Report: Highlights of the 1 Year
Springing up of large protest townships of farmers on 26th November 2020:
It was on October 27th 2020 that the first attempts at broader coalitions of farmer unions agitating against 3 anti-farmer laws and for MSP legal guarantee started successfully emerging. By that time, several months of militant agitation was already underway in the state of Punjab and in some parts of Haryana also. By that time, 32 Punjab farm union leaders had already held one round of conversations with the Union Government, after an initial walk out of a meeting with only bureaucrats. A call was first given for all-India chakka jam on November 5th as the first coordinated action from the new platform, which was held successfully all over India.
The alliance was further concretised with one more coalition coming on board on November 7th 2020. Samyukt Kisan Morcha was thus formed as a joint front of alliances of farm organisations and some individual farm unions too. It was from Samyukt Kisan Morcha that the call for “Dilli Chalo” was given more concretely for November 26th 2020, after an initial call was put out by All India Kisan Sangharsh Coordination Committee.
The Government of India’s Ministerial delegation met with Punjab farmer union leaders on November 13th 2020 and the demands of the unions were put forward to the Modi Government at that time. The Government of India kept saying that the farm laws will have no adverse impacts on mandis or MSP. There was no concrete assurance and outcome from the meeting as far as the farm unions were concerned, and the plans for “Dilli Chalo” were further concretised. Right from the beginning, the call was for farmers in states around Delhi to reach the national capital and for strong local protests elsewhere in the country.
Hundreds of thousands of farmers from Punjab, Haryana, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, Uttarakhand and Uttar Pradesh, headed to Delhi in their tractor-trolleys, jeeps and cars and even motorcycles, as per the Dilli Chalo plan, but were stopped by BJP government Police in various states and later by Delhi Police controlled by the Modi Government at Delhi’s borders, on 26th November 2020 when they somehow reached closer to Delhi after surmounting numerous obstacles and repression unleashed by Haryana, UP, Uttarakhand and MP Police. The protesting farmers decided to stay put at Delhi’s borders where they were stopped, right there on the national highways, and large protest townships emerged on the spot at Singhu Border, Tikri Border, Palwal and Ghazipur Border. Farmers had after all come prepared to live in their trolleys and had brought along food supplies with them. Later on, in December 2020, more protest sites emerged at Shahjahanpur and other locations especially where toll plazas were occupied by farmers.
What happened so far, and what have farmers achieved?
Protesting farmers have been very clear and articulate about their demands. They have known that this struggle is about their very lives and livelihoods, and that of their future generations in Indian farming. The struggle is against a corporate takeover of our food and farming systems. The protest is against the government abdicating its role in terms of protecting the interests of ordinary citizens, and in this particular case, the largest group of workers in the Indian economy.
There have been 11 rounds of talks with the Government of India - however, the talks did not result in the Government agreeing to the demands of the farmers. The demands included the following : (a) Full repeal of all the 3 anti-farmer, pro-corporate laws brought in undemocratically and unconstitutionally by the Union Government led by BJP’s Mr Narendra Modi; (b) Enactment of a legal guarantee of remunerative MSP as a statutory entitlement for all farmers and for all agricultural produce; (c) Removing farmers from the application of criminal and penal provisions in a new statute brought in related to Delhi’s air quality; (d) Withdrawal of amendments to India’s Electricity Act, that will remove cross-subsidies for domestic and agricultural consumers. The last round of talks ended on January 22nd 2021, after which the Government of India did not invite the farmers for talks.
In the 11 rounds of talks, the Government of India made inadequate offers to the farmers, asking them to call off the agitation on the basis of meagre concessions it was offering - initially, the Government of India offered to make a few amendments to the laws enacted. Samyukt Kisan Morcha rejected this outright. Mere amendments will not work when the very objectives of the laws are anti-farmer. The Government of India then offered to keep the implementation of the laws suspended for 1.5 to 2 years (or more), in January 2021. This was also not acceptable to the protesting farmers since they knew that the Government of India was not to be depended upon, as long as the laws themselves were allowed to be kept alive. A full repeal was the only answer. During these talks, the Government never offered anything other than a Joint Committee to be set up to look into MSP reforms in India. This was nothing compared to what farmers were rightfully asking.
