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Farmers’ march: Urban India finally registers farm distress

Citizens responded to farmers’ protests as disruptions in their daily lives, like traffic jams, an intrusion into their space

mumbai Updated: Nov 29, 2018 00:18 IST
Smruti Koppikar
Smruti Koppikar
Hindustan Times
Farmers march,Farmers protest,Mumbai farmers march
Farmers march towards Azad Maidan from Lalbaug area, demanding better compensation for drought and transfer of Forest rights to tribal’s in Mumbai. (HT Photo)

It was only a 37-second video clip. A distraught and angry farmer squatted on the floor of a mandi, coloured crates of agricultural produce behind him and a large mound of pomegranates to his right. He furiously grabbed two-three of these and flung them one by one to the floor, swearing at the situation in between tears of helplessness. He repeated this for minutes. He was perhaps minutes away from a breakdown.

“A farmer takes his anger out on his unsold pomegranates. No buyer in mandis even for ₹10 a kilo in Ahmednagar,” tweeted journalist Sayantan Bera with this clip a few days back. Earlier this month, a receipt from a mandi in Solapur popped into my social media feed.

A farmer had sold his onion crop of 1,890kgs for ₹1,681.50. His expenses were higher; he was left with a net loss of ₹548. Across mandis, such distress and rage are common as farmers return home with unsold stock or with less money than what they had spent on a crop thus deepening their debt trap, say farm activists.

The end of the road is, indeed, that for many of them. A staggering three lakh and more farmers have committed suicide in the last two decades. Farm widows is now a community; the women struggling bravely. Farmers’ suicides are but one aspect of the deep agrarian crisis across the country; when agriculture is in distress, the entire agrarian economy that sustains rural India takes a hit, as award-winning journalist-editor P Sainath, president of Swaraj India Yogendra Yadav and others tracking the issue tell us.

Stories of these suicides and distress should have shaken us in cities. But citizens responded to farmers’ protests as disruptions in their daily lives, like traffic jams, an intrusion into their space.

Metropolitans have just about woken up to the crisis, seen faces of poor farmers marching across flyovers and granite-and-glass skyscrapers. They began to ask questions about why farmers don’t even get a remunerative price for a crop and how they live — or not.

The national capital saw four major protests in the last 18 months. Today and tomorrow, lakhs of farmers from across India will gather at Delhi’s Ramlila Maidan for the ‘Kisan Mukti March’ to the Parliament. They want a special session of the Parliament to discuss their issues and pass two bills, The Farmers’ Freedom from Indebtedness Bill, 2018, and The Farmers’ Right to Guaranteed Remunerative Minimum Support Prices for Agricultural Commodities Bill, 2018.

Last Thursday, nearly 10,000 farmers-tribals walked in a two-day protest from Thane to Mumbai. Organised by the Lok Sangharsh Manch and supported by many political parties, they demanded higher minimum support price (MSP), adequate drought compensation, complete loan waiver, and forest land rights to tribals from the state government.

Nine months ago, Mumbai’s usual sangfroid was shaken a fair bit when 35,000 farmers and tribals had marched from Nashik, 180kms away, with the same demands.

The shift was perceptible this year as cities and citizens began to register farmers on their psyche, inquire how they could support farmers in distress (that video clip was retweeted more than 3,200 times, liked 3,700 times, and efforts are being made to verify his bank account), offer food and medical assistance to protesting farmers. Why a tabloid even began a weekly column on agrarian issues.

For the Delhi march, students from the city’s colleges, IT professionals from Chennai, lawyers, doctors and other urban professionals, even soldiers have lent their time, expertise and support at different levels; an informal forum called Nation for Farmers has been formed to mobilise and streamline volunteers.

The urban middle class, or certainly large sections of it, have plugged into the issue. Not stars of cinema and theatre whose contributions to farmers made news but common folk who made the space in their lives and thoughts for distressed farmers, for agriculture. India had 15 million fewer farmers between 1991 and 2011, Census surveys showed.

Economists and sociologists never tire of saying there’s India and then there’s Bharat, to signify the urban and rural. But India cannot survive and flourish — never mind the ITs and start-ups — unless Bharat does too. The agrarian crisis is, indeed, structural and institutional but urban solidarity won’t hurt.

First Published: Nov 29, 2018 00:18 IST