Farmers Defy Bullets and Pellets

Farmers observed ‘Black Friday’ on February 23 following the death of a 21-year-old protester Subhakaran Singh at Kharauni border. He is the first martyr of peasant agitation–2 under Modi’s authoritarian rule. At the time of writing farmers’ protest movement entered the thirteenth day. The situation at Sambhu and Kharauni borders is extremely tense with security forces resorting to tear gas shelling and lobbying water cannon as farmers tried to break the police barricades. Surprisingly this time they also used iron pellets to prevent the protesting farmers from crossing over from Punjab into the state of Haryana which borders New Delhi. People in this part of the country never heard of iron pellets being used as ammunition by police against civilian demonstrators. In the past such pellets have been mostly used in Jammu and Kashmir inviting condemnation from human rights bodies across the world. Pellet guns have blinded scores of people, mainly young, in J&K.

Despite repression, farmers stick to their decision to continue their peaceful march to Delhi. Meanwhile, Sanyukt Kisan Morcha [SKM), an umbrella platform of different peasant organizations announced a series of agitational programs, including a tractor rally on February 26 on highways towards the national capital and, a ‘mahapanchayat’ [grand general council meeting] at Ram Leela Ground in Delhi on March 14.

Four rounds of talks between the Centre and SKM failed to produce any agreement. It is unlikely that the fifth round will make a breakthrough because the Union Government is just buying time to see protesters get tired, frustrated, and jailed. They are also trying to divide the united movement. The farmers rejected the government’s proposal that its agencies would procure cotton, maize and pulses at minimum support prices (MSP) for the next five years. What about wheat and paddy? Wheat procurement season is round the corner.

While Modi is issuing so many ‘guarantees’ to different sections of society almost every day through gigantic advertisements in print and electronic media, his ‘guarantee’ managers don’t know what to offer to the protesting farmers so that they can be pacified. So they prefer strong-arm tactics to silence them. Farmers are not interested in Modi’s tall talk about 1,389 mandis-markets- and online marketing facilities. Nor do they attach any importance to his vague assurance of better prices for agricultural products through the ‘Beej Se Bazar Tak’ initiative. Farmers are demanding that their produce be procured at a reasonable minimum price. In 2021 agitators called off their strike after the government agreed to scrap the proposed farm laws and discuss other demands, including criminal cases against the protesters. Two years later they are back on the streets to remind the government of the promises made back then. Today in 2024 they feel they have been betrayed and cheated.

MSP apart they have other important demands that have remained largely unaddressed. They urged the government to waive their debts. How loans created a situation in which farmers were forced to commit suicide in thousands is known to everybody. The government virtually did nothing other than glorify some peasant leaders of yester years while awarding them Bharat Ratna posthumously.

Farmers say that those who sell fake seeds, pesticides and fertilizers should be penalized. But the government has so far done nothing---it is business as usual. They want the government to double the number of work days under the rural employment guarantee scheme to 200. Ironically, the government is curtailing the budget for rural guarantee work. Then they have one major demand which is supported by all shades of political left in India. They want the government to withdraw from the World Trade Organisation [WTO] and get rid of all free trade agreements. Modi being a darling of global right-wing politicians is unlikely to oblige peasants. After all farm policies are framed by corporates.

Instead of recognising the just demands of the farmers as a matter of their right to life and livelihood, Modi’s government is treating them as criminals and their peaceful movement as a law and order problem to be suppressed by bullets, iron pellets, water cannon, and even drones.


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Vol 56, No. 37, Mar 10 - 16, 2024