Meanwhile, in mid-January 2021, the Supreme Court of India suspended the implementation of the laws indefinitely, hoping that it will pave way for a resolution to the impasse. It also set up a Committee to look into the 3 laws, but the constitution of the Committee was on the recommendations of the Government of India, with 3 pro-farm laws votaries forming a biased committee to provide inputs to the Supreme Court! SKM stayed away from these proceedings in any case, since the protesting farmers were engaging with the political executive and the matter was between protesting citizens and their elected government. It is important to note that the Supreme Court had, in December 2020 itself, given a go-ahead to the peaceful protests by farmers.
What is important to note however, is that while the Modi Government has not offered any logical and empirical evidence about why it will not repeal the 3 anti-farmer laws, nor why it will not enact a MSP guarantee statute, what farmers had predicted as adverse implications on them did come true! Mandis in several BJP ruled states are closing down, incomes are coming down for APMCs, trading has moved out of regulated spaces, farmers have been cheated by unscrupulous traders due to lack of oversight by regulatory bodies, Government itself felt the need to invoke regulatory provisions that were amended, under the Essential Commodities Act to bring down food prices etc. etc. And Farmers continue to realise far lower prices in the market than what the announced-MSP levels are.
What did the Farmers’ Movement achieve?
Ruling BJP is on a backfoot at the Centre and in several states like Haryana, Uttarakhand, UP etc. If that was not the case, the BJP government would not have offered even the limited concessions that they had, in response to the farmers’ demands.
Farmers have begun asserting their identity as Annadaatas and as Farmers. They do so with dignity attached to the identity now, which did not exist earlier. Even youth feel proud to call themselves Farmers now. This is an amazing social change.
Farmers are united - they have discovered strength in “unity and diversity, unity in diversity”. They are not likely to give this up easily. They are united, cutting across state, religious, caste, gender and age barriers.
Farmer unions have begun learning to work with each other in a joint platform, and this is a learning related to organisational matters as well as subject matter in a vast area like “Indian farming”. This bodes well for any future struggles too.
Women farmers have found a significant space in this movement, and their contributions have been visibilised in numerous ways. No other earlier farmer movement managed to do this. However, a lot more needs to improve with regard to women farmers.
Agricultural workers and farmers, and farmers and industrial workers have begun working together, since the issues and implications are common. This unity also bodes well for other future struggles.
Agricultural policies and farmers’ future are at the centre of national public debate like never before. Such public debates will be healthy for policy-making, and will also ensure that farmers’ voices are at the centre stage of such policy making.
There have been numerous local struggles of farmers that have successfully fructified, due to the umbrella presence of the farmers’ movement and the strength that it constantly provides. These struggles encompass sugarcane SAPs, electricity supply, opening of public procurement centres for agricultural produce and prompt payments to farmers, resistance to land acquisition, supply of irrigation water etc. etc.
The movement is giving an opportunity to farmers to present their true values and nature to the world, just as it is also showcasing how villainous BJP really is. Farmers are fighting this struggle with peace, patience, persistence and hope as their guiding values. On the other hand, BJP stands exposed in numerous ways after 12 months of this struggle. The undemocratic nature of the BJP government is apparent. Outright violent attacks on peacefully protesting farmers, engaging in ‘deep state’ activities of trying to derail the movement, cutting off supplies to the morcha sites, numerous false police cases against protestors, calling protesting farmers by various derogatory names etc. etc. - many tricks have been tried, and it only shows BJP’s true colors to the world.
The movement is also showing the excellent organisational abilities of farmers to the world - farmers who are largely seen to be illiterate and uneducated and ignorant, are exhibiting the fact that they can indeed organise such movements in well-worked-out ways, peacefully and continuously.
The farmers’ agitation had its own implications and impacts on elections to state Legislative Assemblies in some states in April 2021, where BJP’s poll prospects were affected because of this.
This farmers’ movement has thrown up several leaders into India’s public life, as public-spirited citizens who stand by certain values and vision. This will obviously help in reviving India’s democracy itself.
Importantly, this movement has indeed revived India’s democracy. Protesting farmers have played the role of the Opposition in the country. In some ways, they have even unified the Opposition (even if those parties don’t come onto the same platform, their common agenda on some issues is being set by the movement). The farm movement has lent its strength to other people’s movement, even as it has drawn from them. All of this bodes well for a vibrant democracy, as enshrined in our Constitution.
