This article is a synopsis of my understanding of the farmers protest in India. My target readers are mainly the non-Indians with little or no information about the Indian farmers’ movement; but if they are humanitarians this article would appeal to their conscious. However, I would also welcome those non-resident Indians and residents of India who would like a diverse perspective than what is propagated by the India’s groomed -right wing- nationalist broadcast which includes the IT cell set up by the government to abuse all opposition. I am ready for my share but one must speak what one believes in.
For a comprehensive reading of this feature it’s vital to project the subject matter against the political-socio-historical background first. Since the farmer’s agitation started from the Punjab region, I have chosen to elucidate the topic with focus on Sikh farmers from Punjab.
In my views the consolidated leadership team of the current movement is the ‘Parent of the Indian workers Revolution in the 21st century’.
Introduction : A glance at Sikh background in India-
It’s imperative to have a basic idea about who the Sikhs are first to appreciate their place in the Indian history and their leadership in the current protest.
Sikhism was founded by Guru Nanak (The first of the 10 spiritual teachers or Gurus of Sikhs) around 1500 CE. This was a new advent of socio-spiritual movement in India. (*Please also refer to my previous post, ‘Enigma of Guru Nanak’s simplicity’*). So, social reforms have always been part of Sikh philosophy and in fact, the initiated Sikhs called the Khalsa (The pure) was created by the tenth spiritual teacher, Guru Gobind Singh, to fight injustice in life when the then ruling Mughal regime was prosecuting the Hindus and converting them to Islam by force, besides other atrocities against the minorities. The fight wasn’t against the Muslims, but the dictatorial and oppressive rule. Many of the soldiers fighting alongside Guru ji were themselves Muslims. For Sikhs, oppressor is a sinner but it’s an equal sin to accept oppression. A Sikh thinks outside the four walls of his own house and endeavours to build the entire town for the greater good of humanity; hence their exemplary selfless service towards others throughout the world is part of the values embedded deep in their culture by their 10 Gurus. Free food, free medicine, free oxygen tanks, free hospital facilities for the most deprived during the current pandemic in different parts of the world are but a few examples of their magnanimity.
I was almost a novice in my knowledge about farmer’s issues in India before the 26th of November 2020. I had a very restricted information about the real problems, except that the farmers of Punjab were committing suicide due to destitution. This was enough to perturb my feelings since I am a Sikh myself and my roots go back to Punjab, even though I’ve been living in the UK for decades which is my homeland now.
I was brought up thinking that Punjab was the bread basket of India. The very fact that one would not see a Sikh beggar EVER anywhere in the World speak volumes about a sikh character. This is because of their rich heritage and culture: A Sikh rather live a short life with dignity than ask for a hand out to prolong mere survival. Sikh history is overwhelmed with examples of valour from WW1, WW2 to India’s struggle for freedom achieved in 1947. Standing at mere 1.7% approximately of India’s total population, their sacrifices mount to higher than rest of the populace combined together in comparative ratio during any war or battle fought for the nation.
Yet, against this background, I’ve witnessed the 1984 attack on the holiest of Sikh shrines, ‘The Harmandir Sahib’ which is also popularly known as ‘The Golden Temple’, one of the wonders in the world once. The attack was carried out by none other than the government of India itself using its Army ordered by the then Prime Minister, Indira Gandhi of the Congress party. Along with many other ulterior motives, she wished to dismantle the very foundation of Sikh identity, i.e. their self-respect, self-pride and self-sufficiency. Glad to say that she failed miserably. In time there have been diverse interpretations wrapped in political fervour and religious passion about the affairs that led to 1984’s war against own citizens. Mrs Gandhi was assassinated as a result and Sikh genocide was instigated in retaliation by the collaborated political machinery of the time. (*Please refer to my previous post on ‘ Once you’ve lived through storm, you understand the pace of wind’, for detailed view on ethnic cleansing of Sikhs in India in 1984*).
The autonomy of Punjab which was established in 1935 under the British rule was reversed with Independence of India, despite false promises to the Sikhs by the then politicians to honour the agreement on ‘Punjabi Suba’ (Province state), based on Sikh majority population in the region. Besides the broken promises by leaders like Mohan Das Gandhi, father of the free country and Pundit Nehru, the first Prime Minister post -independence, there has been series of iniquitous manipulations against this minority.
