We Need To Stop Pointing Fingers at Protesting Farmers

The public has an erasable memory. It jumps from one gimmick to another in a matter of days. Once the boat has been rocked, it forgets about the previous gimmick. That has helped our politicians portray themselves as anyone they choose to, or adhere to their publicist’s suggestions on how they should act. They are nothing but chameleons, changing their colours to present new gimmicks to the nation.

In the last of couple of months, we have seen the prime minister organise nationwide gimmicks with no science to back them. The sole purpose of such gimmicks was to keep the middle class and wealth-holders of the nation entertained so that they don’t ask tough questions or read legislations closely. Amidst all the clattering of thalis and lighting of diyas, migrant workers suffered. They didn’t have food, money to pay rent and were ultimately forced to walk miles to their native lands – on the way to which, they were brutally beaten by forces for not obeying lockdown rules.

This time around, the victims of state oppression are farmers. The same farmers who form the backbone of the Indian economy. It’s not you or me – living in the cities, working well-paid jobs. It’s them who run the economy with their tractors.

Not long ago, in 2014, I remember the rallies of the same government rumbling with slogans like, “Bohut hua kisaano pein aatyachar, abki baar Modi sarkar”. Loud cheers and claps followed his bold statements and his glorification of the farming class. What is saddening is how easily the political class changes their position, and how lowly they think of the voters – us.

Did the farmers in their wildest dreams ever think that the same party would be hell-bent on passing legislations that might cripple their livelihoods? Did they ever imagine being brutally beaten by security forces for a peaceful protest in a democracy or to be made into villains in subtle terms by the media of the country they feed?

Despite the pandemic, the farmers are marching towards Delhi to protest against the decision of the government to pass three specific agricultural legislations. Their decision might sound wrong at the surface level considering the ongoing health crisis, but a deeper understanding of the entire issue indicates another crisis – the crisis of governance.

Also read: The Fate of Farmers

If you point fingers at the protest keeping the rising COVID-19 cases in mind, then you need to reconsider this logic. What about the marriage ceremonies thrown by ministers amidst lockdown? What about the rallies during recent elections? What about the religious ceremonies where there have been thousands of people in attendance? What about markets and other public areas?

The farmers are being blamed because their protest is against a decision made by the Indian government. They are being blamed because they are exercising their constitutional powers. No one wants to come out and protest, face brutality at the hands of security forces during a pandemic until and unless it’s about their lives.

At least try, even if you can’t, to look at the situation from their eyes. And see the reality at play – that India would rather acknowledge a hanging farmer than a sloganeering one.

So, why are farmers across India protesting? What’s there in these three farm laws that has them so agitated? The laws actually allows the farmer to approach and sell their products to private corporations and sign contracts with them. It also uplifts a former ban on stocking food items for making profit as traders and corporates now can do it under the reform. A farmer can now sell his product anywhere, to anyone.

But dealing with corporates with reserved teams of lawyers isn’t easy for a farmer, and even crucifying for a small scale farmer. They might be manipulated and forced to sign contracts which are not profitable for them. Also, casting aside the mandis which are regulated by state governments would mean that farmers have to deal with selling their products entirely on their own in a competitive marketplace.

The agricultural legislations will act as resurrecting a new Churchill in the form of corporates and big traders who now can legally hoard food to gain more profit without caring about a famine or malnourished children. They can sell all the food in one corner if the profit margins are higher. They can literally dictate the market.

And when some players can dictate the market or build some kind of a monopoly, there are higher chances of a widening gap between poor and the rich class. In it, the middle class is also not safe. Remember that.

Now, we need to decide. Do we need another Bengal Famine to understand the importance of a welfare state food policy or do we stand with our farmers and say ‘enough is enough’?

Sutputra Radheye is a poet and commentator who eats what farmers produce.

Featured image credit: Danish Siddiqui/Reuters