Th. K P Singh
Thousands of farmers are camping on the roads leading to Delhi since the new Farm Laws have been passed by the Parliament in November 2020. They are in open and in the heat. This agitation is unprecedented because it started during much feared Corona Pandemic and added on. Rumours are rife about safety and security of the farmers and Delhi Metropolis. Ironically, neither the Kissan, nor the public and least the Govt seem to be serious about farmers demands and having any innovative idea or urgency of diffusing the situation. Hence what next? Though the agitation is getting lot of public and media attention, neither the Agriculture Minister nor the Prime Minister have appreciated merit in farmers demands and their miseries. Instead, the bureaucratic system is blaming the Opposition and the foreign hand in funding the Kissan agitation and by implication projecting it as antinational movement. Govt doesn’t acknowledge the fact that it is Govt which passed the laws which triggered the agitation. Opposition and foreign hands, if any, came later. Hence onus is on the Govt to diffuse the situation.
There is 24×7 TV debate on the new Farm Laws. A battery of highly educated/elite think-tank and Suit-Boot wearing gentry is constantly offering their views in support of these laws. The agitating Kissan(s) though also putting across their grievances, but are normally silenced by rapidly English speaking proponents of laws. I, as born and living Kandi farmer, totally dependent on agriculture for sustenance, wish to put across that a farmer is always at the receiving end. He has to go to such extremes to have his voice heard. Social movements and peaceful protests are an important part of healthy democracy. Besides articulating popular sentiments, they also mobilize positive energy and social solidarity. If dissent is not heard, anarchy shall prevail. Such culture in Panchayat Raj will be disastrous to the transformation in J&K.
70 % of country’s population is engaged in agriculture. Majority of farmers have meager land holdings. They are poor and debt ridden. Many of them commit suicide to get rid of miseries of unprofitable farming. They are less educated and live in primitive conditions in villages. Most of the other farmers are also debt-strapped. Their sons do not want to do farming. According to National Crime Records Bureau, 10,281 farmers committed suicide in 2019. Agrarian distress is a common sight. That made PM Modi to commit doubling the income of farmers by 2022. No one questions govt resolve but the way it is being done through the bureaucratic system is counter-productive. To start with, I will put the issue in perspective. J&K has received Crores from Delhi for Peasants, yet they are poor. Despite most of it going to Kashmiri peasant, he is also poor. His fruits and cottage industry/handicraft products are exempt from all taxes and their transportation to various Mandis of India are Toll exempt. He migrates to cities of India during winters to sell his products. Thirty-forty years back, Kashmiri peasant used to come to Jammu in winters as labour-force despite having been given land, by Dogra Rulers and Sheikh Abdullah. Even today Kashmiris are seen selling woolens and readymade garments outside Kashmir. It shows that Crores have not been able to change their destiny because of the existing systems of execution.
Coming back to J&K, Maharaja Hari Singh’s govt was paying MSP to the peasantry. Pt. Prem Nath Bazaz, President Kissan-Mazdoor Union, had expressed in written statement. “On his accession to the throne, His present Highness announced that his religion was justice. His love for Muslim subjects is sufficiently evidenced by his participation in Id prayers. Boons were announced relieving the peasantry, which is mainly Muslim, of some unpaid revenue arrears and granting them facilities in the matter of grazing land for cattle and transferring ‘Khalsa’ land to them. Only a few months back His Highness conferred further boons on the agricultural classes, remitting revenue arrears amounting to lakhs of Rupees and extending the Settlement from 20 to 40 years. He also took steps to relieve the indebtedness of peasant classes. Regulations were passed stopping all ‘Shali’ trade. The Grain Control Department of Kashmir has assured producer a fair price for the yield of his land and protected him form profiteering middleman whose speculation had given him a profit of over 200% at the cost of both the consumer and the producer. A sum f Rs. 12 lakh is disbursed annually in advance without interest to facilitate the payment of revenue by the peasantry”. When the BJP spokespersons tell us that Modi Govt has done so and so for the farmers, it is nothing new to the peasantry which remains in dire need of Govt support to fill state granary.
So far as Jammu is concerned, Jagirdari was abolished and land ceiling enacted by which Zamindar was left with 100 Kanals cultivable land and the tiller became owner of the rest. After that land of the farmer/tiller got divided among brothers and sisters over three generations. Hence Jammu farmer is not like farmers of other states. Mango fruit was a source of income for Jammu peasants. Outside inflow of fruits and govt apathy to local produce snatched away their source of income. 1 crore visitor come to Mata Vaishnu Devi Shrine. No fruits to cater to their/local demand. Where has 50% share of Jammu of Crores of yearly agriculture grants gone? Agriculture/animal husbandry subsidy is distributed to favourites. Poor farmer has no access to benefactors. Neither the politicians nor the think-tank has talked about it. How will the new farm laws benefit Jammu peasantry, particularly in Kandi and Pahari areas is illusory. No irrigation facility is planned for them. The much heard of ‘Kandi Canal’, is nowhere in sight. No private buyer will venture into non-productive Kandis. Jammu peasant sees no end to his struggle for survival. Farmers, who has to deal with revenue department, continues to be victim of corruption and bribery. No law talks about it. New laws do not talk about digitization of land records. Instead, Malik Sarkar/ Roshni Act Land’ cultivated by marginal farmers is being snatched from them. Their Girdwaris have already been cancelled. 2,900 Acre such land has been offered for industrialisation.
Majority of agitating farmers are Sikhs and from Punjab. Security experts, critics and analysts are associating them with Khalistanis. Unfortunately the govt and media is always focused on building sensational narratives, which deepen already existing divide in our society. But Kissan is as patriotic as soldier. Jai Jawan-Jai Kissan is our national slogan. The charge being serious, the trust deficit is also serious. That is the problem.
Rural Vs Urban stranglehold, to my mind, is the cause of standoff. Top economists of the country in NITI Udyog have made the laws. None of them is from a rural background or a son/daughter of a farmer. Farmers who debate the Farm Laws, on the visual media, are real farmers, look like one, and bring out practical concerns of the farmers but not being heard.
What will happen in the days to come is hard to predict. Systematic Rural vs Urban mistrust will haunt the outcome. Neither the Govt nor the farmers seem to have any intention of backing down. With increased suppression of dissent, finding a middle ground/solution to this crisis won’t be easy. Time the Hon’ble Supreme Court facilitates negotiations/solution.
(The author is Chairman of DSSP Kissan Cell).
Th. K P Singh