After continued tussle between Punjab and Central Government over the implementation of Direct Bank Transfers scheme, Punjab government finally gave in paving way for a reform that was awaited from a long time. The reform of direct bank transfers is progressive and no person disagrees from this. The scheme however has not been able to solve the procurement woes of farmers in Punjab and Haryana.
The procurement season in Punjab started from April 10th with FCI’s agencies announcing that procurement will be done at MSP price (₹1925/quintal ) for wheat. While the national newspapers and some economists are calling the DBT as masterstroke they are ignoring the realities of its ripple effect on Punjab’s farmers and Arthiyas.
Many Mandis in Punjab face the shortage of labour. The impact of DBT is such that farmers have come into direct confrontation with Arthiyas who after their meetings with Punjab govt’s food and supply minister Bharat Bhushan Ashu got the provision of knowing how much money is transferred to the farmers. Basic understanding of Procurement cycle points out that labour is an important aspect of transporting and loading the grain in Mandis. The arthiya ecosystem had its own chain of labourers who depended on Arthiyas & worked on contract basis. Labour Sarvesh Kumar tells me in Bathinda that his Arthiya used to tell him the jobs during procurement season & he was never unemployed during the season. He says now that Arthiyas are not picking up the grain from all farmers he isn’t as busy as he was during the last season. He says that now Arthiyas are not getting paid up front so the payment of labourers is also halted in most cases. “I am told that when farmer will make payment, it will be given to you.” He says. The crunch of labour is seen in almost all the Mandis of Punjab even on the 7th day of procurement season.
Fate of 40,000 Arthiyas
The major concern of Arthiyas is that they were not an illegal entity & were regulated by APMC that guaranteed payment to them. The Arthiyas association of Punjab has been vocal with Minister Piyush Goyal about their fate as well. It is interesting to understand that 92% of the Arthiyas are urban Hindus who have been running the show since ages in Punjab. With a Hindu government at centre treating them like some ‘illegal entity’ the Arthiyas community is disappointed. The Arthiyas have also given credit to many farmers and have no way of knowing when they will be paid back. Even though the interest rates might be debatable here but the fact that these people are concerned about losing their money cannot he ignored as well.
Even though Piyush Goyal clarified that farmers who cultivate on leased lands will be able to register as well, the concerns of farmers with respect to software don’t seem to end. The software requires farmer to register and upload his land details on the portal. This is an overhead task for the farmer who is busy in harvest of crop. The registration job as such has been taken by youth who charge farmers and register on the portal. The costs may not be very high ranging from 100/- to 150/- in some cases but the glitches in software have rendered some farmers helpless. When a farmer registers for his crop, he receives an SMs which acts as a gate pass for the Mandi. With glitches in software most farmers have not been able to receive the SMS causing confrontation at the Mandi gates. Another developing situation is about the banks included in the software. The software includes a list of 15 banks that are enrolled in DBT scheme. The farmers who don’t have their accounts in the listed 15 banks are faced with additional task of opening new accounts. Opening new accounts does cause problems for some farmers who have been black listed by banks either due to non payment of fines due to stubble burning or their earlier dues. This has put some farmers in jeopardy.
Shortage of Gunny bags.
Bharat Bhushan Ashu maintains that there is no shortage of gunny bags (also called as bardana) in Punjab but the millers and farmers face the regular shortage of gunny bags. The mandis in Fazilka used plastic bags for filling the grains. Punjab government even went to extent of notifying agencies that they can reuse the gunny bags. The shortage of gunny bags remains a concern when procurement season is on top.
Punjab and Haryana government have been vocal about the storage problems and have said that Mandis already contain the paddy that needs to be moved. The surplus paddy in the Mandis needs to be moved to make space for incoming grain. With shortage of space and labour as well the task of moving rice is becoming magnanimous. This has added to the woes of farmers sitting with their grain in the Mandi yards.
The procurement season in 2021 has been the slowest of all. Even though Punjab government maintains that last grain will be procured at MSP the situation on ground says otherwise. Many mandis in Punjab and Haryana are yet to start procurement of grains and no agencies are seen there. The scenes at Fazilka mandi for first five days saw no government agency for procurement. Similarly Mandis at Fatehbad have not seen any FCI agency for procurement even on the 7th day. The situation in Haryana is more or less the same. The slow procurement or no procurement at some places has made it hard for farmers to believe in any of the eye wash policies. The promise of payment within 24hrs also seems to make farmers disillusioned with DBT. Some farmers have not received the payment since last 240hrs.