Intolerance for Sikhs by the majority Hindu masses has been carefully brewed in the political cauldron since the birth of Khalsa Sikh identity in the 17th century- The prima facie entity of initiated men with turban and un-shaven hair immediately separates them from the Hindus in looks, apart from the variability in spiritual philosophy and social perception. Even women wear turbans after initiation to Khalsa or faith in its pure form and do not shave or cut hair. In addition, the existence of Sikhs is a constant reminder to an average Hindu that it’s because of the resistance and sacrifices of the Sikhs that Hinduism was saved or the Mughals would have succeeded in converting them to Islam centuries ago. Instead of accepting their sacrifices graciously, extreme right wing ideology was engineered by the nefarious organisation called the RSS, formed in 1925, exerting all its force to prove that Sikhs are a branch of Hinduism, which has been refuted vehemently by all Sikhs to the day. The RSS or the ‘Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh’ (The National Volunteer Organisation) is the largest ‘all male’ establishment formed to steer India towards becoming a ‘Hindu Rashtra’ (‘Only Hindu Nation’) and has been mother of all discrimination and communal un-rest in the country. Though the organisation claims to be non-political, it is very much active in camouflage within all the political parties, especially the current ruling BJP. The illegitimate brat born of this party has been performing a naked dance of hatred against all minorities, especially the Sikhs, in the streets of India. One fact that even the ultra- Hindu Nationalistic Psyche can’t deny is that Sikhs are the only minority who have withstood formidably against all injustices and discrimination, not only towards themselves but others too. The united Indian polity has thus tried to pull down this mighty wall to establish an absolute control required to form a Hindu dominated country rid with caste and class discriminations. This mantra has mesmerised and manipulated the easily led masses against the Sikhs for decades.
The state of Haryana was annexed in 1966 out of Punjab based on the ‘Hindi speaking’ population and a new rivalry was politically instigated between these two sibling states for decades, whether it was remapping the most fertile land of Faizabad as part of the new state or Punjab water distributed favourably to Haryana. All was aimed at stripping Punjab of its richness and self-sufficiency. The water rights of farmers in Punjab were amongst the vital issues raised even during the 1980s agitations against the central government, prior to the attack on Sikh places of worship in Punjab. See the connection? This subject needs a whole dedicated post to do justice to it but is outside the scope of present topic. Anyway, hopefully even this precis has clarified that in Sikh faith spiritualism stands in balance with socio-political life of a person and sense of justice is central to a Sikh mindset. So, there is no surprise that the current voice of farmers against the exploitation was also first raised in Punjab.
Tired of political persecutions and being considered as second class citizens in own country, the Akali Sikhs body compiled a document called, the ‘Anandpur Sahib Resolution’ in 1973, which enlisted all the just demands of the Sikhs religiously and politically, many of which reflected the rights of the farmers too. However, it’s hardly surprising that the document has never been given an honest thought by any ruling party. I even think that while Sikhs fought for the country’s freedom, their own liberation was shackled in the process. After all, despite forming 15% of the Indian Army against only a1.7% population in the country, they qualify for at least a fair treatment as equal citizens in the biggest Democracy in the World! But it’s a sham.
Farmers’ discontent in the Punjab state
Approximately, 66% of country’s populace is employed in the agricultural sector and more than 80% of the total 5.03 million hectares of Punjab’s land is owned by Sikh community. Punjab showcased the Green Revolution that started in India in the 1960s. Despite the augment in crop yield, the input costs of agriculture too kept creeping up. Small to medium status of farmers have since been struggling to maintain both ends meet. In the meantime, Indian Government, regardless of the political party, has failed to invest appropriately and support the agricultural sector. A meagre 2% of the GDP investment into the predominant agrarian society in the country is pretty pathetic policy gesture by any standard of a government. Thousands of farmers have committed suicide since the mid- 1990s but no ruling party has made appropriate provisions to sustain a farmer’s life. Once again, there is evidence of discrimination against the Sikhs even in this tragedy. Where other states of India have been acknowledged as ‘suicide affected’, the data of suicide rates from Punjab has been refuted by the government!
