India has witnessed one of the largest strike movements in global history. This has involved many millions of farmers taking action against Narendra Modi’s Right populist and viciously sectarian government, which is strongly supported by the Tory government, and in particular, Priti Patel.
The first article was posted by Women of Colour the day prior to the Rail Blockade across India on February 18th. The second was posted by Sushanta D. Roy on the International Marxist Humanist Organisation website. It goes into some depth about the actors involved and the future potential of this gigantic movement.
1. HUGE STRIKE, 18 FEBRUARY – SUPPORT THE FARMERS
“RAIL ROKO” (Railway Blockade) across India
12 pm to 4pm (local time)
Millions of farmers strike against laws that put corporations in charge of land and food production
The movement to repeal Modi’s three Farm Acts is growing in strength since protests began in August 2020. The Acts will put farmers at the mercy of multinational and national corporations, turning India into a free trade area and ending state support to farmers and those on the lowest incomes. Prices of essential foods will increase and millions of people will starve. The strike is about the food security of 1.2 billion Indians.
In November 2020, 250 million workers all over India across every sector, including factory workers, dock workers, coal miners, healthcare workers, went on strike in support of farmers and agricultural workers – the largest strike in history. On 30 November, 300,000 farmers, including women, children and elders, marched on the capital New Delhi and set up camps on the outskirts with massive communal kitchens, laundry facilities and schools, blocking major highways into the city. The camps have been the base for other workers and organisers to meet and even join with the farmers, and to keep up the pressure on the government’s doorstep. Local communities bring water and food.
On 12 January, the Supreme Court suspended the laws for 18 months but refused to repeal them. Big mobilisations continued: 18 January, Women Farmers’ Day marches and rallies; 26 January, 200,000 tractor rally into and around Delhi; 3 February, Tractor Jams and road blocks in all states.
The camps are holding firm in the face of severe cold, violent repression from security forces. Some farmers have been killed. Many have been arrested and legal defence campaigns set up. Several state governments oppose the Acts. There is growing support internationally too.
Farmers are demanding:
- An immediate repeal of the three farm laws.
- A law to guarantee minimum support prices (MSP) according to the recommendation of National Commission on Farmers (Swaminathan Commission).
- Strengthening the public distribution system (PDS) for subsidised food for lowest income people.
Basic facts about agriculture
India is the leading exporter of basmati rice and the world’s second-largest producer of rice, wheat and other cereals, and second in the production of fruits and vegetables. India produces about 68% of the world’s spices. People in India are dependent on their own food production however unequally distributed.
70% of rural households depend on agriculture for their livelihood.
85% of all farmers are small farmers owning less than 2 hectares.
Women and children do 70% of all agricultural work and own 12.8% of the land even when widowed and running their husband’s farm alone. Women farm workers earn 55% to 77% of men’s wages.
Nearly 80% of all women workers work in agriculture. 81% of women land labourers and the majority of all casual and landless labourers are Dalit, Tribal or other discriminated communities.
Women in the strike and their demands
To join the Delhi camps, women set up a rotation system – when some leave to care for families and farm, others take their place “but the ten who leave bring 200 back in their stead.” Women are central to sustaining the protests, managing the men’s farm work and their own as well as the households, and ensuring a continuous supply of rations, blankets and other essentials to protest sites. Without their work “the men could not have camped on Delhi borders for more than a month”. In Punjab, women have organised 100 daily protests.
Thousands have lost sons and husbands to suicide due to debt.
Work is seasonal: “We are barely surviving. During the harvest and sowing seasons, we get some work and earn up to Rs. 270 [£2.70] a day.” They are not getting 100 days guaranteed work. They are demanding pensions and widows’ pensions.
A grassroots women’s group in rural Chhattisgarh said: “On Women’s Farmers Day, Dalit, Tribal and other discriminated castes women marched together within a big march with men through the city as well as in the villages. Everyone chanted “Down with the Farm Laws!” There were also highways road blocks. Everyone watching cheered, including the media. Chhattisgarh is one of the states whose government opposes the three laws. The landless women work for big landowners. The men earn 200 rupees (about £2) a day, the women 150 rupees (£1.50).”
The effect of the Farm Acts
Remove government guaranteed prices for farmers’ crops – Minimum Support Price (MSP). While not all get it and it only applies to some crops, it is a lifeline for millions. The formula used to set MSP includes the cost of seeds, fertilizers, wages plus the value of “unpaid family labour” (a large proportion of which is done by women and children). Without MSP farmers will be forced to sell at throwaway prices to corporations, unpaid labour counting for less. Farmers are demanding that the MSP be applied to all crops and cover the full costs of production. Government agencies now buy essential foods at the guaranteed price, then sell it at a reduced price to the poorest families through the Public Distribution System. Without MSP and subsidies on basic foods, people will not be able to afford to eat.