While the schemes like direct bank transfer are indeed needed to make transactions transparent, the need of the hour is to remove the implementation roadblocks in the schemes without rendering livelihoods at the mercy of God. The concerns of Arthiyas need to be addressed because they are not an illegal entity, the concerns of farmers with respect to slow and sluggish procurement need to be addressed along with the issue in the software.
Central government enacted three farm laws last year in September leading to mass mobilisation of farmers starting from Punjab. The protests against the three laws have been going on since last 6 months now. With the commencement of procurement season, it becomes easy to analyse that the one of the laws on contract farming is not a reform as it has been advertised to the masses.
The fact that contract farming has been going on in Punjab is important in this context. The experiments of Punjab with contract farming barring those with involvement of government have been disappointing.
In a broader sense, the procurement by FCI is a form of contract farming. The contract is between farmers and the Food Corporation of India (FCI) on behalf of the government, and it has worked with the highest degree of effectiveness. Of the total production of around 365 lakh tonnes of paddy and wheat, almost 80 per cent is procured at the pre-determined Minimum Support Price (MSP) without any discrimination among farm-size categories. There is a similar mechanism in cotton, wherein the Cotton Corporation of India (CCI), on behalf of the government, enters the market as a buyer whenever the prices fall below the MSP. The procurement by the CCI helps to restore the prices and thereby checks to a large extent farmers’ exploitation by private players.
Similarly in case of Sugarcane the support price also called as SAP ( State Advised Price) is announced and sugar mills cannot pay less than this price. The contracts of these sorts have been in operation flawlessly making things easy for farmers.
The new claims or the advertisement of Contract farming is hollow because Punjab has experimented with PepsiCo India Ltd for potato and chilli. Other contract farming experiments have been with private players like Nijjer Agro Food Ltd, United Breweries Ltd, Satnam Overseas, Amira India Food Ltd and Sukhjit Starch dealing with crops like tomato, chilli, barley and basmati.
The claim that contract farming will lead to diversification is hollow as well. Now diversification is definitely the need of hour and no one runs away from it. But contract farming experiences tell us that Private Players are not interested in diversification at all. Private companies have never reached such a scale of contracting in any crop or commodity. Farmers are initially lured by the high prices of the produce. But once they opt for an expansion of area under the contracted crop leading to enhanced production, the farmers are offered, on many occasions, lower than the agreed prices by raising quality concerns without realising that not only quality but also the yield of agricultural produce are dependent on unpredictable environmental factors over which the farmer has no control. Often, the promise of higher profitability to the farmer falls flat, discouraging him from continuing the partnership with the contracting companies. Contract farming by the private sector is also accused of mostly favouring the medium and large farmers and being far from being inclusive.
While government is shifting its accountability for diversification to the private players, the experience of farmers tells us that private players are not interested in that long battle as well. This has led to increasing pressure on small landholders in the past resulting in ‘big getting bigger’. The small farmers eventually lose out in this battle even if they compete with all their credit and resources available to them.
It is widely understood by all that if at all diversification has to take place it will only take place once farmers are aided by large-scale involvement of farmers’ aggregators like farmer producer organisations or companies. There is also a need to legally ward off the apprehensions of the farming community that big corporates may demolish the established input and output market channels in the long run and start dictating terms to the poor farmers who have little bargaining power in the market. Thus, while attracting private capital investments in production, processing and marketing of high-value agriculture, the associated adverse socio-economic implications must be avoided.
Year 2020, October- The district administration issued a 3D notification to acquire the required land of 1485-acre in Phillaur, Nakodar and Jalandhar-II Sub Divisions for the Delhi-Katra Express way project. The Delhi-Katra Expressway would have around 68 Km length in Jalandhar consisting 29 Kms in Phillaur and Jalandhar-II and 10.09Km in Nakodar.
The project costing over 35,000 crore is estimated to be completed before 2023 and will connect holy places of Amritsar, Katra and Delhi. In addition to this it also passes through Kapurthala and Jalandhar. The project in its essence looks good on paper but when you look at the route map and impact on the stakeholders (ie the people who will give land), the cards start to tumble.
The Expressway will pass through 11 districts including Patiala, Sangrur, Ludhiana, Jalandhar, Bathinda, Kapurthala, and Gurdaspur among others, acquiring around 16,000 acre of land – majority of it farm land – which would include land of 35 villages from Jalandhar and 37 villages from Kapurthala.
Problems with the project.
The farmers believe that for the lands acquired in 2013-14, people were given compensation of around 1-1.5 crore per acre. And now the compensation is mere 9.7 lakh per acre. The farmers under the banner of KIsan Sangarsh committee said, “They are looting our land. With measly compensation and no land in hand, unemployment would increase,”
The inadequate compensation is not the only problem surrounding the infrastructure project. The issue has been ignored by government since the protests started in October 2020. The constant denial of protests led farmers to approach the apex court for their voices to be heard.