Instead of supporting the agriculture sector, the government came up with a cunning plan. Heads of the main corporates in India attended a meeting in 2017 with government representatives and Farmers Union leaders, where the corporates proposed to take the responsibility for the whole agricultural sector without any interference from the government, and by implication- without legal interception too. Even though the Indian constitution works on Socialistic pattern, the Modi Government is hell bent on snatching from the poor farmers and workers to make a couple of rich corporates richer. According to the senior most farmers’ leader, Mr Balbir Singh Rajewal, the seeds for the present revolt were sown on the day of the meeting of 2017.
Momentum mobilised and unites the country
The Punjab farmers have been protesting long before other states realised the extent of the jeopardy. In November 2020, the Farmer’s unions in Punjab decided to call for a united action of ‘Delhi Chalo’ or ‘ Let’s march to Delhi’. This call mobilised a momentum to make the deaf government listen to the forgotten community of farmers. The echo of this call reached the neighbouring states of Haryana, Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan, and then many more. Now the domino effect has started with most country united in the cumulative movement. Another interesting detail here is the fact that Haryana, an ex-rival created by polity is currently represented by a sikh farmer union leader, Mr Gurnam Singh Chadhuni, who is also part of the 32 leadership team of the current movement. This also proves the divide between people’s wishes and the political manipulation.
The Punjab farmers were the first group to have reached the borders of the capital on the 27th of November 2020 and were welcomed with water cannons, tear gas, lathi charge (truncheon-beating) by the ‘democratic governance’ in the country, which operate on the ethics of ‘By the people, for the people’ ! A shameful irony.
The agitation rose as a direct result of the three infamous anti- farming Laws which were passed dubiously by the Indian Government. The unconstitutionally passed bills are:
1. The Farmers’ Produce Trade and Commerce (Promotion and Facilitation) Act.
2. The Essential Commodities (Amendment) Act.
3.The Farmers (Empowerment and Protection) Agreement on Price Assurance and Farm Services Act.
According to Modi, India’s current Prime Minister, these laws are watershed for the farming community but according to the farmers themselves, these bills are a death warrant for them and their families. To understand this contrast let me reflect on the conflicting interpretations individually:
Benefits as per the Government’s propaganda:
** Farmers would get a new option to sell their produce outside the APMC (agricultural produce market committee) market, which would also give them higher freedom to sell their produce to the merchant wherever they will get a higher price.
** No license would be required to purchase agricultural produce of farmers outside the APMC mandi ( Market). In addition, those holding PAN card ( A tax paying identity card) could join this trade.
** In case of any dispute, a sub division magistrate would settle the matter within 30 days.
** Heavy penalties would be applied on those who might violate the system.
Let me now summarise the concerns of the farmers against the government’s spin, as I’ve understood :
** Under this law, mandis (markets) operating under the APMC law of the states will be abolished. Following this, the farmers will be forced to sell the crop to corporate companies at lower prices.
** Once the mandi system was abolished, Minimum Support Price too shall vanish as no one would buy crops on MSP. There is also no guarantee on MSP within these laws, except for verbal bluff by the Political leaders.
** The new laws only favour the Rich Corporates and would only benefit their profit margins, not the farmers.
** New people without license entering the trade would pose a risk of fraud and the farmers would be vulnerable to exploitation.
** With the dictatorial control over the law institutes in India, including the Supreme Court, would further jeopardise a poor farmer’s position in case of a dispute, and benefit the Corporates.
** Besides these, farmers fear losing their land and becoming ‘slaves’ to the corporates as far as The Farmers (Empowerment and Protection) Agreement of Price Assurance and Farm Services Act, 2020 is concerned.
** It’s a general belief of the farmers that The Essential Commodities (Amendment) Act, 2020 is also in favour of big buyers.
** Open favouritism by the government towards the big Corporate sharks, especially market monopolisation by two giants, the Ambani and the Adani houses, cement the farmers’ belief and fear that this Government is setting precedence against the poor farmers and in favour of the rich businessmen, for the foreseeable future. This doesn’t just determent the current generation of farmers but their progenies too.
Punjab ignited with passion against a perpetual trend of injustice launched a peaceful agitation. A coalition of 32 farmers unions was formed and called, ‘Sanyukt Morcha’ or the United Front’. As mentioned above, Mr Balbir Singh Rajewal was unanimously nominated as their united leader.
