FARMERS HAVE BEEN battling many a crises, fighting against veritable difficulties. Historically, advancement in agriculture has often been equated with, and considered fundamental to, the progress of human civilisations. Hard human labour has made mankind what it is today.
Since the sons of soil had little option but to wrestle with Mother Earth to grow food if human beings were to survive, it became the vocation of choice for a large section of humanity.
Throughout the history of mankind, farmers had to wage many entrenched struggles against slavery and feudal systems, and their crusades continued well into the colonial and capitalist eras.
The farmers’ movement that has currently gripped our imagination has already achieved many successes in its relentless march. The first success lay in awakening the farming community and making them aware that the Centre’s new farm laws about agricultural marketing and contract farming were inherently skewed against the interests of the farmers.
If the maximum awakening on this front has been noticed in Punjab, then the credit for it must go to the farmer organisations in the state which organised the community at village level despite the very live threat of a deadly pandemic that had otherwise brought our lives to a grounding halt.
Also Read: Farmers’ Protests in Punjab — Through the Historical Lens of Social Movements
If the Centre had counted on a strategy to confound the farmers, a feat it had planned to achieve by selling the new farm legislations as some sort of reform measures aimed at helping the farmers, the farmers have successfully frustrated that design. They have understood that the freedom being bestowed upon them to approach and enter the free market heaven will eventually leave them in a lurch at the mercy of the profiteering market forces.
Having been ignited on the soil of Punjab, this awareness eventually permeated in Haryana and other provinces too, and has now resulted in the emergence of a wider front of farm forces.
If the farmers’ street has risen this time in Punjab, it is because the current agitation has behind it a historical legacy of farmers’ struggles in this region. These struggles have often escaped even the notice of those chronicling contemporary history but the rebellions of the sons and daughters of Punjabi soil have carved a unique place in the conscious as well as subconscious mind strata of the people. What else does the popularity of the saga of Dulla Bhatti denote?
These struggles resulted into a wider battle front during the times of Baba Banda Singh Bahadur, ultimately sounding the death knell of the feudal system in large swathes of Punjab. Many a historian has underlined that the essential nature of Sikh Misals was informed by farmers’ rebellion in the first place. Most of these Misals had their social base among farmers. Later, when they acquired territory and power, the feudal framework did re-emerge.
During the colonial rule, farmers were recruited in great numbers into the imperialist army and pushed into battles fought for the crown in remote regions. This was when the great farmers’ movements took root, be it the Pagri Sambhal Jatta agitation, the Muzhara Lehar of Baar or the Kisan Morcha of Amritsar, to name a few.
The social base of the Gadar Party, the Akali as well as the Babbar Akali Movement was also primarily the farming community.
In the immediate aftermath of Independence, the farmers were back at the trenches, as signified by the PEPSU Muzhara Lehar and the anti-Betterment Levy agitation (the 46-day-long Khush Hasiyati Tax Morcha, driven largely by communists), etc.
The ongoing agitation, while reinforcing the ownership of a proud legacy of historical battles against the rulers of the day, is charting a new course of farmers’ struggle, thanks to its anti-corporate and pro-people nature.
For the Centre, it is a déjà vu moment in one sense: the incumbent rulers have seen such an entrenched agitation and resistance for the second time. Before this, the anti-Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) agitation that had risen from the Ground Zero of Shaheen Bagh and had taken the country by storm, had breathed winds of democracy across the nation.
The farmers of Punjab had participated in this anti-CAA/NRC movement, too, sending a loud message that they stand ready to be part of any democratic nation-building warrior exercise.
Also Read: Punjab Protests Rattle the Centre
Due to the sudden intervention of Covid-19 pandemic, the struggle that wafted from Shaheen Bagh could not reach its logical zenith that it was expected to, but with this current agitation, the farmers have been able to send a clear message to the country and its rulers that in spite of the threat posed by a deadly virus, they understand that the dangers posed by a government hell bent on snatching the hard won rights of farmers and labourers were even more deadly. Ungodly rulers’ pandemics are deadlier than any godly plagues.
Let it not be forgotten that the Central government chose to legislate the statutory instruments to limit the rights of farmers and industrial labourers exactly when the pandemic was already upon us.
