Why we must support the marching farmers

kisan long march

The Kisan Long March marks an epochal moment in India’s history. The farmers’ demands will have profound impacts in the life of all toiling Indians

Hate it, or hail it; but no Indian can ignore the Kisan Long March organised by the All India Kisan Sabha, a Left organisation representing millions of farmers in India. For starters, the march entered India’s financial capital Mumbai on March 12 and made authorities to sit up and take not of their demands, prompting the Government to agree to a significant chunk of their demands. Nearly 50,000 farmers are agitating years-long neglect of State and Central governments towards the grave issues in agriculture sector, and now the movement is expected to spill into other geographies.

Why the march?

It is a fact that 25 years of economic reforms unleashed by PV Narasimha Rao and Manmohan Singh (Indian neoliberalism) is seen by many as the golden period of economic growth. But it is also a fact that the period saw a steep rise in the number of farmer suicides in the country, nearly 4 lakhs as per official records. Maharashtra sees the highest number of farmer suicides in India. According to All India Kisan Sabha records, out of the four lakh farmers who killed themselves in India since 1995, Maharashtra is home to 76,000.

Ever since India embraced the free-market economy, its farming sector has suffered in myriad ways. For a country that had 60 percent of its population relying on agriculture to eke out a living, any crisis in the farming sector could potentially evolve into a mass disaster. The staggering rise in the number of suicides tells us that sad story. Last one year has seen a raise in the number of farmer agitations across India. From Mandsaur in Madhya Pradesh — where six farmers were killed in police firing — to the Kissan Long March, the nation saw farmers’ protests in Rajasthan, Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh as well. Delhi also saw a huge farmer gathering in November 2017 when thousands of farmers from various states gathered at Ram Lila Maidan.

In fact, governments and policy makers have time and again tried to explain the suicides; some trying to justify it and some trying to identify the cause. Those who wanted to show that all is well with Indian economy found out novel reasons for farmer suicides, from family issues to psychiatric problems, which were in no way connected to the real socio-economic troubles that haunted a farmer. According to senior journalist and author P Sainath, the current agrarian crisis in India is the measure of the loss of humanity. The farmers’ march is, in a way, an attempt to remind the rest of the country about the urgent need to reclaim this lost sense of humanity.

What are their demands?

Following are the main demands of the Maharashtra farmers.

  • Complete farm loan waivers including electricity bills
  • Minimum Support Price for agriculture produce as per the Swaminathan Commission report
  • Pension Scheme for farmers
  • Hailstorms and out of turn rains have caused crop damage. Rs.40,000 per acre to compensate for the crop damage.
  • They also demand the implementation of Forest Rights Act and allocation of lnd for cultivation.

Do these demands make sense?

Consecutive years of drought have made the situation worse for India’s farmers. According to the Meteorological Department, around 60 percent of India received insufficient rainfall in 2017. Given that the situation wasn’t better even in the previous years, things are looking really bad for villagers. Not being able to do farming for consecutive seasons, the farmers are haunted by droughts that slowly take away their livelihood. According to Yogendra Yadav, leader of Swaraj Abhiyan which works among the farmers in Northern India, state and central governments have been apathetic to the farmer’s plight. Drought relief mechanisms through proper implementation of rural job guarantee scheme MGNREGA and the National Food Security Act are not properly implemented in many states. The drought-hit farmers were further hit by Modi government’s ban of high-value notes (demonetisation) which was announced during the crop season in 2016, making 2017 a terrible year for them.

What’s the govt doing about the crisis?

In 2016 and 2017 Maharashtra saw a string of protests with similar demands. Demanding fair price for their produce, farmers dumped produce and milk on the highway and blocked highways transporting goods to the city. Maharashtra Government had earlier promised a loan waiver for the farmers, the implementation of which ran into chaos due to multiple issues. Unhappy, the farmers intensified their protests. Interestingly, all this has been happening despite Maharashtra’s BJP government “dedicating” its 2016-17 budget to the farmers of the state.

In Mandsaur, Madhya Pradesh, farmers took to streets with similar demands. State Government met the protest with force and it resulted in the death of 5 farmers. Poor monsoons and continued drought across seasons has forced the farmers into further crisis. MP Government ended up announcing a support price for onions and had to announce a price stabilisation fund in response to the demand of the farmers. Tamil Nadu farmers who were hit by a drought, Tamil Nadu had recorded one of the worst monsoons this year and was later hit by cyclone Vardah. Farmers demanded minimum support prices for their produce and also demanded better drought relief. They staged a protest in Jantar Mantar displaying skulls and bones of the farmers who had allegedly committed suicide.

Rajasthan also witnessed a huge sit in protest, again the farmers voicing similar demands. Rajasthan farmers had another demand to lift the ban on cattle slaughter imposed by State Government. They also demanded increased pensions, loan waivers, minimum support price for produce like other protesting farmers across the country. Government had to announce a loan waiver and the farmers withdrew protest afterwards.

Loan waivers, drought relief, minimum support price and reasonable pension seem to be the demands from farmers across the country. Indian agriculture sector relies heavily on timely monsoon for a better crop yield and irregular monsoons have deepened the agrarian crisis as we can see from their demands. Another common characteristic across all these protests has been the way national media print as well as television snubbed these protests without giving any space in their prime time coverage or front page stories.

But the farmers have persisted and forced each and everyone to take note. The Kisan Long March which succeeded in pressurising Maharashtra CM Devendra Fadnavis to accept their demands also demanded attention from the national media, which couldn’t ignore them as it usually does. Such was the scale of the protests and this could encourage more and more farmers to stand up, speak up and fight for their right to live and, most importantly, say a confident ‘no’ to suicide.

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