Farmer Protests: The Fight for the Rights

Last Updated by Ravinder 10-Aug-2021

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Farmers are the backbone of the Indian economy and also the biggest agenda to win any election in India. Whenever the election arrives, every politician suddenly becomes farmers or calls themselves originated from farmer families and starts caring about farmers. These politicians make huge promises to gain the trust of farmers to get their votes obviously. Every politician knows that a farmer is a simple man who will support you if you promise to support them. Well, the farmers stand to their words but these politicians forget about farmers the very next day they win the elections.

Although we are not here today to discuss politicians or elections, we are here to talk about farmers but it is impossible to get politics out of any topic in India. Farmers put so much of hard work in a single crop season which a normal person won’t be able to do in their entire lifetime. They are the reason every Indian gets to feed their families while families of many of these farmers don’t have enough to fill theirs. Think of the risk every farmer bears for a single successful crop season, the risk of climate changes, risk of unwanted rain during harvest, risk of insects or animals ruining the crops and so on.  A farmer put their entire body at risk for their crops, they work day and night tirelessly sometimes even without food or sleep. 

Farmer Protests: Students Join Farmers At Delhi-Haryana Border

Farmers have proved their worth even during these difficult times of pandemic, no one in India was short on food because of them but every year a large number of farmers commit suicide due to various reasons. Although it is safe to say that all these reasons have one thing in common, all are related to their crops. Now, these farmers are on roads protesting, leaving their fields to the hands of God. It must be something big to drag them out of their fields because a person who leaves their family for their field will not leave it for something small. So, what is it and why is it so important to them?

Why are farmers protesting?

The government recently passes three bills claiming to improve the agriculture market and improve the lifestyle of farmers. These laws are Farmers' Produce Trade and Commerce (Promotion and Facilitation) Act 2020, Farmers (Empowerment and Protection) Agreement on Price Assurance and Farm Services Act 2020 and Essential Commodities (Amendment) Act 2020.

According to the essential commodities act, items including cereals, pulses, potato, onions, edible oilseeds, and oils will no longer be an essential commodity i.e. anyone can store them in unlimited stocks without any legal action. The other two laws state that farmers can sell their yields anywhere in the country and can also practice contract farming.

The farmer claims that there was no limitation on them if they wanted to sell anywhere in the market and these laws are just passed so that the corporate houses can enter the agriculture market legally and claim their monopoly here. And the contract farming is not a new thing, that the government claims it is, and its implementation in these laws are not in favour of the farmers and it is designed so that the corporates can benefit from it the most using loopholes in the laws. These corporates will also not have any limitations on the stock they store and can manipulate the market rates as they please. The farmers fear that in a few years, the APMC system will weaken and disappear and the corporate will not worry about their lives and exploit them according to their wish.

Now, the government is claiming that opposition parties are brainwashing the farmers. That is the reason farmers are thinking negatively and opposing these bills. While if we look from the perspective of farmers, these bills will allow the companies to govern terms as they want. The farmers fear that if there is no MSP, then companies will take advantage of farmers and dictate the prices of crops. It is reasonable for farmers to think like that because these firms have a large number of corporate law advisors who only think of making profits at any cost. So, the protests by farmers are justified as their fears are genuine and it is also true that even if these firms don’t pay to farmers then farmers can’t fight them in courts as they don’t have the money, time or resources. The farmers were protesting for their rights and they were doing it peacefully but it took an ugly turn in Haryana which drove more attention to the situation of farmers. 

September: Farmer protests in Haryana, U.P and Punjab

The farmers of the entire country were protesting against these bills. The major population of Haryana, Punjab and U.P depend on agriculture as their primary source of income. So, these were the states where protests first began, a large number of farmers started protesting on roads and national highways. It became a problem for the government but it was peaceful from the side of farmers. Farmers were protesting in many parts of Haryana too but the Haryana government could not handle it and they ordered police to handle it.

Farmers protest across India against laws liberalizing agricultural markets

Lathi-charge on farmers in Kurukshetra

Protests were going peacefully, although farmers have blocked many state highways and shouting slogans against BJP-led government, they were letting emergency vehicles to pass. Police tried to reason with farmers but they were not willing to stop as it was a matter of life and death for the farmers. So, the government decided to use other ways to stop farmers and ordered police to take offensive actions against farmers to end the protests. The farmers who were protesting in the Kurukshetra district of Haryana were lathi-charged by police. 

A lathi-charge is never an answer, beating innocent farmers who were protesting for their rights was not right and opposition parties came to support farmers. When pressure started building on the Haryana government, Anil Vij, cabinet minister of Haryana decided to come up and he said nothing of this sort happened in Haryana. According to him, farmers were not beaten by anybody and it is false news, havoc created by opposition leaders. But what he forgot is that this is the internet era and everything that happens is uploaded to the internet. The whole farmer community became fierce with these statements and government actions that led to a protest outbreak. Now, more farmers are protesting against the bills and the government. 

