Dilli Chalo -
Another day, another farmer protest? Certainly not.
DESPITE THE LABELS OF ‘ANTI-NATIONAL’ AND ‘KHALISTANI’, THE FARMERS’ DEMANDS ARE LEGITIMATE.
2nd December, 2020
Written by Anna Abraham
Artwork by Suryansh Deo Srivastava
I watch the farmers protest with most anguish. It’s hard to watch, but I must.
This call for ‘One Nation One Mandi’ is a farce as many farmers claim. It is now ‘One Nation Two Mandis’– one, that is state-regulated, another, that is privately controlled.
I write this with fatigue. Everything happening in the country is enraging. And my rage is tired.
I watch the state label 80-year-old Fr Stan Swamy a terrorist. I watch as journalists are jailed and criminals freed. I watch as our indigenous are made vulnerable. I watch as an ordinance to criminalise a make-believe (propaganda) phenomenon of love jihad is passed. I watch as contempt of court proceedings are initiated against a feminist cartoonist. I watch as Mollem is destroyed. I watch as the founder of a “news” portal tweets saying the protesting farmers deserve what they’re facing. I watch as the bizarre and dangerous narratives of Khalistan and terrorism are propelled to taint the farmer demands. I watch as the state unleashes water cannons and tear gas on the same bodies that feed it. I watch the farmers protest with most anguish. It’s hard to watch, but I must.
The calamitous show began with the unconstitutional passage of the bills in parliament. The three bills, i.e. Farmers' Produce Trade and Commerce (Promotion and Facilitation) Bill, the Farmers (Empowerment and Protection) Agreement on Price Assurance and Farm Services Bill, and the Essential Commodities (Amendment) Bill, were passed in a scene that can only be described as a chaotic cacophony. The chaos ignored the opposition’s call for a division of vote*. Some may also refer to this as a Parliamentary session.
And so, the political landscape was set. The opposition, enraged by the undemocratic and unconstitutional passage of the bills and the government pleased with the neo-liberalisation of the farming sector. P Sainath, Founder of People's Archive of Rural India, has even called this "the second 1991 moment in India."
Unsurprisingly, the bills were given the Presidential assent. Et voila, they are now Acts.
Now, to the actual stakeholders – the farmers. There is an image of the ‘poor’ and ‘exploited’ farmer. The neo-liberals want to erase this. They want to emancipate her (a tiny attempt at making my dear reader see the farmer as a woman despite the male media representation), view her as a businessperson, not a labourer. On the surface, this is obviously good. Give the farmers the liberty to enter into private contracts, and make them entrepreneurs.
Yet, that’s not all there is to it.
Corporates have a troublesome past with exploiting farmers in India. Take the case of PepsiCo in Punjab and Gujarat. The American company sued the farmers for using a patented variety of seeds. Picture this. A multibillion-dollar company suing farmers with monthly earnings in the thousands. A homegrown Monsanto-like case! The new Farmers' Produce Trade and Commerce (Promotion and Facilitation) Bill makes it virtually impossible for the farmer to take up any legal action with the private entity it may enter into a contract with. They will not be allowed to approach civil courts following any deception from the company or any contract violations. The act provides a three-level dispute settlement system of a conciliation board, Sub-Divisional Magistrate and an Appellate Authority, none of which would be as efficient or effective as a civil court of law.
Even so, this is just the tip of the iceberg. The Central government passing laws regarding farming is problematic in itself. They have misconstrued the ‘food’ item on the concurrent list and have yet again found a loophole to legislate on the matter. Agriculture and market are items on the state list as per the Seventh Schedule of the Constitution. This is all "legislative adventurism", says R Ramakumar of the Tata Institute of Social Sciences, and empahises the need for customised farming legislation that can only come with individual states legislating on the matter.
The government has also repeatedly stated that Minimum Support Price (MSP) has not been scrapped and will be applicable in the mandis (or Agricultural Produce Market Committee). Yet there has been no mention of the MSP in any of the bills. MSP is in no way the solution to all the multifaceted farmer problems – there cannot be one clear-cut solution. But, it is crucial for a farmer’s income, and the threat to it is very troubling to them. The laws blatantly undermine the MSP regime.
The contract farming act allows for farmers to sell outside mandis (important to note that this is not new, and many states have already deregulated selling in mandis alone i.e. farmers were already in private contracts). What does this imply? It doesn’t mean that farmers suddenly have autonomy, in fact, it doubly threatens them. The mandi system was not even close to perfect with most farmers selling even below MSP (seemingly understood as Maximum Selling Price). But the mandis most definitely ensured more security than a private firm would. Contract farming is designed to lock those with no power to those with capital. There is evidence across the world to prove contract farming is bad for the farmer, says Shalmali Guttal, Executive Director of Focus on the Global South. The lack of regulatory controls in the acts lower the farmer's bargaining power, giving an upper hand to the private entity. This call for ‘One Nation One Mandi’ is a farce, as many farmers claim. It is now ‘One Nation Two Mandis’– one, that is state-regulated, another, that is privately controlled. This new system is only to please the crony-capitalists.
