ‘minimum support price’ (MSP).
These laws open up markets for competition, pushing the prices in favour of the corporate buyers, leaving farmers exposed to the prices determined by the corporate buyers. The Farm Bills will disrupt and weaken the existing mandi system of the agricultural economy and affect their incomes adversely. It is important to note that the agriculture sector employs almost half the country’s workforce.
Ever since the Farm Bills were approved in September last year, protests led by those in the agricultural sector have sparked across the country. It has garnered support from people across all walks of life. The march to the capital was obstructed by the state and they were forced to halt outside Delhi. The protest intensified by December. Tens of thousands of people marched to the capital city but were denied entry.
The peaceful protest has sustained itself for nearly 75 days. The unfortunate incident on 26 Jan at the historic Red Fort bruised the spirit of the protesters but their disposition was soon reinstated when it became clear that the culprits of the unfortunate incident at the historic monument owe allegiance to organizations other than the farmers’. Those who made an attempt to label them as terrorists and anti-nationals had to put their foot in their mouth as it became evident that those instigating the violence hob-nob with the movers and shakers of the country.
The protesters since then, have been struck with water cannons and tear gas shells by the police forces.
A democratic country and its system are expected to provide space for dissenting voices of protesters. But in the case of the protesting farmers, democracy seems to have redefined itself. Dissenting voices need not be heard or given any options, and dialogue would better be a monologue- over the AIR or any other platform. And the operationalization of this definition has been amply visible in the treatment given to the farmers in their own country, their own capital city.
One of the most organized protests where the protestor could offer food to those who visited them to offer solidarity has been rendered devoid of basic services! The protesting farmers could bring portable toilets and water outlets and the gadgets and tools to operate the massive kitchen to ensure food for all- even when they were protesting! They braved the bitter cold of Delhi’s December and remained patients till the infiltrators marred their image- although not the spirit because truth unfolded and prevailed pretty soon.
The state, however, refused to see beyond what it was ‘offering’ the farmers in the name of a solution. The state has shown little interest or willingness to understand the solution which the farmers have been offering. This climaxed in a violent breaching of barriers at the Red Fort on Republic Day, giving the much sought after chance to the state, to unleash the strictest of measures to prevent the farmers from entering the city they believe to be their capital, the pedestal where they have located those whom they voted to power.
The measures taken to prevent the farmers from exercising their right to protest peacefully have gone beyond the imagination of anyone who has the experience of protest- either as a participant or as a preventer. Stopping the civic services like water, transportation, electricity, eviction was capped by the construction of barriers- barricades of iron; 7-ft high walls using building material, barbed wire, and stretches of nailed tarred patches!
The list of the barriers goes on to include trenches and dug up roads too. The taxpayers’ hard-earned money going down into the trenches via the ‘once upon a time roads’! And we cannot ask- for the fear of being labelled anything but taxpaying India citizens. And the disrupted internet services will soon earn India the highest accolade for being the country with the most/longest disruption of internet services.
With all this happening to fellow human beings- who will not speak up? Across the world, whenever the basic rights of human beings are violated, voices have emerged from a spectrum of people across varied walks of life. Concern for basic human rights that intersect with democratic and constitutional rights have always evoked sincere concern from rational people beyond the boundaries of state and social identifiers.
Many of us may have confronted our own self with these questions but could not voice them effectively. These young women articulately put these very questions up on social media platforms. The patriarchal mindset of the self-appointed custodians of the country could not digest it. And as usual, the troll brigade was set into action. The bandwagon was joined by some people from the entertainment industry too.
The ‘copy-paste’ text of their ‘concerns’ appeared more synthetic that real. There are some from this fraternity who voice their genuine concerns and often get caught up in unwarranted litigations. Many of them have decided to stay quiet to avoid such predicaments. But those with ‘similar concern’ have almost never spoken on any issues earlier, but have endorsed carcinogenic substances, besides luxury homes and garments.
Anyone who empathizes and is concerned with a cause is likely to have a sense of what is it that has drawn their attention. Going by the adage vasudhaiva kutumbhkam– emanating from Indian philosophy, it is natural for one member of the kutumbhkam to feel for the other. More important is what is being done for this ‘feeling’ and how rather than the who said what and why.