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A ‘coherent perspective’ on the dynamics of the farmers’ movement

BOOK REVIEW

THE JOURNEY OF THE FARMERS’ REBELLION
Authors: Various
Publisher: Ground Xero, Notes on the Academy, Workers Unity
Price: Rs 499 (paperback)/ Rs 549 (hardbound)

People’s movements at different periods of time, at home and abroad, have etched their own stamp, and as well have been able to change policies announced by the powers that be. The most recent memory of one such in our country is the farmers’ protest in 2020-2021. Farmers from across Punjab and Haryana marched to the national capital, joined by others later, and stayed on for 380 days, living in temporary tents, tractors, etc. braving water cannons, bitter-cold nights of north India and many more hassles. In the process, some died too but they hung on.

The trigger was the passing of three farm laws by the Central Government to ‘reform’ the agricultural sector allegedly under pressure of the World Trade Organization and agro-corporations. The resilience of the farmers surprised even the most cynical who wondered aloud  about the ‘motive’ and some sections of the  media hinting at ‘foreign funding’ stoking up the movement. Ultimately, the authorities had to back off and the three proposed laws were withdrawn.

This is regarded as a ‘success story’ of a people’s movement against powerful opponents in Independent India. Rightly so, when you recall a group of civil society organisations  and individuals writing  some time ago on the current situation, “…an overwhelming majority of  the farmers and workers, Dalits and Adivasis, women and religious minorities are facing… effective exclusion in the shaping of the nation’s future.”

The Journey of the Farmers’ Rebellion contains testimonials of participants in the 380-day journey. They are divided into four sections: Conversations with the Leaders of Farmer Unions, Conversations with Leaders of Agricultural and Rural Workers Unions,  Conversations with Leaders of Zameen Prapti Sangharsh Committee, and Conversations with Journalists, Economists, Political and Cultural Activists.

In the Foreword  the editors affirm  that the compilation is a “an attempt to bring to the readers a complex  yet coherent picture about what this farmers’ movement entailed, what it truly accomplished…” The idea of the book arose from the fact that from the very beginning of the agitation , Workers Unity began conducting a series of in-depth video interviews. Why not then compile them, even if seemingly disjointed, into a book and offer a “coherent perspective” on the dynamics of the farmers’ movement, one of the most notable for the Indian peasantry. The long interviews of different sections of people also delve deep into some of the inherent problems and lacunae within the farmers movement which should be recognised.

At the end of the movement, as farmers returned home after the prime minister announced withdrawal of the laws on 19 November, 2021, they left behind this scribble on a concrete pillar:

Teri chhati pe likh inquilab, O Delhi, hum ghar chale (inscribe on your chest inquilab, O Delhi, we are going home), which reflects more than anything the sense of satisfaction after months of struggle.

The book is an important document on the  peasantmovement in the country examining different aspects of the ground reality by different groups of stakeholders and should prove valuable for researchers, activists and  social chroniclers now and in the future.

Some of the testimonials:

“This movement has for the first time united the farmers of India with different ideologies, programmes, beliefs and organizational structures…this andolon for the first time focused on the issue of MSP [minimum procurement price] as the main issue of the farmers of India.” – Darshan Pal, president, Krantikari Kisan Union, organiser of peasantry in Punjab

“ The biggest issue among agricultural workers is that of landlessness… the women coming from families of agricultural workers, landless farmers, small farmers or families pushed out Dalit labourers from land are falling into the trap of private microfinance companies… the condition of agricultural workers is already bad. The new farm laws, if implemented, would have made it worse.” – Lachhman Singh Sewewala, general secretary, Punjab Khet Mazdoor Union

“It is only through movements that the caste barrier can break, but only if the movement is a common one… for example, the farmers’ movement against the three laws… agricultural workers do not own any land at all, so they did not join the farmers’ struggle in large numbers at the borders. After the laws were repealed and the farmers came back, they now taunt the agricultural workers, saying-you did not join us… the things they say are not nice. They are intended to hurt the Dalit labourers. How can you fight the WTO, the imperialist forces, if the mazdoors (workers) are not with you?” – Paramjit Kaur Longowal, zonal secretary, Zameen Prapti Sangharsh Committee, working with Dalit agricultural workers

“It is agreed that that even before the enactment of the three laws the situation was not good. … but these laws will surely further  deepen the crisis… there is going to be depeasantisation which, proving people’s anxiety true, will lead to increase  in labour, which in turn will lead to fall in real wages, further worsening the economic situation.” –  Prof Sukhpal Singh, economist, Punjab Agricultural University (prior to repeal of the laws)

(Reviewed by Ranjita Biswas, a senior journalist based in Kolkata.)

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