Rasheeda Bhagat

Capital reaping the whirlwind

Rasheeda Bhagat | Updated on November 30, 2020

Growing anger   -  PTI

If farmers are protesting so steadfastly against the new farm laws, perhaps the Centre must listen to them

If marching from one controversy to another is the recipe to win elections and stay in power, then the BJP-led NDA is doing a good job of it.

First it was the ruckus over the Citizenship Amendment Act and threatening and taunting of Indian Muslims, not only illegal immigrants, with “kagaz to dikhana padenga” (you’ll have to show your papers). An ill-thought-out move that put the entire country in turmoil with protests and communal poisoning. The brave women of Shaheen Bagh, who protested for long nights braving Delhi’s harsh winter, became the face of this controversy.

Then, we had the sudden lockdown of March 24, leaving tens of thousands of migrant workers stranded. Heartbreaking images of thousands making the long and arduous journey back home on foot, without food and water, with many States closing their borders and denying them passage, will continue to haunt us.

And, then, bang in the middle of the pandemic, when critical issues such as shoring up of health-care systems, unprecedented economic distress from loss of jobs, and the GDP registering a massive contraction, came the controversial farm laws.

Just look at the result: a massive farmers’ agitation that has reached Delhi’s borders. This despite the Haryana government using water cannons on the men who put food on the plates of over 1.3 billion Indians. And the courageous farmer who switched off the water is charged with attempt to murder!

Agricultural experts have analysed these laws threadbare and are concerned that allowing big companies unfettered access to what our farmers grow can be disastrous for the future of a good section of our already distressed farming community. The worst affected will be the small and marginal farmers, bound to be tempted by the money offered in advance by corporates and big agri players, for their produce. Those who support the three farm laws, which were pushed through Parliament, argue that this would protect the farmer from potential loss if the crop fails. But the reality on the ground is different.

Multiplying farm income

The uncertainty, trauma and pain with which the Indian farmer lives is best described by Mayank Gandhi, a social activist, in a recent webinar on community farming.

Gandhi is a core committee member of the India Against Corruption movement and a national executive member of the Aam Aadmi Party, which he quit on moral grounds after it came to power. His views are: “Any Indian village is like a multiple organ thing… if you work on the liver, the heart fails, if you work on the heart, the lung will fail. The life of the farmer in such villages is unpredictable. Farmers face problems and challenges we town people can’t even imagine… from the weather, too much or no rain, insects attacking their crops, problems with the soil, etc. If I was a farmer, I’d have got 10 heart attacks till now.”

He went to the drought stricken area of Parli in Marathwada, famous for farmer suicides, and systematically organised group farming through planting of robust, high-yielding fruit trees and other crops in such a way that farmer’s incomes have jumped from ₹10,000–15,000 from 1-3 acres to ₹2-4 lakh, and some times even ₹6 lakh, from a bumper crop.

Farmers need this kind of support, empathy and access to knowledge in best farming practices, seeds and saplings, water conservation and augmentation, all of which Gandhi and his NGO, GlobalParli, organised for the distressed farmers of that village. They can do without the fear of big corporates getting into farm produce, trampling all over the small farmers with their power and might, and arguably taking over or controlling their land and livelihood.

The ongoing confrontation of the huge collective of farmers, who have rejected Home Minister Amit Shah’s conditional offer for talks, does not augur well. Not only the government and the laws of the land, but the entire Indian populace, owe it to our farmers to ensure they don’t have to live with a sword over their heads. The last thing distress-hit farmers need is tricky legislation that promises them relief and prosperity, but could be a masked recipe for disaster and manipulation.

Indian farmers are astute enough to reject these laws and the government must listen to them.

Published on November 30, 2020

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