Advocate M C Dhingra, appearing for five farmers and ‘Bharat Bhoomi Bachao Sangharsh Samiti’, told a bench of Chief Justice S A Bobde and Justices A S Bopanna and V Ramasubramanian that lakhs of poor farmers from Haryana, Punjab and Rajasthan, whose land was being acquired for the 650-km road project, were agitating in a peaceful manner since January 15 demanding a dialogue for fixing adequate compensation.
The petitioners said the National Highway Authority Of India (NHAI) had violated the provisions of the Right to Fair Compensation and Transparency in Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation and Resettlement Act, 2013, to cause wrongful loss to farmers affected by acquisition of their land for the NH project
Another major issue with the project is that it splits the farms into two pieces in many villages leading to issues of irrigation, and new tube wells for the parts. This also introduces the issues of underpasses and over passes which are not mentioned in any of the documents. The farmers believe that NHAI will leave once the highway is complete and these issues will destroy the livelihoods of farmers. Farmers in at least 12 villages face the issue of bifurcation of their farm lands.
The farmers carried on their peaceful protests since October 2020 and were not even heard until March 2021. The first meeting with Vijay Singla was held after farmers had blocked the patiala highway and were marching towards Captain Amrinder Singh’s house. The farmers were lathicharged after which they decided to set up a Morcha on the patiala Highway. Around 300 farmers had set up tents which were taken off only with the assurance that talks will be held between farmers and govt. The talks with Singla haven’t resulted in any concrete resolution of the issue and farmers led by various farmer groups are still protesting against the construction of highway.
The latest development in the Highway row has been the meeting of Nakodar Akali MLA Gurpartap Wadala met NHAI chairman Dr Sukhbir Singh Sandhu on 27th March 2021.
The MLA said Dr Sandhu assured that if the land of the farmers gets bifurcated, they would be provided a right for passage for water from their pump sets on one side of the road to the other side. All link roads and cart roads would also be given underpasses or right of way for maintaining connectivity as before. MLA also said that Sandhu has assured him of fair price to the farmers.
Farmers meanwhile are strong in their protests and only hope to strengthen their agitation further. Prabdhyal Singh, District president of KSC from Kapurthala, accused the government of playing at the hands of the corporates. “The government recently reduced collector rates so that they can convince the masses that the compensation given to us is sufficient. All this to benefit the corporates. This is done under proper planning. We will not give an inch of our land.”
It remains to be seen if the farmers will be heard and their genuine grievances addressed to carry on the development work without impacting the livelihood of people or will the government continue to live in denial on this issue as well.
The general house of the Shiromani Gurdwara Prabandhak Committee met under the presidency of Jathedar Mohan Singh Nagoke on March 9, 1946 at the S.G.P.C. headquarters, Teja Singh Samundri Hall, Amritsar. This meeting was attended by 80 elected members of the S.G.P.C.
Sardar Basant Singh of village Kukkar proposed the following resolution:
“The present political state of affairs in the country hold out ominous portents for all nations, including the Sikhs. In view of the revolutionary changes which are occurring in the country and realising the need to protect Sikh identity:
A. The Shiromani Gurdwara Prabandhak Committee (S.G.P.C.) declares that the Sikhs are a nation; B. This general house of the S.G.P.C. considers it imperative to have a Sikh state to preserve the main Sikh shrines, Sikh social practices, Sikh self-respect and pride, Sikh sovereignty and the future prosperity of the Sikh people.
Therefore this house appeals to the Sikh people to endeavour to achieve the goal of a Sikh state.”
The aforesaid resolution was seconded by S. Amar Singh Dosanjh. He said that under the present circumstances, the establishment of a Sikh state is necessary for the protection and propagation of the Sikh religion. He further opined that Sikhs are a nation and possess all the attributes of nationhood. He emphatically stated that any attempt to dub the Sikhs as a branch of a Hindu tree is an attempt to denigrate our separate identity and a ploy to assimilate us into the vastness of Hinduism. The Sikh people cannot progress and prosper as slaves of another nation. Our numerical minority cannot be hindrance to the formation of a separate Sikhs state. We are entitled to the same share as that of the majority community.
S.Gurdit Singh of Jhang Maghiana said that the resolution with the approval of the Sikh Sangat should be put forward in the next meeting.
S. Gurdial Singh Rajoana extended his support to the resolution.
S. Sohan Singh Jalal Usram, S. Wazir Singh Montgomery and S. Santa Singh Bhangali said that this important resolution must be put forward only with the approval of the Sikh Sangat.
