If one wants to see the poverty of the rural India, there is no better place than the sit-in sites on the borders of the national Capital.
Syed Khalique Ahmed & Masihuzzama Ansari
NEW DELHI—This is the winter time in Delhi, with icy cold wind forcing people to remain indoors even during daytime. People go out only when it is necessary for them. Yet, poor farmers from all over the country, mostly from Punjab, Haryana, Rajasthan and Western Uttar Pradesh are sitting under the open sky on Delhi’s borders for about two months now in this chilling winter, asking the Central government to repeal the three anti-farmer bills, with government not budging an inch from its stand despite several round of talks with leaders of farmers’ unions. As many as 10 rounds of talks between the government and the farmers’ representatives have been held but all in vain.
The “embedded” media (whose only agenda seem to carry out propaganda in favour of the government for last about six years thus losing its credibility among the Indian masses) has been telecasting and writing about delicious food and breakfasts being prepared and served to farmers at the sit-in sites and washing machines installed to wash the clothes of farmers with a view to highlighting the affluent and upper-class lifestyle of farmers to show that the low-income claim of the farmers is false and exaggerated and they don’t deserve any sympathy. So, the contemporary India media is working as cheerleaders of the party in power like the American media that worked as US government’s public relations representatives during 1991 Gulf War and US invasion of Afghanistan in 2001.
If the US media avoided reporting about millions of innocent men, women and children killed by disproportionate use of lethal weapons in Iraq and Afghanistan on the false pretext of Iraq having stockpiled weapons of mass destruction (WMD) and Afghanistan having become the epicentre of global terrorism thus justifying the US-led armed action against the two countries even if it resulted in mass killing of populations in the two countries, utter silence of India media on the plight of farmers, highly negative aspects of the farm bills and only propagating the views of the government in different forms on three controversial farm bills to create a public opinion in favour of the controversial farm laws amounts to helping the government to suppress the farmers’ agitation and achieve its objective of handing over India’s agriculture in the hands of big corporates, including foreign multinationals on the pattern of the US, from where the retreat will not be possible.
Farmers in Slippers, Chappals
If you visit the sit-in sites either at Ghazipur on UP-Delhi border, at Singhu and Tikri on Delhi and Haryana border, you will see the majority of the protesting farmers in slippers or chappals with no socks on their ankles and poor quality of woolen on their bodies, making them shiver in this biting cold, sitting in makeshift tents on roads or taking shelter in tractor-trolleys of some of the wealthy farmers having been converted into tents by using tarpauline sheets. Yet, they are sitting in the open sky because they say the dreaded farm bills passed by the government are a matter of life and death for them. Thousands of protesting farmers are falling sick and more than 50 of them have lost their life due to cold. If one wants to see the poverty of the rural India, there is no better place than the sit-in sites on the borders of the national Capital. But there are some wealthy farmers also who are in fact leading the agitation and helping the poor farmers to continue with the agitation.
To ward off the cold and keep themselves warm, poor farmers all along the road set up bonfires, particularly during night. Since they don’t have proper woolens with them, they sit around the bonfire to ensure they are not hit by cold.
A 70-year-ol farmer identifying himself as Kishan Singh, a resident of Muradiya village in Mat tehsil of Mathura district(185 kms from Delhi), Western UP, protesting against the farm bills, at Ghazipur border said that financial condition of farmers has worsened so much in the last six years that nobody would be willing to marry off of his son and daughter in a farmer’s family. “All previous government capitulated and climbed down from their positions under the pressure of public agitations but Modi government is not ready to accept farmers’ demands though the agitation is about to complete two months”, said the septuagenarian farmer. His poverty was visible from his rickety, fragile body and an old kurta and dhoti on his body.