About the Chief leader of the movement
Mr. Rajewal is originally the union leader of ‘Bhartiya Kisan Union-Rajewal’ and have been representing the farmers for over half a century. Amongst his personal acumen, he is highly educated, experienced, multi-lingual, sagacious with tactical mastery, a foresighted person and above all an honest and down to earth leader for his fellow countrymen- he openly invites people to have a debate with him or ask him any question pertaining to farmers and workers issues- Pretty impressive and total contrast to the hoodwinking politicians! He has an in-depth knowledge of farmers’ issues with a 3D view, which he shares regularly with his listeners and readers in a comprehensive manner from stage, in interviews and through written accounts. He has tied not just the diverse union leadership teams into a single organisation but has helped to influence thousands of farmers, workers, sympathisers, charity volunteers from all over the world and put the issues of the Indian farmers on the global map of recognition. No wonder he is the nemesis of the notorious ruling party led by the defamed Prime Minister, Narinder Modi. Mr Rajewal remains un-faltered, despite his health issues, like a committed commander in the battlefield. Since November 2020 eleven meetings have been held between government representative and Farmers’ United Front. But all the meetings ended with no resolution, except for shifty offers like- suspension of the bills for few years (?) or agree to unlimited amendments in the current bills to the extent of leaving an empty frame with only the title in the government files(?). Bizarre! Right? Mr Rajewal has repeatedly counter questioned as to ‘what shall happen after those few years of suspension? If everything is agreed to be erased then why keep the mere title in the official files? There has been no explanation by any government official but anyone with common sense can smell the rat. Such is the mindset of the current regime in India. Hence, the demand of the farmers is clear- ‘Repeal the 3 bills and make a law on MSP’. Farmers have called out for another meeting but in response, many conspiracies have been woven to break the protest by BJP/RSS. However, it’s impressive to see how the peaceful United Front leadership and the followers have surfed on many a violent tide created by the government and its agencies.
Mr Rajewal has repeatedly stated in his addresses to the farmers that ‘till they remain peaceful, they shall win but the moment there is violence Modi will win’. It seems that all the volunteers protesting have taken this message to heart and are guarding it with their resilience and life, literally. The only violence that has interrupted the movement has been organised and instigated by the politicians, mainly the RSS organisation with the blessing of the ruling party, of course.
It won’t be an over statement that under farmers’ united leadership, the capital city of Delhi is now surrounded by the protesters holding the fort at Singhu village in the North west of Delhi bordering the Haryana state, Ghaziabad bordering Uttar Pradesh in the East and Tikri bordering the West Delhi, along with Dhansa at the South West border and Shahjahanpur at East side of Delhi.
Challenges for the farmers:
True to its character, the BJP Government is doing all to keep the farmers out of the capital by fortification and heavy barricading around the farmers camps, including spikes erected in concrete on the roads (which is illegal but the RSS &BJP coalition is beyond the law), cutting electricity and water supplies, withholding sanitisation in the camps from time to time, and many other levels that the present governance to stoop. But they forget that the farmers are resilient and self-sufficient community. If anyone can withstand the storms of offensive aggression, it’s them.
Just a couple of examples should suffice to illustrate the abominable plans of the government machinery, including the judiciary and Police force along with its affiliated agencies and controlled media to wreck the movement and discredit the farmers’ leadership.
On the 26th of January, the Sanyukt Morcha called on all the farmers in the country to march into Delhi peacefully from all the surrounding borders to mark the Republic Day. This parade was named as the ‘Tractor Parade’ to symbolise the farming community. But on the 25th of January, the original route agreed with the leaders was altered by the Police authority due to unexplained potential security issues!!! At the same time, a group of young men under the instigation of a certain self-acclaimed youth leader, called Deep Sidhu, carried out a separate plan in cahoots with the legal polity, as per an educated notion and evidence on camera. By doing so, the group tried to discredit the farmers’ leadership team and establish their own authority. According to eye witness accounts a few Police officers themselves were seen not just facilitating a head start for the separatist group but barricading the agreed routes and deliberately misguiding the farmers on the wrong path! As a result, many farmers ended up in front of the historical Red Fort premises, before they even realised that they had separated from the main group. As if this was not enough, an innocent unsuspected farmer was encouraged by the notorious self-acclaimed leader to hang (not hoist) the sacred flag of Sikh symbol from a pole inside the fort. Though it’s not a crime in itself, this act put lives of thousands of Sikhs at risk (same as during 1984 Sikh genocide) with RSS and Modi machinery already fuelling the propaganda that Sikhs are anti-national and are demanding separate land under the guise of farmers protest. The symbolic connotation of this act was interpreted as revolt and anti-national as it’s the same fort from where the Indian PM addresses the nation every year on the 15th of August to mark country’s Independence. This distortion of truth would have served as straw for the communal spark ignited by the RSS think tank. (*Please also refer to my previous post, ‘Once you’ve lived through a storm, you understand the pace of wind’*).