It is only due to the pressure exerted by the farmers’ agitation that the Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) was forced to snap its decades-old ties with the ultra-rightist Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP), and the Punjab Assembly passed its own legislation to counter the Centre’s anti-farmer laws. Other state governments, too, followed suit, thus upping the moral pressure upon the federal government, and, in the process, bringing into sharp relief that anti-federalism initiatives of the Centre.
Under the Indian Constitution, the prerogative of fashioning agriculture related legislation lay only with the provincial governments. The turf of agriculture produce and trade in food products fell in the concurrent Seventh Schedule that gives power to both, the Centre as well as the States, to exercise legislative options. In its garb, the Centre chose to legislate certain subjects and areas under agricultural production and marketing that directly affected the farming sector, a turf solely entrusted to the states in the Statute.
The farmers’ agitation has now underlined the unethical dimension of this legislative perversity. It is after a long hiatus that a people’s agitation has affected the polity in such a significant manner.
In these times of democratic reawakening, if an agitation has to truly become a people’s agitation representative of the broad-spectrum of society, then it will have to establish that its charter of demands is not limited to the interests of one particular class; it will have to understand that at the heart of such an agitation lies a striving for a more just, more democratic polity. It is towards this end that the farmers’ agitation will have to embrace many other classes, movements, aspirations, and struggles.
A people agitating against a government is their democratic right, but a government seen as opposing the people per se is undemocratic and unconstitutional.
The singular action of the Central government in not letting the goods trains run has led to the piling up of stocks in industrial towns of Amritsar, Jalandhar, Ludhiana and elsewhere. This has hurt not only the traders and industrialists in Punjab but has also wreaked havoc upon the labourers and small manufacturers.
The resulting scarcity of raw materials and coal has further fuelled this crisis. The unavailability of fertilizer stocks has added to the farmers’ travails. On November 21, the farmers met the chief minister of Punjab and, keeping in view the larger collective interests of Punjab, have agreed to no more blockade the goods or passenger trains. It is now incumbent upon the central government to use this opportunity to not only resume the railway services but also sit down with the farmers to find agreeable grounds and an amicable solution.
The farmers have fixed November 26 and 27 for a show of strength in Delhi as the next phase of the agitation. The Delhi Police has refused permission for the same and it is expected that the protestors will be stopped en route. While such hurdles might indeed succeed in stopping the hordes of farmers from proceeding to the power capital, how on earth does the government plan to quell the enthusiasm of a tidal movement?
As for the protestors, the most crucial challenge lies in maintaining the farmers’ unity. While the rulers are always on the lookout for inducing and creating fissures among the agitating hordes, the role of the farmer unions will now become even more decisive.
Before the farmers sit down with the government, they need to achieve a measure of clarity among themselves about minimal targets expected to be achieved in any such meeting, the objectives they plan to score and the minimal assurances and concessions that they must derive.
Any crack in the farmers’ unity can be fatal for the larger agitation. Hence, it is of utmost importance now that all the organisations involved learnt the significance of recognising and honouring each other’s contribution and finding common ground despite ideological differences. Organisational and personal egos have to be sacrificed on the altar of prudence to make tangible gains and push ahead with an agenda for the larger common good.
The farmers’ agitation has come as a ray of hope, giving people courage at a time when the pandemic had broken the spirits of large sections of humanity. If this agitation continued with its current momentum, then its democratic reach will go beyond even what its organisers can imagine at the moment. The current movement has become a symbol of Punjab’s sense of righteousness and ardour.
It has energised not just the farmers but the Punjabi society as a whole. The sons and daughters of Punjabi soil are not only participating in this current agitation but they are also fashioning their coming generations and the Punjabi collective consciousness for the much larger battles that lie ahead.
Also Read: Farm Laws and Farmers’ Concerns: What is the way out?
Therefore, the farmers’ unity is not only important for farmers, but has significance for the entire society. Those who are today cynical about this movement need to change their perspective. As the great poet Lal Chand Falak said, “ਐ ਫ਼ਲਕ ਤੂੰ ਵੀ ਬਦਲ ਕਿ ਜ਼ਮਾਨਾ ਬਦਲ ਗਿਆ।”
(We have refrained from translating the great poet, and encourage you to find someone to read it out and explain it to you. It’ll start a conversation, and that’s exactly the point. We need to start talking to each other about the farmer, the common man, his struggles, the collective Punjabi consciousness and about our democratic Republic. – Editor)
Read the original in Punjabi by clicking here.
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