The corporatisation of the farming sector will lead to an abuse of natural resources. Rohit Parakh, policy analyst with ASHA Kisan Swaraj, says that organic farming – a much-needed move towards sustainable farming – might only be practised for export needs to feed the ‘trend’ of eating organic. The biodiversity of seeds would suffer more with a push for monocultures that destroy soil fertility. The private demand for water-intensive crops like rice and wheat may increase, despite it being well-known that a move away from such farming is crucial for the health of farming in the years to come.
The mechanisation of farming has already left many farmers without jobs. Another push towards privatisation would force them to leave farming and further strain an economy suffering from unemployment, says Parakh.
Politically speaking, all farmer unions are against this. Even the Bharatiya Kisan Sangh (BKS), a farmer group of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) has vehemently opposed the acts and wants the MSP corrections (remember the bhakts crying 'Khalistanis' at the protesters? Maybe, it’s time to cry Hindu Rashtra Sanghis). They haven’t joined the protest (for obvious reasons) but are using social media platforms to voice their woes. A little memory jog for those who may have forgotten, the RSS has very close organisational links to the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and our beloved Prime Minister is a proud member of the RSS. Funnily enough, when Narendra Modi was the Chief Minister of Gujarat, he had proposed to the then Prime Minister Manmohan Singh that no farmer trade transaction should occur below MSP.
The acts also invisibilise landless Dalit labourers working at slave wages for upper caste farmers. Even the farmers’ protest erases this issue. Then there is the other invisibilised farmer – the woman. She has no rights to the land and has also been given no representation in these acts.
Even the Bharatiya Kisan Sangh (BKS), a farmer group of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) has vehemently opposed the acts and wants the MSP corrections.
However, these three bills, that allow contract farming, the freedom of food stocking and bypassing the APMC, are not the only things that worry the farmers.
There are two other anti-farmer bills in the works.
The centre has proposed a new ordinance to curtail air pollution in the Delhi-NCR region. It places stubble burning (burning of paddy fields in Punjab, Haryana and adjoining areas) as a key issue of the Delhi air pollution problem, yet again ignoring pollution coming from their dearest friends in the industries. No study has been conducted to clearly define this as the biggest cause of the issue, but making the farmer the culprit is the cheapest ticket to stay friends with the industrialists. So, the ordinance imposes heavy fines on farmers who clear their paddy fields by burning it.
Again, on the surface, very reasonable.
But, this dis-incentivisation is flawed.
The government subsidises the paddy crop– essentially incentivising the growth of paddy. Burning the field is the most economic way for the farmers to clear the field for the next crop. Perhaps if the farmers were incentivised to clear it (paid money by the government) without burning the field, the situation at hand would be different.
The second is the Electricity Amendment Bill 2020, that removes the subsidy for electricity and makes the shift to a direct bank transfer scheme (literally transferring the money to be spent on electricity directly to a farmer’s bank account). Farmers will have to pay for electricity and wait for government subsidies to be reimbursed. Additionally, a meter will be attached to each home to measure electricity usage. Bureaucracy’s history with such matters should be testament enough to prove the inefficiency that will come with such a scheme. Even so, the state says this would prevent leakages and over-usage of electricity. I must say, it is seriously hypocritical coming from politicians living in lavish cities, enjoying electricity round-the-clock. If Mumbaikars enjoying 24 hours of electricity is not labelled ‘over-usage’ and ‘wastage’ why are we saying farmers using that electricity to labour in the fields is the problem with the country? Is it not obvious where the state’s interests lie?
If Mumbaikars enjoying 24 hours of electricity is not labelled ‘over-usage’ and ‘wastage’ why are we saying farmers using that electricity to labour in the fields is the problem with the country?
The farmers want the three anti-farmer kale kanoon (black laws) revoked and the ordinance on air quality and the Electricity Amendment Bill be discarded. For months they have been agitating regarding the same and nothing has come of it. Farmers from across the country have started their journey to Delhi. An approximate of 25 crore Indians have joined the andolan. The domination of the Punjabi and Haryanvi farmers is simply because they share a border with Delhi and are part of the first wave that reached Delhi. The protests extend nationwide. The BJP-led centre claims that this is ‘for the good of the farmer’. The farmers have one thing to say. Who asked for these laws? Certainly not them. There has been next to no consultation with the farmers and all critics have been dismissed. The Dilli Chalo protest has been a significant one. Kavita Krishnan from the All India Progressive Women’s Association called the protest "kisaano ka Shaheen Bagh" (the farmers' Shaheen Bagh). But the protesters have been met with water cannons, tear gas shells, and an ‘attempt to murder’ charge. I ask this. What has been murdered? Is it not democracy that has been killed? If #boycottfood is trending on Twitter India and the hands that feed us are anti-national, what more can be said of the state of affairs in India?
However, hope must live on. With the Bhartiya Kisan Union reviving their own Section 288 after 32 years, disallowing the police to come within the limits of the farmer, with Madhya Pradesh farmers marking December 3 as anti-corporate day and with the All India Taxi Union threatening to go on strike if farmer demands are not met by the 3rd of December, protest culture has taken yet another turn for the better. The truth will out, the righteous will prevail. Let it not be forgotten –
Kaun banaya Hindustan?
Bharat ke majdoor kisaan.
*Division of vote records how each Member of Parliament (MP) votes on an issue. A voice vote is conducted by an MP simply saying ‘aye’ or ‘no’, without an actual record of which way MPs voted.