Farmers’ Condition Deteriorated Since BJP Came to Power in 2014
How have the financial conditions of farmers deteriorated since the BJP took power at the Centre in May 2014? Sanjiv Kumar Kadian, a resident of Chhur village in Sardhana village of Meerut district, about 85 kilometres from Delhi, says that BJP government in UP has increased the annual power tariff for agriculture from Rs. 10,000 to Rs. 19,000 and the prices of fertilisers, insecticides and pesticides have increased by about five times nationally, the rate of diesel (used for running engines for irrigation when power supply is off or where there is no power connection at all) from Rs. 49 per litre in 2014 to Rs. 74 per litre now, sharply increasing the agricultural input cost. Besides, the labour charges have also gone up.
According to Kadian, if all the input cost are added, the agriculture income has gone down by 30 per cent in the last six years though Modi in 2014 general elections promised that agriculture income would increase by two times in 2022. “While agriculture income, instead of increasing, has come down and now he wants to take our land and give it to corporates through the new Farm laws he passed without discussion in Parliament in September last year”, said Kadian.
Pointing out that ever since the new laws were passed by the Parliament though yet to be implemented, the traders have refused to buy paddy at Minimum Support Price(MSP). He say that instead of Rs. 1800 per quintal of MSP for paddy fixed earlier, the traders are now offering only Rs. 1100 per quintal because the Food Corporation of India(FCI) and its agencies are not coming forward to buy farmers produce.
Farmers Fear Their Land Would Be Usurped
“This is an indication of things to come in future when the MSP goes, mandis and Agricultural Produce Market Committees (APMC) are disbanded and big corporates are allowed to buy agricultural produce without MSP and hoard them. Farmers, who are already in a very a crisis owing to a plethora of reasons, will become pauper. As the new law on contract farming allows corporates to recover their investment on farming by seizing land of the farmers in case a farmer is not able to fulfill the terms of contract, the farmer will lose his land also”, says Kadian.
“This is what has driven thousands of farmers from distant villages to descend on Delhi in this chilly winter”, he says. Kadian fears that farmers will be out of agriculture in the next one decade and it will be taken over by corporates if the farm laws are not repealed. They will simply become farm labourers on their own fields to be taken over by corporates. Kadian says that ‘azadi’ given to the farmers through the new Farm Bills to sell their produce wherever they want is not ‘azadi’, it is a trap to make them ‘slaves’of corporates. “We don’t want this ‘azadi’. Let Modi it take back”, he says.
“Why is Modi forcing the laws on farmers who do not want it. Nobody wants it. Why is he thrusting it on use? “, he asks.
Fears of kadian and lakhs of other farmers all over the country are not unfounded. India’s top agriculture expert Devinder Sharma says that as 86 per cent of Indian farmers are small and marginal, owing less than five acres of land, they will face extinction if they are made dependent on market forces to sell their produce, instead of a guaranteed price which is now available under MSP system.
Only Pain and Agony in Farmers Lives
Birbal Dhaka of Saroorpur Khurd village in Meerut district, sitting under a tarpaulin shed on the roadside at Ghazipur border, is also angry with the farm bills. “We are very much distressed due to actions of Yogi (Adityanath) and (Narendra) Modi. They have only brought pain and agony in our lives. Even are children feel saddened due to Yogi and Modi. Modi had talked of increasing the farm income but he has now come with laws to usurp our land”, says 65-year-old Dhaka.
He said that Yogi has not got them paid dues of sugarcane supplies to sugar mills. “Our dues of one year are lying pending with sugar mills as was under other governments”, he says, adding that the policies of Yogi government have resulted in stray roaming in our fields and destroying them.
Another farmer Vipin Chaudhary, associated with Bharatiya Kisan Union (Rajesh Tikait) which is among a few farm unions leading the agitation, questions Modi the reason for bringing laws from backdoor when the farmers never demanded it. “Modi got the laws passed without discussion in Parliaments on the pretext of Corona when there was no demand for it from anywhere in the country. Why is he forcing it on us when we don’t want it?” he asks.
Farm Laws Are “Death Warrants” For Farmers
Even members of the Bharatiya Kisan Sangh, farmers’ wing of the BJP is not happy with the three bills. Om Prakash, a resident of Niyana village in Hissar district of Haryana, who joined the protests at Tikri border on January 14, declared, “The three Farm Bills are death warrants for farmers, though they are harmful for every citizen of India”.