Allow traders to stockpile essential foods, including grains, pulses, potatoes, onions, edible oilseeds and oils, create false shortages and re-sell and/or export at higher prices.
Pave the way for corporate take-overs of land and food production. Monsanto (US) and BayerCropScience (Germany), already embedded in India, are frontrunners as well as Adani (India) with a record of environmental destruction, exploitation, tax dodging, oil spills, land grabs.
The laws also contain among the most sweeping exclusions of the right to legal recourse. The State of Bihar brought in similar laws from 2006 which proved to be a disaster.
People across many communities are coming together in this mass movement. In 2020, Punjabi farmers supported the Shahen Bagh sit-ins in Delhi against the anti-Muslim Citizenship Amendment Act, led by women. Women farmers now say: “Shaheen Bagh is our inspiration.” For 16 February actions against the CAA, Punjabi farmers’ organisations met with Shaheen Bagh protesters again.
Farmers are already using sustainable methods which they want support for. Many women have adopted chemical-free ‘community managed natural farming’, with support from Andhra Pradesh state. It is reducing debt, increasing crop yields and incomes, reversing land degradation and deforestation. 800,000 farmers stopped chemical use. Other states are taking it up. The National Coalition for Natural Farming works to “protect food and seed sovereignty, regenerate ecological balance, increase biodiversity, and augment nutritional security of individuals through inclusive, sustainable, and regenerative agroecological farming systems.”
Arundhati Roy, author and activist said: “[B]ig farmers, small farmers, landless labourers, all of them have come together because they realise, like did the people protesting the CAA [Citizenship Amendment Act] same time last year, that we are facing an existential crisis . . . the farmers are showing a great deal of wisdom and political spine.”
17th February 2021
This article was first posted by Global Women’s Strike at email@example.com and by Women of Colour, GWS firstname.lastname@example.org
2. ONGOING FARMERS’ AGITATION IN INDIA – REVOLUTIONARY POSSIBILITIES
Rud Jaange, Wapas Mud De Ni!’ (We Will Die but we will not go back!)
The Rallying Cry of the Kisan Andolan (Farmers’ Agitation) in 2020-2021 in India
A massive tractor rally took place in Delhi on January 26, the Republic Day of India. It was smeared with controversies resulting from violent clashes between the farmers and the security personnel which had even caused the death of one protestor1, but in spite of the controversy, the agitation continues to gather steam and attract tens of thousands of civil rights activists, students, youth, women and workers to the protest sites. The movement, since its beginning in September, has carried on a successful All India General Strike in December, and now the January 26 actions.
India continues to be gripped by the massive protests at the borders of Delhi by the Indian farmers, but in fact the current government is witnessing an incessant surge of people’s movements since the last couple of years2. The 2020-21 addition to the wave of struggles being the Kisan Andolan (Farmers’ Movement) against the recently passed corporatist farm laws- Farmers’ Produce Trade and Commerce (Promotion and Facilitation) Act, 20203; Farmers (Empowerment and Protection) Agreement on Price Assurance and Farm Services Act, 20204; and Essential Commodities (Amendment) Act, 20205.
The major demand coming from the farmers and their organisations is the repealing of the three contentious farm laws passed by the Indian parliament in September 2020. The three laws collectively often referred to as the ‘Black Laws’, are primarily about the corporatisation of agriculture in the country. The government wants to dissolve the responsibilities of the state in buying the farmers’ produce and wants to open up the market for corporates such as Ambani and Adani to store and sell the agricultural produce as they see fit and profitable6. Right from the onset, the passing of these three laws, has stirred up the Indian left and left of centre political and civil society organisations. Neoliberal policies are not alien to India, but the present government’s method and agenda of passing laws and regulations which outrightly reject any conversation with the stakeholders have not gone well with most of the populace. Protesting against the three laws, the farmers have been demonstrating peacefully in large numbers at the borders of Delhi- Singhu, Tikri, Ghazipur, Shahjanpur among others.
