TILL just the other day, they were committing suicide, while some of them were demonstrating in Jantar Mantar, Delhi, humiliating themselves by disrobing and eating rats, trying in vain to draw the attention of the political establishment to their plight. And to pour salt on their wounds, BJP leaders were saying that committing suicide had become a fashion among farmers!
Today they are out on the streets, demanding, among other things, that their own debts be written off, not of the powerful and predatory capitalists. (See the Charter of the All India Kisan Sangharsh Coordination Committee below). This is, in all probability, the sign of a decisive shift, for today the charter released by the Coordination Committee declares loud and clear that Farmers are not just a residue from our past; farmers, agriculture and village India are integral to the future of India and the world.
This declaration is a clear indication of the fact that the peasants/ farmers will not take it as their historical destiny to vacate the stage in order to make way for industry and corporate agribusinesses. There are still issues that remain to be urgently addressed – issues that relate to climate change and environmental degradation, which affects the farmers before anyone else. Whether it is depletion of ground water, toxicity in water, drying up of rivers, destruction of the soil through overuse of chemical fertilizers and pesticides – the first impact is on the farmers. The agrarian crisis is inseparably tied to the ecological crisis. Many of these questions need to be integrated into a new comprehensive agro-ecological paradigm, as the Charter itself accepts.
Veteran journalist Amit Sengupta was electrified by the rally. He wrote:
“I have covered protests and participated in them since the early 1980s. I am reporting on this huge rally too.
“Great protests, unimaginable and beautiful with their stoic guts and resilience, and the will to resist: I have seen many. However, today’s kisan rally, and yesterday’s when they assembled at different points with their different flags and slogans and songs, from all over the country, was truly remarkable, upbeat, pulsating and life-affirmative in these bleak times. Full of life and love for life, not lacking caricature and spoof, angry and determined, and so replete with the affirmation of life’s eternal struggle for a just and better society, I presume bleak times creates brilliant moments of revelation and resilience. And intensity.
“Even the leaders on the dias got infected with the incredible energy. Sitaram, Sharad Pawar, Rahul Gandhi and others spoke really well, with passion. But the finest was the last speaker: Arvind Kejriwal. His short, hard-hitting speech hit the nail where it hurts the regime, told the bitter bitter truth, and connected totally with the farmers. No doubt, he got the maximum applause.
“The wonderful thing was that the rally refused to end abruptly. No one was ready to leave. Even after the last speech, the collective and small groups, created multiple symphonies of struggle and effervescence in scattered groups, so powerful and strong in their simplicity, brilliance and assertions, with slogans, songs and dance, and reasserting the idea of justice, pluralism, unity in diversity, and democracy. The idea of India. Despite tragedies in the rural hinterland. It went on till the end of the Jantar Mantar crossroads, with confused cops keeping a straight face, with the last small group from Bhojpur singing revolutionary songs which are like balm to an unhealed soul.
“To all the volunteers who worked liked dogs, and to the farmers, and organisers, including the poorest and landless: Inquilab Zindabad. Thank you. We shall overcome.”
The Charter reproduced below was released by the All India Kisan Sangharsh Coordination Committee (AIKSCC) on the occasion of the historic Kisan Mukti March in Delhi, November 29-30, 2018.