These actions from the government were condemnable but no minister from the BJP party raised voice against them. The farmers were only protesting for APMCs and MSP which is not wrong but they were lathi-charged on government orders and the reason for the lathi-charge was to disperse the crowd due to the threat of COVID-19 pandemic unofficially. 

What are APMCs?

APMC stands for agriculture produce market committee. It is basically a marketing board that operates under the guidance of state governments of India. To understand more about these committees, we need to open a few chapters of history. Before independence, British authorities were collecting huge taxes on crops from farmers due to which they were very poor and had little left to even fill their own stomachs. After independence, everybody believed that the situation would get better but it didn’t. 

In fact, it got worse, the farmers still had no money to operate on their fields and so, they used to take loans from small businessmen but these loans become knot to their neck. They were never able to pay up these loans, even after selling the last grain of their crops, these businessmen were not satisfied due to which a lot of farmers committed suicide. The most heinous thing about these loans was that generations had to pay for a loan which was never-ending.

The Government had to put a stop to this and they did, the Indian government came up with a policy to set up APMCs in every state. The main purpose of these committees was to stop the exploitation of farmers by these businessmen. These committees became the medium of trade between the two. These committees ensured that farmers could easily reach them with their crops and then they bid to buy the crops. It worked in the best way for the farmers; they were finally getting what they wanted. They were safeguarded from these evil businessmen but as everything involves politics in India, these APMCs also started politics of their own. They started sabotaging the biddings and farmers again started losing against these. 

This led the government to work on MSP but as not many farmers are educated or not well informed, only 6% of the total farmers of India were able to take advantage of MSP. Let’s discuss what this MSP is and why farmers are demanding it now?

What is MSP?

MSP stands for minimum support price. It is the minimum price that should be given to the farmers for their crops. It is basically set by the government at a price that provides enough profit to the farmer for their harvest. Sometimes the open market and APMCs don’t provide enough prices for the harvest that can benefit the farmer, so this MSP helps them to earn enough profit. It actually safeguards farmers from price exploitation by open market dealers. Every season the crops are different from the last season so the MSP should also change according to that. According to farmers, it should at least be 1.5 times the total cost that farmers put in their crop from sowing to reaping, transportation and every add-on.  

Farmer protests against the ordinance

Now, we have understood every term related to these ordinances and you must be wondering if these APMCs are so bad then why farmers are protesting against these ordinances. Actually, the reason is quite simple farmers have reason to believe that after a while these corporate companies will start taking advantage of innocent farmers. The main reason for the protest is to make the government pass the ordinance of MSP along with these so that if any corporate buys farmer’s harvest below MSP, it will be a crime. However, the Indian government doesn’t want the MSP for farmers. 

There might be many reasons for it but the one stated by farmers and opposition leaders is to fill the pockets of government loved corporations. There might be many flaws with APMCs but it provides a safe haven to farmers as compared to dealing with the corporate sector. So, if these bills were so against farmers then how come opposition parties let it pass through assembly? Well to find the answer to that, you need to read our next blog “the end of democracy”. 

Delhi Chalo Movement

Fast forward to the end of November, the farmers from Punjab and other parts of India, fed up of the ignorance of the government, decided to march towards the capital under the "Delhi Chalo" movement. Thousands of farmers move towards Delhi along with their tractors and food stock to peacefully protest for their rights. But the government orders the police and rapid action force(RAF) to seal all the main entrance and roads that lead to the capital city to stop the farmers from entering there. To stop them, police and RAF used tear gas, barricading, water cannons, etc. In some places, trucks filled with debris were parked on the roads, some roads were dug up using heavy cranes, all this, just to stop the peacefully marching farmers from entering the capital. The farmers, in thousands, passed all the hurdles that the government plotted to stop them. When they reached the Delhi border, Delhi Police, controlled by the Ministry of Home Affairs(MHA), requested Arvind Kejriwal, the CM of Delhi to convert 9 stadiums of the city into temporary jails for the protestors, which was denied by the latter as he supported the peaceful protest by the farmers, and it was admissible by their constitutional rights. Following all the situation, Delhi Police was ordered to escort the protestors to Burari ground, where they could assemble and protest. But the farmers refused the offer and settled at the border, allowing only emergency vehicles to pass. The government asks them for dialogue, but they refuse any dialogue until the government takes down the 3 bills. The government is denying the fact that the bills are not in favour of the farmers and is not ready to take them down, on the other hand, the farmers are unwilling to back off, they've come prepared with enough food supply for months to come.

Farmer protests are a reflection of this sector's structural crisis

December started with round table meetings with the government. On 3rd December, a meeting was held at Vigyan Bhawan which didn’t conclude with any satisfaction on either side.

Next meeting was scheduled on 5th December, in which the farmer leaders demanded a simple answer, either ‘Yes’ or ‘No’ from the government ministers. The government didn’t answer any question raised by the farmer leaders. 