What about the immense hardships of continuously being in the protest townships for 365 long days?
Protesting farmers have been wilfully bearing immense hardships on themselves as the movement continues for so long. Extreme cold weather in the winter of 2020-21 and now as winter sets in again, unbearable summer heat and lashing rains with flooded tents and trolleys have not deterred the protestors.
The first and second waves of covid pandemic were braved by the protesting farmers boldly and fearlessly. After all, their struggle is about Life and Death too.
Farmers have faced several fires in the protest sites where their tents, trolleys and huts got gutted down. But they continue resolutely.
More than 670 farmers have been martyred so far. A blog spot is being maintained by a supporter of the movement here: https://humancostoffarmersprotest.blogspot.com/2020/12/list-of-deaths-in-farmers-protest-at.html
9 of these deaths have been suicides, out of frustration from lack of response from the government to the farmers’ agitation.
At least 5 of these have been direct killing of protestors by BJP people, as has happened in Lakhimpur Kheri Farmers’ Massacre. One death is from a police baton on the head of a protestor and another is reported to be from police firing during Republic Day Farmers’ Tractor Parade in Delhi.
While Punjab Government pays a small compensation amount to the martyrs of the movement from the state of Punjab, the Union Government of Mr Modi has stated in the Parliament of India and elsewhere that they have no information about the deaths in the farmers’ agitation.
How did BJP Governments behave?
BJP Governments have unleashed a war against their own farmers and citizens, over the past 12 months. This applies to the Union Government of Mr Narendra Modi, and also to other state governments ruled by BJP.
Protesting farmers have been regularly labelled as extremists, terrorists, separatists, persons sponsored by commission agents and political parties etc. etc.
Farmer leaders have been detained and arrested whenever programs have been announced locally or nationally.
Water cannons, rubber bullets and tear gas shells have been fired on protesting farmers on different occasions.
Protesting farmers have regularly been lathi-charged by police.
BJP workers have pelted stones and attacked peacefully protesting farmers at the morcha sites.
Senior officials were caught on video instructing police to “break the heads of the protesting farmers”.
Haryana BJP Chief Minister was caught on video instructing his party workers to take up lathis and engage in violence against farmers.
So-called farmers’ organisations which are front organisations of BJP Ministers have tried to create tense situation by provoking farmers at the morcha sites. To provoke violence from farmers, BJP leaders’ processions were taken right into the morcha sites.
Hundreds of false cases have been registered against tens of thousands of farmers so far. After the incidents of Republic Day of India on January 26th 2021, hundreds of farmers have been arrested, and their vehicles seized by the police. While the arrested farmers have been released due to the legal support lent to them in the court cases, the cases continue in the Courts.
Cases with serious charges of Sedition, attempt to murder and so on have been piled upon some of the protestors.
There is no clear count of these cases with SKM as of now.
Lakhimpur Kheri Farmers’ Massacre
On October 3rd 2021, in a ruthless and barbaric attack on protesting farmers, Ashish Mishra and his aides (he is the son of BJP leader and Minister in Indian Government’s Council of Ministers, Ajay Mishra) mowed down farmers with a speeding convoy of three vehicles and killed 5 farmers and injured at least 8 others who needed hospitalisation. Irate farmers then went after the people who were trying to run away from the murderous convoy that came with a pre-hatched conspiracy to attack farmers. There were earlier public speeches of Minister Ajay Mishra that sought to promote communal disharmony and enmity against minority Sikhs of the terai belt. This happened in a place called Tikunia in Lakhimpur Kheri district of Uttar Pradesh. The Minister shamelessly continues in his post and the Modi Government continues to exhibit its immorality by not sacking Ajay Mishra Teni. Due to tremendous public pressure, the UP Police had to arrest the Minister’s son Ashish Mishra Teni and his accomplices. The Supreme Court of India took note of the incident, and has initiated a case because of which a retired Judge from another High Court has been appointed to monitor the investigation into the massacre.
26th November 2021, First Anniversary
On the first anniversary of the historic farmers’ movement at Delhi’s borders, the following is the call for action from Samyukt Kisan Morcha:
Reach in large numbers to the morcha sites around Delhi on 26th November 2021, especially if you are from nearby northern states.