CHARTER OF INDIAN FARMERS
WE, THE FARMERS OF INDIA,
The producers of primary agricultural commodities;
Including Women, dalit, nomadic and adivasi farmers;
Landowners, tenants, sharecroppers, agricultural labourers and plantation workers;
Fishworkers, milk producers, poultry farmers, livestock rearers, pastoralists, and collectors of minor forest produce; and,
Everyone engaged in crop cultivation, shifting cultivation, sericulture, vermiculture, and agro-forestry;
Well-being of farmers is not just about economic survival of a majority of Indian households, it is about retaining our national dignity and our civilizational heritage; and, that
Farmers are not just a residue from our past; farmers, agriculture and village India are integral to the future of India and the world;
RECOGNISING OUR RESPONSIBILITY
As honest hard workers who face numerous odds;
As bearers of historic knowledge, skills and culture;
As agents of food safety, security and sovereignty; and
As guardians of biodiversity and ecological sustainability;
RECALLING THE PRINCIPLES OF
Social justice and equity,
YET ALARMED AT
Economic, ecological, social and existential crisis of Indian agriculture;
Persistent state neglect of agriculture and discrimination against farming communities;
Increasing vulnerability of farmers to extortion by village powerful and government officials;
Deepening penetration of large, predatory and profit hungry corporations;
Spate of farmers’ suicide across the country and unbearable burden of indebtedness; and
Widening disparities between farmers and other sectors in our society,
SOLEMNLY AFFIRM OUR RIGHT TO
Land for agriculture;
Commons and other natural resources;
Income sufficient to cover dignified life;
Protection against natural and other calamities;
Social security; and
THEREFORE, CALL UPON THE PARLIAMENT OF INDIA TO
Immediately hold a Special Session to pass and enact the two Kisan Mukti Bills that are of, by and for the farmers of India and await its consideration, namely,
- The Farmers’ Freedom from Indebtedness Bill, 2018; and
- The Farmers’ Right to Guaranteed Remunerative Minimum Support Prices for Agricultural Commodities Bill, 2018,
And to hold a special discussion on the grave and unprecedented agrarian crisis in our country and its related aspects.
AND DEMAND THAT THE GOVERNMENT OF INDIA MUST IMMEDIATELY:
- Increase the number of guaranteed employment days under MGNREGS to 200 days per family, ensure wage inputs including seeds, fertilisers, pesticides, water, diesel and electricity for farmers;
- Provide comprehensive social security for all farm households including pension @ at least Rs. 5,000 per month per farmer above the age of 60 and health coverage;
- Universalize the Public Distribution System with cereals, pulses, oils and sugar and stop its linkage with Aadhaar and the biometric system;
payment at par with legal minimum wages for unskilled farm labour and extend this scheme to urban areas;
- Reduce the cost of
- Address the menace of stray animals by removing all legal and vigilante-imposed restrictions on cattle trade, compensating farmers for destruction of crops by wild and stray animals and supporting animal shelters;
- Stop land acquisition without informed consent, acquisition of agricultural land for commercial land development and the bypassing or dilution of The Right to Fair Compensation and Transparency in Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation and Resettlement Act, 2013 at all levels;
- Make payment of cane dues mandatory within 15 days of opening of the mill, maintain recovery rate at 9.5%; and introduce SAP for cane throughout the country;
- Withdraw pesticides that have been banned elsewhere and not approve GM seeds without a comprehensive needs, alternatives and impact assessment;
- Disallow Foreign Direct Investment in agriculture and foods processing, and remove agriculture from Free Trade Agreements, including the proposed Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP);
- Require identification and registration of all real cultivators including tenant farmers, sharecroppers, women farmers, lessee cultivators etc. for purposes of accessing benefits of all government schemes; and
13.. Stop uprooting adivasi farmers in the name of afforestation, ensure strict implementation of Panchayat (Extension to Scheduled Areas) Act and prevent dilution of Forests Rights Act, 2006, while at the same time ensuring its stringent implementation all over the country;
AND, FURTHER, URGE THE GOVERNMENT TO EVOLVE POLICIES TO
- Provide land and livelihood rights to the landless, including on agricultural land, water for fishing, mining of minor minerals etc.;
- Implement a comprehensive crop insurance scheme to cover all types of risks for all crops and for all farmers, with farm as the unit of damage assessment; such a scheme should benefit the farmers and not the corporate insurance companies;
- Build assured protective irrigation through sustainable means for farmers, especially in the rainfed areas;
- Ensure remunerative guaranteed prices for milk and its procurement for dairies and to supplement nutritional security through Mid Day Meal Scheme and Integrated Child Development Scheme etc;
- Waive off all outstanding agricultural loans of farmers from suicide affected families and provide special opportunities to children of such families;
- Protect the farmers from corporate plunder in the name of contract farming;
- Invest on farmers’ collectives to create Farmer Producer Organisations and Peasant Cooperatives instead of corporatisation of agriculture and takeover by MNCs; and
- Promote an agro-ecology paradigm that is based on suitable cropping patterns and local seed diversity revival, so as to build economic viability, ecologically sustainable, autonomous and climate resilient agriculture.