Shaktichakra, the wheel of energies

Culture and systems of knowledge, cultivation and food, population and consumption

Farmers’ protest and the shaping of public perception

with 2 comments

Rioting and violence took place in New Delhi on 26 January 2021, Republic Day, allegedly by members of the farmers’ groups that have since November 2020 been protesting the three farm acts (‘reforms’) that were passed through Parliament.

My reading of the day’s incidents in Delhi – the destruction of corporation commuter buses by tractors, the videos of the Indian tricolour being dishonoured and a Khalistani flag being hoisted in its place, scores of Delhi police being injured and hurt – points to the beginning of a signal shift concerning India’s perception of ‘farmer’.

The Samyukta Kisan Morcha – the umbrella organisation for the protesting farmers’ associations and groups – had for several days earlier said that the intentions of the movement were confronted from the outset by the central government which first stopped them from coming to Delhi, then by defaming the movement, using the Supreme Court to dilute the movement’s objectives.

It had for several days prior to today called for several events leading up to 26 January, such as a people’s ‘Kisan Sansad’ (farmers’ parliament), since the normal winter session of Parliament was cancelled.

The farmers’ organisations have been demanding a full repeal of the three recent agriculture related acts: the Farmers’ Produce Trade and Commerce (Promotion and Facilitation) Act, 2020, the Essential Commodities (Amendment) Act, 2020, and the Farmers (Empowerment and Protection) Agreement on Price Assurance and Farm Services Act, 2020. These have been dubbed the ‘APMC Bypass Act’, ‘ECA Amendment’ and ‘Contract Farming Act’ respectively.

The grave dangers to our systems of agriculture posed by these acts – individually, when read together, and when read against the background of legislation and policy over the last 20 years that has favoured the food industry over farmers – has been well written about and discussed in many fora and channels.

An example of the effects of changed perceptions about farmers

An example of the effects of changed perceptions about farmers

The new worry that has today come out of the shadows is that of perception: how the Indian citizen and particularly the middle-class urban citizen, considers the farmer. Until now the tone towards the protesting farmers’ organisations has been either neutral or somewhat supportive. This is so despite consistent efforts by the ruling BJP-NDA and its many forward cells in social media to paint the protesting farmers’ as ‘privileged’ by being beneficiaries of lavish subsidies, users of free electricity who don’t pay income-tax, incited by opposition parties, accompanied by anti-national groups and so on.

The Samyukta Kisan Morcha and the All India Kisan Sangharsh Coordination Committee represent some 130 farmers’ associations and groups that have come together in protest. The chief coordinating organisations are the All India Kisan Sabha and the Centre for Indian Trade Unions, both of which have studied and analysed the causes of agrarian distress in India since the mid-1990s (after liberalisation began in earnest in 1991) and which have consistently mounted campaigns to forestall the corporate take-over of crop cultivation and food distribution in India.

Placed on such a time-line, the protests against the three destructive new ‘reform’ acts of 2020 represent the latest stage of a continuum.

What has however happened is the hijacking of a legitimate protest and its expression by forces about which at this point I know very little, but whose agenda is revealed. The distance between especially India’s middle-class urban citizens and the sources of their food has only widened in recent years. As long as sorted, graded, cleaned and packed raw foodstuffs are available in local markets (or from online marts) little or no thought is given by urban India to farmers.

There is a residual respect (‘jai jawan, jai kisan’ was the slogan coined by Lal Bahadur Shastri, prime minister during 1964-66) that has continued to remain. If this residual respect continues to fuel sympathy for the farmer and his lot, then it also is a potential source of support to farmers’ organisations protesting further ‘reforms’. The previous term of the BJP-NDA, 2014-19, saw the introduction of a number of policy measures (called ‘reforms’) that taken together point to the intent to corporatise cultivation and the movement of harvested crop, to a much greater degree than is currently done.

Examples of mainstream media's reporting

India’s urban based mainstream media not only is removed from the concerns of the rural population but also is absent the experience to understand the cumulative impacts of nearly 40 years of neo-liberal economics on agriculture and food cultivation.