Organise state level protest rallies using tractor trollies, bullock carts and other vehicles to state capitals in other states of India.
Organise solidarity actions like protest sit-ins, sleep-outs, social media actions, issuing of solidarity letters etc. all over the world.
November 29th, the Parliament majority votes to repeal the 3 farm bills as a result of the 1 year of peaceful protesting !!!
Demands of India's farmers' movement led by Samyukt Kisan Morcha:
1. Repeal of the anti-farmer laws brought in by Mr Modi's government last year - The announcement of the decision of the Government was made on November 19th 2021 by the Indian Prime Minister - the actual repeal has to take place through Parliamentary processes. Given the trust deficit that has widened between the protestors and the government, the farmers would like to see this happen before they know that the Government actually agreed to the demand.
2. Make remunerative Minimum Support Prices (MSP) a legal guarantee for all agricultural produce and for all farmers - This is an important pending demand. In fact, this is the only thing, if secured, that will ensure that any future moves by the Government to bring back the "reforms"-related laws will at least secure a minimum price for farmers, even in a corporatised paradigm.
3. Withdraw the Electricity Amendments Bill - A new Bill (legal proposal) that seeks to make changes to the Electricity Act in India is talking about withdrawing cross-subsidising in this sector which will impact farmers and domestic consumers adversely. This Bill also usurps the powers of state governments in India's federal set up. We are seeking a formal commitment, may be in the Supreme Court as a written sworn affidavit, that the Government will not bring this Bill to be passed in the Parliament.
4. Remove farmers from penal provisions of a statute related to Delhi's air quality - Farmers were sought to be criminalised and penalised in a statute related to Delhi's air quality, even though unsustainable practices by farmers are not a significant contributor to Delhi's air pollution. We want incentives and support to be provided to our farmers for them to shift to sustainable farming practices without large scale stubble burning etc., and for shifting out of the current monocultures. Even though the Government agreed to this demand, and removed it from one provision of a legislation it recently passed, it brought back penal provisions insidiously through another provision. We would like to see that Sec.15 in the Act that set up a Commission for Delhi's Air Quality Management.
5. Withdraw all cases foisted on farmers as part of the agitation so far - Farmers had to protest to protect their own livelihoods and that of their future generations. Hundreds of cases have been foisted on protesting farmers including with serious charges like Sedition and Attempt to Murder, on thousands of farmers in the states of Haryana, Uttar Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Delhi, Chandigarh and Madhya Pradesh. All these cases have to be withdrawn unconditionally.
6. Support to the Martyrs' families, and a Memorial for them - At least 670 farmers have sacrificed their lives for the movement so far. Kin of the martyrs need to be supported with compensation and employment. Parliament of India has to pay homage to these farmers. A memorial has to be erected in their memory by the government.
7. Dismiss Ajay Mishra Teni from the Union Government and arrest him - He is the sootradhar or mastermind behind the barbaric killing of peacefully-protesting farmers in Lakhimpur Kheri district in Uttar Pradesh. He continues to be in the Council of Ministers of Modi Government, that too as a Minister of State for Home Affairs which controls law and order matters! Farmers demand that he be sacked from the Government and arrested, and legal proceedings initiated against him.
Until these demands are met, the struggle continues.
Key Messages for the first anniversary events:
- What the Indian PM announced on November 19th is a FIRST important victory, one battle won. Not the war, so to speak.
- It is a victory of democracy, of citizens' voices being included in policy/law-making. It is a victory for peace, hope, persistence and determination from the largest section of citizens / workers of India.
- There are several pending issues and the announcement was made without yet having a resumed dialogue with the leaders of the protesting farmers. We hope that even the announced concession, of agreeing to one key demand, will not go wasted, by the government ignoring other important demands.
- What we are seeing today is a coordinated day of action, to mark the first anniversary of this historic movement, all over the world. It is not just in India that there are protests happening, but solidarity actions all over the world. It is not just the Indian diaspora that is extending its support but local farmers' organizations in other countries too.
- The story of marginalization and impoverishment of farmers is similar in many countries of the world, with corporate takeover of our food and farming systems. What the Indian farmers are doing is churning up a debate about future directions of our food and farming systems all over the country, to protect ourselves and our planet.