By Vidya Bhushan Rawat
The police brutality on farmers protesting against the three farm bills passed by Parliament needs to be unconditionally condemned. The farmers are agitating against the bills since these were passed without proper discussion in Parliament. The fear is that these bills will pave the way for corporatisation of agriculture and will leave farmers and other sections of dependent on the farming community, especially agricultural workers, at the mercy of corporate houses.
The farmers fear that without minimum support price (MSP), putting them at the mercy of corporate houses would ruin them. They feel left out, as they were not involved in any discussion, one reason why they decided to protest. The protests have grown in different parts of the country, particularly Punjab and Haryana, but also in Uttar Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Madhya Pradesh, Karnataka and Maharashtra.
The protesting farmers, mainly from Punjab, were brutally stopped at the Haryana border and then at the Delhi border. This brings to light questions on the way the Government of India as also state governments, particularly those under BJP, are handling protests. If the farmers have grievances, these need to be formally discussed in all seriousness. They were forced to protest only after they were not heard.
In fact, even as protests were taking place, efforts were made to turn farmers a publicity tool in order to divide farmers’ organisations. After all, farmers’ organisations are politicised, and every party has its own farmers’ wing. Yet, it is a fact that there is unprecedented anxiety among farmers against the government’s apathy towards them.
November 26 was the Constitution day. The government claims to be promoting the ideas of constitutionalism, but the issue is: What is wrong if the farmers went in for peaceful democratic protests? Why did the government panic when the farmers wanted to reach Delhi? The government had to finally relent, and allow them to hold a public meeting at Burari, Delhi, after the entire protest was badly mishandled.
It seems, the government feared adverse publicity. Of course, some media channels, close to the government, waited to turn the police brutality on farmers into big news by seeking to find conspiracy theories. A section of them tried to avoid discussing the farmers’ protest, apparently waiting for a Sushant Singh Rajput-type issue to divert people’s attention from the protest.
Political protests are part and parcel of democracy. When the government criminalises protests, these become out of control. Where will people go and lodge their complaints if the avenue of protest is also closed? They know well that the power to change or abrogate the farmers’ bills rests only with the Central government. However, they found that it was not interested in listening to them.
There is a need to highlight another issue here. No doubt, corporatisation of farming is not an alternative to resolve India’s food crisis and poverty alleviation. It will only bring disaster on communities and will not make us food sufficient.
Instead of corporatising the farm sector, there is a need to democratise it by taking initiatives such as distribution of land to the landless, even as encouraging family farming. Family farming can be the backbone of not only anti-poverty programmes but also for strengthening India’s resolve to democratise the highly iniquitous rural social order and make us food sufficient. Unfortunately, farmers’ issues in India have remained confined to MSP. Farmers’ unions are little bothered about agricultural workers
Unfortunately, farmers’ issues in India till now have remained confined to providing MSP. Farmers’ unions are little bothered about agricultural workers and marginalised farmers. Powerful farmers are united on the issue. During election times, they become prisoners of caste politics. No one entertains the issues bogging landless workers, many of who are Dalits, and other marginalised communities. The result is that most of these protests are confined to powerful farming communities, in which the Sangh Parivar has made inroads.
No doubt, the police brutalities against the peaceful protest by farmers needs to be unequivocally condemned. The government must negotiate with them and should not look at corporatisation as panacea to all the ills of our agricultural sector. Protests and negotiations are part of democracy and must be encouraged.
However, at the same time, farmers’ organisations should begin addressing the issues faced by agricultural workers. The governments must be pressed into promoting family farming, which is only possible through land redistribution initiatives. It will democratise rural societies.
Land reforms can bring social equity and strengthen social democracy which is important and essential for our political democracy to succeed – a fact highlighted by Baba Saheb Ambedkar while presenting the Constitution to the Constitution Assembly on November 26, 1949. Let us rededicate ourselves to democratise the social system, as envisaged by Dr Ambedkar. The key to doing this is land reforms. The question is, whether the government has the will to do it.
*Human rights defender. Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/vbrawat, twitter: @freetohumanity