During the first term of the UPA government (2004-09), farming was seen as unremunerative and a drag on the growth rate of India’s GDP. This is a position held by central government planners and economics advisers that did not change during the two following governments (UPA2 and NDA2), both of which added laws and policy to accelerate the industrialisation of food, and which the current NDA3 government (from 2019) wants to further fast track. Hence the three disastrous ‘reform’ laws of 2020 have predecessors going back more than 15 years.

A commentary published three years ago had stated: “The government also expanded the definition of industrial corridors to include land up to one kilometre on either side of designated roads or railway lines serving these corridors. Organisations such as the AIKS had called for provisions to ensure acquisition of land to the extent required and legal safeguards for landowners. However, the rights of landowners and those dependent on land and community rights were all diluted and the basic tenets of transparency were ignored. Food security safeguards were done away with, and even fertile multi-cropped land and productive rain-fed land could be acquired without any restriction.”

Yet there is a series of hurdles that have come in the way of national governments since 2004 in their bid to justify and ram through farm and agriculture ‘reforms’. The hurdles are the conditions, created by poor policy and government’s subservience to the demands of Indian and foreign agritech industry, which from the early 1990s came to be called ‘agrarian distress’, which through the 2000s intensified as the national crisis of farmers’ suicides, and which during the last decade has taken the shape of an ‘unperforming’ sector that is seen as an albatross around the neck of an Indian economy but which is claimed to have great promise.

CITU statement

Part of CITU’s statement on the 26 January 2020 incidents.

The responsibility for the human and community consequences of India’s agrarian distress is the state’s, but none of the central governments from 2004 onwards has acknowledged it has such a responsibility.

Further ‘reform’ has been given a distinct shape and plan over the last four years. It includes encouraging (or coercing) the cultivators and agricultural labour to migrate with family to towns and cities, leaving behind their lands. It includes dramatically increasing corporate denominated farming (under contract) and corporate controlled collection, sorting and movement of food, instead of by farmers’ cooperatives and consumers’ cooperatives. It includes the plan to introduce genetically modified seed and crop. It includes the full conversion of human labour on the farm to automation (using GPS, internet-of-things, 5G, drones, real time remote sensing and robotics).

To begin to do this, the residual respect and fraying connect between urban consumer and farmer must be severed. This severance began on 26 January 2021, with the farmers’ protest movement being hijacked. The casualty will be the citizen’s regard for and trust in the farmer. That casualty will be exploited to offer to the citizen the ‘reliability’ of food that promises to be produced in an ‘agricultural reform’ regime, in which the farmer will have no place.

It is unclear to me as of now who the prime actors are of this hijacking and where the state’s interest is. India’s commentariat has little knowledge of the 30-year-old saga of agrarian distress. Its mainstream media has done everything possible to aid the demonising of the protest and has given no airtime worth the name to farmer representatives and coordinators. Both commentariat and media appear ignorant of the greater arena, that of the gradual outlawing of the hereditary farmer, and his systems of cultivation and crop management, from farming.

Written by makanaka

January 27, 2021 at 00:12

2 Responses

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  1. Government has started Soil Testing Lab Subsidy. Government is giving 75% subsidy on investment of Rs 5 lakh for setup of Soil Testing Lab.

    Sanjeev

    February 12, 2021 at 21:07

  2. Hi Admin,
    I was looking for some information on the Farmers protest this morning when I came across your
    excellent page
    What a fantastic list of resources!

    I actually just published a Power Page]on 13 Reasons why New Farm Laws are a Death Warrant to Farmers]:

    URL – https://www.jaagderaho.org/post/13-reasons-why-india-s-new-farm-bills-are-a-death-warrant-guised-as-reform-for-farmers

    It might make a good fit for your page.
    Either way, keep up the awesome work!
    Cheers,
    Pawanpreet Singh Gill

    Pawan Gill

    April 11, 2021 at 19:25


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