When a few confused farmers recognised the culprit in the crowd, he was captured on camera fleeing from the scene. The protagonist of this foul plan was arrested after two weeks and released on bail to carry on with his ill-campaign to defame the farmers’ leaders and promote his own political ambitions!!! The National media reported the whole drama as if the farmers went rogue and their leaders had either lost control on them or they too are all terrorists and fake farmers.
The parade, which would have showcased the might of thousands of peaceful farmers in front of the world, came awfully close to a total collapse. Thanks to the sagacity of the farmers’ leadership and common sense of the public themselves which resuscitated life back in the movement. Today the protest stands much wider and taller than even before. A real kick in the teeth for RSS.
In another incident, RSS mafia attacked the farmers’ tents at Singhu border with pelting bricks and batons, injuring women, children and elderly indiscriminately, while Police was seen standing around as silent spectators on social media. The mob had come in a mish-mash guise of police and army personnel but many forgot to change their jeans and wear uniform shoes- ‘even a crook requires brain to carry out crookedness’. However, once again the enslaved national media totally eclipsed the incident in their broadcast. There is a good reason why the national media is also nick-named as ‘Godi’ media (Godi in Hindi means lap- hence by implication, the journalists report while sitting in Modi’s lap). Many of these media houses are owned by politicians. There have been many more of such incidents and accidents since. Thank God for the social media which has played a vital role in connecting people from all over the world with the movement and showing the reality from ground zero. There are journalists like Mr Malvinder Singh Mali and YT channels like ‘Sangat-Televison’, keeping the soul in the media. Many independent reporters and farmers were arrested wrongfully but the charges didn’t stand in the court of law, and they all had to be released on bail. Such challenges continue as such is the state of democracy in India today.
Achievements of the Protest so far
** Farmers have been agitating now for over 7 months. Maintaining peace and discipline with a gathering of 50,000 plus people for such a long period of time is a wonder in itself. The influencing force behind such remarkable mass-restraint and composure has to be the leadership team. The united force of the farmers has written a new chapter in the Indian history by uniting the voice of all citizens regardless of their caste, religion, creed or class. Consequently, Sikhs, Muslims, Hindus, Dalits and other diversity in the country have now joined hands to sculpture this monumental peaceful protest. The agitation gets bigger and mightier as it advances forward like the tumbleweed.
Where the politicians had kept the country divided for nearly 74 years of independence, our simple and hardworking farmers have ‘united the whole country under one banner in less than seven months!’ This is true democracy. Whom Modi shamefully called ‘parasites’ during a parliamentary session have proved to be the antidote for hatred instigated by the so-called democratic system.
** Mr Rajewal’s mantra of ‘Non-violence’ and ‘peaceful protest’ has strengthened the movement tremendously, especially when this slogan has appealed to the global organisations, political and non-political. It’s because of the peaceful nature of such a massive National revolution that the movement has become talk of the global town- For example, the issues of the farmers have been discussed in the Parliament of England, labour MPs in Australia extended solidarity with the peaceful farmers, Canadian PM expressed concerns about the Indian Government mishandling the protesters. United Nation has supported the farmer’s right to protest peacefully. My daughter is member of Socialist Party in UK and they support the movement categorically. The non-resident Indians worldwide protested locally to show their solidarity with the protesters in India.
** In balance with Mr Rajewal’s peaceful methods, Mr Gurnam Singh Chadhuni plays a vital role in infusing the movement with positivity and courage. He has stirred a debate amongst the Indian masses, not just the farmers, by asking an open question- We have toppled ruling parties in the past, but that has not changed the depravity of Indian people, so just by focussing on uprooting the current Modi led BJP government would it meet people’s demands? His answer is NO and is supported by the common sense of the populace. No wonder he is rising in popularity amongs the masses who have been deprived of ‘straight talk’ for over 74 years of the so called freedom of the country. I shall write more about his vision in a separate post, to do justice to it.
