Explained: Farmer's Unrest in India
At Ramlila Maidan, when the journalist asks her,
“Why have you farmers come all the way to Delhi? What if the Sarkar [government] still doesn’t listen?”
For a second she smirks, the question amuses her before it irks, she tells the city-guy.
“Hamko yahan aana pada kyunki aap gaanv nahi aaye. [We had to come here because you people never go to the village]”
I remember being caught up in the hectic week before my final jury presentation, when a friend told me about thousands and thousands of farmers joining into the march, coming from their villages, like rivers carving their way to a destination. The march was a 2-day “event”, but carried behind it decades of anger, misery, and frustration. But above all, it carried behind itself a formidable strength, a strength that comes from the unity of those who have been ignored, belittled and used for decades for political gains. The march was organized by the All India Kisan Sangharsh Coordination Committee (AIKSCC), a joint front of 208 various farmer organizations and civil society collectives. Farmers across from various states, classes, castes showed up to speak about the Agrarian Crisis, with the slogan Dilli Chalo [Let’s go to Delhi]. Issues and Demands The farmers, coming from a variety of backgrounds, have various specific demands. However, a few main demands were rooted in the farmers’ experience across the nation – demands which became the name and face of farmers’ march. Support, Price and Debt
Farmers have been burdened with enormous debt for what seems to be time immemorial. Over 300,000 farmers in India have taken their lives in the period from 1995-2015, the main reason of which is the karzaa (loan amount) mounting on farmers’ heads. Some farmers are further troubled by how such acts of suicide have been considered “cowardly”, or ascribed to matters such as impotence, love affairs etc. by various ministers. The issue of debt raises the demand of a complete loan waiver and ensuring prices for crops that prevent farmers from getting into debt in the future. The farmers want the Parliament to pass the Farmers’ Freedom from Indebtedness Bill and the Guaranteed Remunerative Minimum Support Price for Agricultural Commodities Bill,
“The Government is obligated to prevent farmer’s suicides and distress, especially because their causes are related to Government policies."
The farmers want the nation to understand that their debt problem is linked to governmental policy failures with regards to price and market management (balancing the demand of a certain crop with regards to its supply). Simply put, when a farmer grows a crop, they hope that the produce will sell in the market because of sufficient demand and a decent price that the consumer will be willing to pay for that crop. However, farmers have accused the government of mismanaging demand and, by extension prices. The government, in order to keep the crop prices low, ensures a higher supply of crops than its demand. This increase in supply can be achieved either through importing the crop or releasing government’s stocks of crop that have built up over the years. Flooding the market with this excess crop leads to falling prices, which means a loss for the farmers. Apart from this, there are other issues as well, such as traders hoarding in stocks of crop from farmers, which allows them to sell it off and further create market circumstances against the farmers. With such precarious market conditions, the Minimum Support Price (MSP) can be a life-saver for farmers. MSP is a price at which the farmers can sell their crop to the government in case the market was unfavorable to them. The issue regarding MSP has been largely regarding just how much MSP should be given to the farmers. And when it comes to this issue, one name is heard again and again: Swaminathan Commission Report.
The Dilli Challo march showed just how many farmer protesters were aware of the Swaminathan Commission Report, showing its importance to those affected. According to this report, the MSP should be set at cost of production of the crop+50% of this cost. Farmers over the nation are angry since this recommendation of the report have not been adopted by the government and, as many journalists and observers have pointed out, the parliament has not taken the time to even discuss the report. Sainath said,
“It's [the report] the most widely known, and least read in the 14 years since the submission of first reports, there has been no parliamentary discussion of them”
What a democratic demand (from the farmers), that the parliament function for them.
One of the foremost demand of the Dilli Challo march is for the Parliament to hold a special 21-day long session to discuss the Agrarian Crisis, to discuss the Swaminathan Commission’s Report, the Water Crisis, Issues of Landless Laborers, Women Farmers, Dalit Farmers and from other marginalized groups. The session should also include 3 days of hearing testimonies directly from the farmers so as to understand other area or group specific demands. This demand symbolizes the essence of the movement. By calling farmers directly into the parliament, to bridge the physical distance between the farmers and the government, the movement hopes to overcome the social, economic, cultural and political distance between these two as well.