On one side the meetings were going on and on the other side more and more farmers from throughout the country joined the movement and started demanding the repeal of the Three Farm Laws and Legal Guarantee on MSP.

After the meeting on 5th December, Home Minister Amit Shah invited the leaders to his house for their suggestions on 8th December. This too, did not come to a conclusion leading to a pause in the meetings between farmers and the government.

The farmers were settled at Delhi borders in the bone-chilling cold protesting for their demands.

 After a long period of almost 20+ days of no dialogue, the farmer leaders sent a proposal to the Government with the agendas to be discussed in the following order:

·            Repeal of the Three Farm Laws

·            Legal guarantee on Minimum Support Price(MSP)

·            Relaxation of punishment on burning stubble in Punjab and Haryana

·            Repeal of the new Electricity reform ordinance.

With main priority to be given to the top 2 demands.

The meeting held on 29th December, and the government used this chance to gain sympathy from the public by fulfilling the last two demands which were not that significant and concluding the meeting on a note of fulfilling 50% of the farmers’ demands.

No written promise has been done so far by the government accepting those two demands.

Then started more rounds of talks which didn’t lead to the conclusion. The farmers demand that if the government is accepting flaws in the new farm laws and is ready to reform them, then why not repeal them and start with some new measures to improve the agriculture sector. The government also fails to give the list of farmer organizations and individuals they discussed before passing the ordinance, making it suspicious if they had done any deals with the big corporate families.

The final proposal from the government was to stay the implementation on these laws for 1.5 years and discuss the reforms in between. But the farmers counter-question them and asks if they are ready to stay the implementation on the laws for so long, why not repeal them and start fresh with the farmers.

Also, the government is observed to be running out of the MSP topic, saying that they are ready to promise MSP in writing, but not ready to make it a constitutional right of the farmers, which further makes it even more suspicious about them dealing with corporate houses.

The farmers announced a tractor rally on the occasion of Republic Day, but unfortunately, due to some anti-social elements took benefit of this opportunity and stormed into the Red Fort and hoisted ‘Nishaan Sahib’ on its pole, which was disrespecting for our Flag and Country. The farmer leaders accepted their failure in controlling their masses and also demanded an investigation on the conspirators.

Farmers protest: Farmers storm Red Fort as protest gets unruly on Republic  Day - Telegraph India

The police filed FIRs on many farmer leaders for not handling their people. They also announced the mastermind of the violence, namely Deep Sidhhu (former actor turned political leader, he led the publicity of Sunny Deol, BJP MP, in the 2019 general election), Lakha Sidhana(former gangster turned politician), Satnam Singh Pannu(he was a leader of Kisaan Mazdur Sangharsh Committee, he misled his group to Red Fort). All of them were boycotted by the Samyukt Kisaan Morcha (the main protestors with around 40+ organizations) two months prior for being intolerant and violent.

One more name, Rakesh Tikait (one of the most important leaders of the protest), was mentioned in the mastermind. This is where the conspiracy comes into the picture, he was not present at the spot of violence, his alleged video gets leak regarding reaching the Red Fort, which turns out to be 20 days older, when the Farmers plan were to rally to the Red Fort, hence clearing his name from the list. But police wanted to take him into custody. He was ready to present himself to Police on 28th January, but the infiltration of BJP MLA Nand Kishor Gujjar led group at Ghazipur border on the same day lead to him being worried about the well-being of his followers. He refused to be arrested for the same reason and broke down in tears and accused the government of the conspiracy and demanded justice.

Watch Breaking News Watch: Rakesh Tikait breaks down at Ghazipur border |  ZEE5 Latest News

When the video of him breaking down in tears spread through media, Jat Mahapanchayat ordered their people to reach to Ghazipur border in support of Rakesh Tikait, which in turn lead to the protest being strong and peaceful again. Tens of thousands of protestors reached Ghazipur border throughout the night and the protest goes on.

Conclusion: The fight for the rights of farmers is real and totally right. If these APMCs are removed then the government cannot guarantee the safety of farmers from exploitation. These corporate will find any way to make a profit whether it helps farmers or not. Even if the government wants to remove APMCs, then they should introduce the concept of MSP to safeguard farmers from these companies. Farmers are the backbone of the Indian economy; it is the only sector that has positive growth during these difficult pandemic times that is the proof in itself.  If they are risking their lives during this pandemic then it clearly states that it means a lot to them.

With the government making baseless arguments in support of the farm bills and refusing to repeal them makes the public question their intentions. Instead of accepting their failure, they are giving unjustified reasons to avoid the questions. What happened at the Red Fort was a disgust, for which the farmers have expressed their failure, but we have not received any acceptance from the government regarding their failure in stopping the anti-social elements. They have not clarified their relations with Deep Sidhhu, the mastermind of the violence.

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