The denouncement and repercussions from the government in response to the protests have been strong. From labelling the protestors as being terrorists to exercising massive armed force, the government has tried tooth and nail to disrupt the movement with no success. The trajectories which the movement have taken both geographically and strategically have been diverse in nature. The movement has not only expanded geographically with time within the country, but it has garnered support from wide range of Indian diaspora settled abroad. From the United Kingdom to Canada to New Zealand, the Indian diaspora has been particularly active in demonstrating against the three farm laws, and in solidarity with the Indian farmers. There has been an active support from different organisations and political formations, both national and international, to the movement.
The organisations involved in the movement comprised of the All-India Kisan Sabha (AIKS)- the farmers’ wing of the Communist Party of India (Marxist), the All India Kisan Mahasabha- a wing of the Communist Party of India (Marxist-Leninist) Liberation, the Bharatiya Kisan Union (BKU), the National Alliance of People’s Movement (NAPM)7, etc. There was also the massive involvement of the Kisan Mazdoor Sangharsh Committee (KMSC) and the Samyukt Kisan Morcha (United Farmers’ Front) to bring the different organisations, which according to many exceed 500, onto a workable agreement to participate in the movement against the farm bills and demanding a legal provision of the MSP.
While in the beginning, the movement was led by the farmers of Punjab, with time, the farmers from other states of the country have also joined ranks with them. The most important of this expansion, has been the coming together of the farmers of Haryana, Uttarakhand, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh and most importantly, Uttar Pradesh (UP), primarily the west of UP. Meanwhile, the farmers in the other parts of the country such as Maharashtra, Karnataka, Telangana and the like have also demonstrated in solidarity with the protesting farmers at the borders of Delhi. The ongoing Kisan Andolan is a living testimony of how movements are amorphous entities which are spontaneous in nature.
It has to be admitted that the leadership could not anticipate the violence which broke out during the Tractor Rally on the 26th of January, but it also has to be understood that once a movement gathers a force as huge in numbers like the ongoing farmers’ agitation, it is futile to think about controlling or disciplining the movement. Under the present circumstances, the best that the organisations can do, which is a revolutionary duty, is to be with the people. The transformation of the leadership of the movement from left-wing ‘party’ politicians and civil society activists to active farmers’ leaders, who are entrenched within the caste-class based rural agrarian communities, poses an important question to the progressive movement as a whole- the question of addressing social inequalities while being within a movement with agents who at times turn to promoting such inequalities either covertly or overtly.
Many theories have been floated regarding the cause of the violence on January 26. While the right wing has been persistent in its efforts to label the violence as being the brainchild of the terrorists within the movement, most of the left has been trying to disown the violence as being an act of right-wing perpetrators within the movement. There are some very revealing proofs which point to the possibility of the latter being the case8.
However, the search for truth, in the opinion of the present author, lies not in the black and the white but rather in the grey area composed by dialectical relationship between the spontaneity of any major mass movement and the ability or desire to control and discipline by the established political formations. The movement, in the beginning, was led by the established unions in the country, primarily the AIKS and the Samyukta Morcha – organisations which are strictly secular and known to be on the left of the political spectrum in India. These organisations also have a certain rank and file order in their organisational set-up which allows them to regulate the activities of their members, if not out-rightly control them.
But organisations like the BKU and the other farmers’ unions, which are non-partisan demands based organisations, share no such regulatory power over their members- especially not of the kind which would ease the intra-movement tensions in a movement like the one in question. Unlike the established unions, not all the organisations in the movement share a secular past. The BKU, which has now emerged as a major mobiliser of the movement, has a long history of struggles in the country, most importantly within the 1980s when the country was witnessing a surge of secular agrarian movements in the country9. With time however, the BKU, as like some of the other prominent rural agricultural unions of the country, fell into the trap of right-wing Hindutva politics which made them swing to the right10. However, the economic neo-liberalisation carried on by the ruling government has again pushed these organisations towards the fold of a politics, which though not revolutionary at the outset but are however, undoubtedly progressive in form and content.
Post the events of the 26th of January Tractor March in Delhi, the movement slowed down for a moment, only to be reignited again after the political and tactical move from Rakesh Tikait of the BKU, which was until then a minor player within the movement. Tikait’s emotional call to the farmers after the security forces attempted to arrest him midway through a speech at Ghazipur border galvanised the farmers returning to their homes after the 26th of January rally, who hearing Tikait’s appeal, rushed back to the borders of Delhi11. While the pre-26th January movement was centred around the activities at Singhu and Tikri mainly, the post 26th movement is gathering steam at the Ghazipur border.