He says BKS submitted a memorandum to Brijendra Singh, BJP’s Lok Sabha MP from Hissar to oppose the Bill in Parliament but he did not do anything. “We also took up the issue with Chief Minister Manohar Lal Khattar against the Bill but Khattar is strictly following the Centre’s policies”, he said.
At Tikri border, representatives from different villages, particularly Jats from Rohtak, Jhajjar, Hissar, Sirsa and even Sonepat have set up their tents from on both sides of the road from Tikri border to Sampla, a distance of about 30 kms.
Lakhbir Singh from Moga district of Punjab sitting at dharna at Tikri border, 345 kms away from his home, says, “We are facing lot of problems during winter here. But the laws are so dangerous are so dangerous that any sacrifice to it repealed, is very small. It is matter of life and death for us. We will not go back till the laws are withdrawn”.
What does 14-year-old Jarnail Singh, a Sikh boy from Bareilley district of Central UP, who is a class 7th student and giving voluntary service at a ‘langar’(community kitchen) serving free food to protesters since December 9, 2020, know about the three controversial farm laws? “The government is trying to usurp our land and give to Ambanis and Adanis but we will not allow this to happen. We want our land with us. Hum us waqt tak baithe rahenge jab tak Modi apna qanoon wapas nahin le leta (We will continue the sit-in till Modi withdraws the three farm laws)”, says Jarnail Singh.
Protesters Full Of Enthusiasm
Jarnail Singh’s comments indicates enthusiasm among the protesters. Similar enthusiasm is visible among the protesters at Tikri border as well. The Delhi police appears to be under lot of tension owing to threat of farmers entering into Delhi and march to Lal Qila on the Republic Day on January 26.
To ensure that farmers are not able to disturb the Republic Day programmes, the Delhi police have erected barricades by using huge boulders and export containers at Tikri border as also Singhu border with the help of cranes. At Tikri border, the police have erected three rings of barricades: first of concertina wires like that in Kashmir.
The second is that of boulders and export containers. To ensure that farmers are not able to remove them, the police have filled up the containers with soil to make it so heavy that they cannot be shifted from their positions without cranes. And the third ring of barricades is that of boulders only. The police have also dug up the road at some of the places.
Police personnel from Rapid Action Force, Indo-Tibetan Border Security Police, Centra Reserve Police Force and Delhi Police have been deployed on Delhi side of the border to prevent protesters entering Delhi. Security personnel have also been deployed at roof tops of all the buildings along the roads from where the protesters are suspected to make their entry into Delhi.
A police man on duty, when asked for the reason for erecting such strong barricades, said, “These Sikhs have threatened to march to Lal Qila on January 26. And hence, we have set up such strong barricades. They can’t remove them even with the help of tractors”, said the policeman.
But Surinder Dalal, a protesting farmer from Rohtak, said, “We are farmers. We have levelled huge mountains into plains for farming. We will remove these boulders and march to Delhi on January 26. Nobody can stop us”.
Mandip Malik, affiliated to BKU(Mange Ram) and hailing from Hissar district, says, “Modi is not powerful. He came to power due to two reasons: through communalization and attracting the corporates. “But we will force him to withdraw the Black Farm Law and drive him and BJP out of power like our freedom fighters drove away Britishers out of India in 1947. We will have to do it to protect democracy, to protect this great nation”, he declares from his tent under the metro rail.
Malik says that the police should not underestimate the farmers threat to march to Delhi. On January 10, farmers in Kaimla village of Gharaunda tehsil of Karnal district, where Haryana Chief Minister Manohar Lal Khattar wanted to address a Kisan Mahapanchayat, which was to be a show of strength to prove that the farmers were in favour of the government and those protesting at Tikri, Singhu and at Sonepat are fake farmers. So what happened? Farmers led by BKU(Guarnam Singh Chaduni) went there and dug out the helipad where the Khattar was to land and the farmers did so despite presence of 10,000 police personnel. Police fired teargas shells and used water canons also yet the farmers did what they wanted to do. Khattar’s programme had to be cancelled.