Many farmers have been aggrieved with the Pradhan Mantri Fasal Bima Yojna. They want to bring attention to the complicated mess that is the crop insurance system under this policy. At first glance, the system seems to be quite simple: the farmer pays an insurance amount to the bank to insure for a crop, the bank handles the money and gets this money to insurance company which, in case the crop fails, will have to give a claim amount back to the farmers. The state and the union government also pay a part of the insurance money. However, multiple issues and holes in the system have been brought to the fore. Stories about banks taking the full amount from farmers but insurance companies denying the payment of this amount when farmers claim the money after crop failure, instances of banks insuring crops other than the crop that the farmer wanted to insure, logistical barriers and, largely, the inaccessibility of the whole system for a farmer in distress have come up. Besides, the lack of insurance company representatives who can be contacted by farmers, deadlines with regards to payments and overall the absence of meaningful communication between the bank-insurance company nexus and the farmers has led to great distress in the agrarian sector. Journalists like P Sainath have also brought to attention that the Comptroller and Auditor General of India have also pointed out in their reports as to how the government has no data of its own with regards to this system and is dependent on the private companies and banks for the data. In an interview with NDTV, Sainath calls this system a bigger scam than the Rafael deal.
Gender and Farming
As a rule of thumb, it goes that if somewhere men have it bad, then women there have it worse. It goes without saying that, then, addressing women farmer’s concerns and providing them their rights is indispensable to overcoming the agrarian crisis. This intersectionality is key to a comprehensive view of the agrarian crisis. It is unknown to many that around 60% of farmers tend to be women. However, they are never granted the official status of a farmer, rather they are considered “the farmer’s wife” or “family”. This leads to many issues for women farmers, since they can neither be entitled to land nor reap benefit of policies made for “farmers”. Furthermore as News18 reports,
“[there is a] loss of life that goes unreported…While farmer suicides is talked about on a large scale … it forgets to mention the women.”
If our nation, then, wants to address the agrarian crisis, it is time that it not forget to mention women farmers from here on out. Caste, Tribal Areas and Farming
Caste as a social reality also is crucial to understanding farmers’ issues. Even after 7 decades of independence, most Dalit farmers are landless. Compared to the national average of around 47%, around 71% of Dalit farmers tend to be landless labourers. Furthermore, many tribal groups are dissatisfied with the government as well. Their concerns revolve around forest land and tribal ownership of the same. As reported by the Mongabay.com, AIKS (All India Kisan Sabha) General Secretary Hannan Mollah during their Delhi protest in September this year said,
“Implementation of FRA is one of our major demands. It has been 10 years since the law was passed but it has not been implemented properly so far. Under this Act, tribals were to be given the rights over their land but in the majority of the cases, their claims are rejected. They are asked for all kind of documents but how is a tribal person expected to produce 75-year-old documents.”
Along with the farmers, the opposition leaders also united against the union government. At a protest meet in Jantar Mantar, Opposition leaders, including Congress president Rahul Gandhi, Delhi Chief Minister and AAP leader Arvind Kejriwal, and CPI(M) leader Sitaram Yechury, joined hands to criticize what they called the anti-farmer policies of the Union government.As important as opposition’s support to the movement may be, one must not forget that the agrarian crisis is not a creation of any single political party. This crisis has built up over the years, with the Congress and BJP both having the center in their control. However, one observation would be that,
“The average annual growth in the Minimum Support Price (MSP) [for crops] was 19.3 per cent between 2009 and 2013, it was only 3.6 per cent between 2014 and 2017,” as is pointed out by CRISIL, a global analytical company."
Yet, this is an issue that goes beyond merely political parties or partisan gain. As Sainath has pointed out, the agrarian crisis not merely a crisis of agriculture, it is a crisis of civilization, and by extension, a crisis of humanity. While the farmers march, students, techies, lawyers and doctors band together to help them reach their destination under the banner of #NationForFarmers, signaling that the middle classes of the nation will lend their support to the farmers in their struggle.So, in other words, MSP growth has suffered under the BJP rule.Owing to their determination and unity ,and some valuable support from the middle classes, the farmers have reached the parliament.
Now what remains to be seen is, will the parliament reach out to them?
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