There is also a considerable shift in the manner in which the media has been covering the issue. While most of the right-wing media has continued to portray the protestors as terrorists, the liberal media has now focused exclusively on Tikait. It is worthwhile to note in this context that the period within which the left-led unions were leading the movement, the liberal media focused on the ‘people’, but with the rise of Tikait, a person who aligns closely with the apolitical nature of the liberal media, the media seems to have found a new icon of the movement. Of course, the efforts which Tikait has taken post the 26th of January to involve the Panchayats (rural governmental set-ups) into the movement has been appreciated by almost everybody, but it is also, equally necessary to take cognisance of the fact that the agricultural class in India is also a class and caste segregated populace in itself- for the sustenance of which the Panchayats play an important role. The class is characterised by a massive internal class segregation between the landed and the landless peasantry, as well as caste and gender hierarchies stereotypical of caste-Hindu communities.
The rise of BKU, however, as a leader of the movement has caused a stir within the Indian left so much so that the recent activities of the BKU has also seen mobilisational efforts from progressive women’s organisations which were previously known to keep a distance from the same, especially post the riots in UP.
Of late, the agitation has received global attention, primarily due to the tweets coming in from multiple celebrities12. Reacting to which, the public relations wing of the government has also come into action ‘forcing’ multiple Indian celebrities to come out in support of the government13 which has again stirred up an ideological clash between different celebrities14. The ‘Chakka Jam’ (Stop the Wheels!) called by the farmers has also met with a resounding success nationally15 and has also attracted global attention16.
Meanwhile, the central Modi-led government has transformed Delhi into a fortress with deemed to be permanent cemented barricades constructed all around the city with nails being installed on the roads with cement and plaster so as to stop the farmers from walking or driving into the city17. These moves however have been counterproductive to the government because they have exposed the hypocrisy of the government which keeps on saying that its willing to talk to the protestors18 but at the same time installs inhuman barricades and cuts down supplies of essential commodities for the farmers at the protest sites19.
The movement, right now, stands at a very critical juncture. While on the one hand, it is garnering support from the masses of India in both rural and urban spaces, on the other hand, it has become extremely ‘open’ in nature which has invited diverse elements of the political milieu within it, which includes organisations which have a history of regressive reactionary politics. The role, here, of the leadership of the left becomes extremely crucial, especially in negotiating with the different ideas within the struggle as well as retaining the spontaneously rebellious nature of the movement, while also being resolute and vigilant against the tendencies within the movement of giving into reactionism and identity politics. However, with all the contradictions therein, one unquestionable fact is that for once, the ruling class in India has massively underestimated the collective and united force of the Indian masses!
10th February 2021
This article was first posted at:- The Ongoing Farmers’ Agitation in India: Revolutionary Possibilities
- See Here’s What Really Happened During the Republic Day Tractor Rally
- It all started with the anti-CAA protests after the BJP under Narendra Modi came to power for the second time in 2019, which were then followed up by a strong political unrest over the state of migrant workers and the general management of governance during the pandemic.
- See http://egazette.nic.in/WriteReadData/2020/222039.pdf
- See The Farmers (Empowerment and Protection) Agreement on Price Assurance and Farm Services Bill, 2020
- See The Essential Commodities (Amendment) Bill, 2020.
- See How Mukesh Ambani, Gautam Adani were caught in crossfire over farming laws
- A full list of the major organisations involved can be found from the Wikipedia entry 2020–2021 Indian farmers’ protest, cite_note-:02-49
- See BJP planted stooge Deep Sidhu to create chaos in tractor rally: AAP, Who Is Deep Sidhu? Actor Blamed By Farmers For Tractor Rally Violence, BJP ‘hiding’ Sunny Deol’s ties with Deep Sidhu.
- See HOW NOT TO READ RAKESH TIKAIT: NAKUL SINGH SAWHNEY
- See Muzaffarnagar riots and legacy issues: Rakesh Tikait’s unlikely rise to farmer leadership
- See Signs of new alliances emerge in U.P.
- See Why Rihanna and Greta Thunberg Are Taking on India’s Modi
- See Two tweets that rattled a global superpower: Indian sovereignty and desi celebrity outrage
- See Farmers’ Protest: Taapsee Pannu, Swara Bhasker Slam Top Stars Over Tweets
- See ‘Chakka Jam’: Farmers halt Chandigarh, Panchkula in its tracks
- See Farmers block roads across India in protest over agriculture law
- See India farmer protests: ‘War-like fortification’ to protect Delhi
- See “Agriculture Minister A Phone Call Away”: PM At All-Party Meet On Farmers
- See Power and water supply cut, but farmers at Tikri aren’t quitting