** For the first time in six years, Modi Government has been exposed for what it really represents, i.e. fascism and greed. Indian Hindus are beginning to realise the myth of ‘Hindu Rashtra’ and everyone wants to live as INDIANS together in harmony now. Thanks to the farmers for this awakening in the country. Admittedly, not ‘all’ get onboard in any movement through out the world but so long that oddity remain in minority, its ok. But there is a long way still to struggle with anti-national regime still in charge.
** This protest is no longer a protest of the farmers only, but has become a collaborated movement of labourers, workers and general public because directly or indirectly everyone will be affected eventually through colonisation by the Corporates. What was a wave of Protest till yesterday has grown into a tsunami of Revolution today.
** The best way to have perturbed the deaf government to hear the workers’ concerns was by hitting them where it hurts the most, i.e. Votes. Farmers started touring the whole country, especially in the states where there were Assembly elections of 2021 being held. BJP, the ruling party suffered losses in all these areas so far. This was the direct result of farmers’ campaigns in these areas strategically. In addition, an open letter has been circulated in the country by the farmers’ leadership to educate and inform all citizens of the issues. No media support yet such long reaching approach! Bravo!
** The farmers’ leaders have made it clear in all his speeches that ‘this is not a religious protest, nor is a protest of any one state’. As a result, the whole country is united in its diversity. Farmers’ leaders have also maintained that this movement is strictly non-political and consequently, no political leader is allowed to speak from the stages at protest sites. It’s a proven fact that the whole polity in the country is corrupt one way or the other.
This point needs to be understood in juxtaposition of two view points- one, as per what Mr Rajewal is saying and also what Mr Chadhuni has stated that even though the movement remains non-political we cannot eradicate the politics woven in the issues raised by the people. Hence, without the corruption of the present state of politics, there should be a way in which even farmers who have proved their allegiance and honesty towards people’s movement should be encouraged to come forward to challenge the existing political goons. People are resonating with this balance.
This is now a ‘Jan Andolan’ (Movement of People)’. In fact, each leader of the 32 unions deserve a collective tribute. Salute to the elderly, men and women, young and children who are determined that they would go back home only after the 3 laws are repealed or they rather die at the borders fighting for their rights.
** The protest sites at all the borders are little villages of comradery. Cooking and eating ‘langar’ together (Free communal kitchen for all as started by Sikh Gurus); however langar is not just limited to partaking of food, it also means sharing anything which is needed and could include langar of tents, medicines, clothing, toiletries, beds and bedding, etc. Farmers have also built semi-permanent structures for houses to suit all weather. Volunteers maintain sanitation and general cleanliness in and around the camps, including vigil around the clock keeping themselves and their brethren safe. The free services are not just limited to the farmers but serve people of the adjacent villages at the borders and orphans from the nearby areas too. The provisions that government should have made for its deprived citizens are being served by the ‘terrorists’, ‘separatists’, ‘parasites’- even irony is embarrassed. (* Please refer to my previous post, ‘A battleground or a village of brotherhood*)
People need to acknowledge this particular unique factor- ‘Amongst more than 500 deaths of farmers on the borders none of them demised due to Covid’ in contrast to the stats in rest of the country which are alarming! Protesters are given appropriate diet and medicines. Absolute cleanliness is maintained by the farmers and volunteers in contrast to hollow propagandist slogans by the Modi party. Sikh charities around the world have also pulled together their support, in addition to generous contributions by countrymen, especially from Haryana state. Such is the utopia formed in the camps at the borders! If this doesn’t put the government of a country to shame then such leaders must be beyond redemption.
This is not just a Revolution but an awakening for the entire Nation.
Bravo all the farmers including men, women and children who have become part of this peaceful confluence. Commemorations to all the demised souls. May they rest in peace.
Everyone in the world eats food and thus can’t ignore the issues of who grows the means of human survival. ‘No farmer No food’. Rest is up to one’s conscious. May God bless the farmers and hardworking people everywhere in the world.