Speaking in favour of the resolution, Giani Kartar Singh said that soon discussions and deliberations are to take place regarding the new political status of Hindustan and therefore such an important issue must not be postponed. The considered opinion of the S.G.P.C. must be formulated and circulated among the Sikh national leadership. Our idea and conception of the Sikh state is clear and unhindered. Sikhs are a nation, as such the Sikh people and the clean-shaven with shorn hair are the only two nations. It is crucial to have a territory wherein Sikhs can live freely and be masters of their own destiny.
S. Kartar Singh Jhabbar also gave his consent to the resolution.
*The Resolution was put to voice vote and was unanimously passed by show of hands.
(- SIGNED -) S. Beant Singh, Member Jathedar Mohan Singh Nagoke, President S. Amar Singh Dosanjh, Member J. Gurdit Singh Jhang Maghiana, Member Gurdial Singh Rajoana, Member S. Sohan Singh Jalal Usram, Member Wazir Singh Montgomery, Member S. Santa Singh Bhangali, Member
The opposition parties in Punjab Assembly session have raised important points and data about the attachment of lands of farmers by banks. Even though the data is not wide and from across the Punjab it still is very alarming.
The disillusionment with Green Revolution started in around late 70s when the benefits of this ‘marriage of science and politics’ started showing its ill effects like depletion of water table, excess presence of pesticides in the soil, loss of nutrients from soil, and the most important of all ‘the need to mechanise’ agriculture at the pace which resulted in engulfing small and medium scale farmer in vicious cycle of debts. In this comprehensive research piece that I complied with the help of experts at PAU (Punjab Agriculture University), I take a look at cause, consequences, the broken families and how the three laws do nothing to address the situation.
There is no doubt that Punjab’s farming is very capital intensive with the highest tractor density (68 per 1000ha net down area) with every third farming household owning a tractor. And these tractors are under-utilised at much larger scale in small farms (77%) as against (50%) and (30%) in medium and large farms. Even electric motors and diesel pumps, which number more than 11lacs in the state are grossly under-utilised in small farms (16% and 84% respectively) as against the overuse of electric motors to the extent of 11% on both medium and large farms and underutilisation of diesel pumps to the extent of 67% and 38% in small and large farms respectively. The machinery cost that accounted for 21% of the operating cost in 1992 has now gone to 32% in 2020-2021. This indicates over capitalisation of small farms in the state which has led to higher cost of cultivation due to fixed cost component.
Many activities such as motor burnouts, tubewell deepening, electric connection activation cost a lot of money. For example motor burnout costs in Punjab for marginal farmers is 10% of their gross farm income and it is 7% in Haryana. Most analysts don’t take these factors into account because they haven’t really stepped into a field and as SFJ the policy makers are more or less unaware about these costs of agriculture. This has led to non availability of institutional credit for these purposes which throws the farmers into the clutches of any other means of credit. In this case the commission agent or the arthiya becomes the necessary evil. The new laws no where take these factors into account to eliminate middle men. None of the clauses in the laws talks about institutional credit for farmers and analysis of cost factors.
There is no doubt that the seasonal crop Loan limits for different crops are inadequate to meet the higher and increasing cost of production( meeting only about 60% credit needs in top most states like Punjab, MP, Haryana). This gap of 40% is the cause that pushes farmers into whirlpool of the debt cycle. Also seasonal payments in the institutional sources of loans before availing fresh loans for new seasons makes it hard for the farmer to save or retain any money even if the crop is sold at Minimum Support Price or higher than that. (Only 2% cases of higher sale than MSP in 2020)
The compromise for small or marginal land holders in Punjab therefore is to grow the crops that have assured MSP procurement (wheat and Paddy) and do some dairying to support their livelihood. Small farmers are therefore leasing out lands to large farmers or the non cultivating section of people to meet their ends. This phenomena in Punjab is ‘reverse tenancy’. Reverse tenancy however comes at a cost for the small farmer. This not only decreases the landholding for small farmer but also puts him under additional pressure to end the lease when his economic conditions improve. This cycle cannot be seen as dangerous until we couple it with need to mechanise for the part that is not leased out or being cultivated by farmer himself. In most cases the small farmer leases out to either repay the loan instalments or to support family urgencies like marriage or illness. Leasing is preferred over non institutional loans. The new laws do not address this problem of small farmers at all.
The matters are made worse with crop failure (19% of the suicides) for which generally there is no relief at all (not even in the ‘reforms’), high cost of modern inputs (30%). These two factors alone contribute to almost 50% of the suicides in Punjab. Crop failure has resulted in making entire region of cotton belt as widow zone because cotton crop required high priced market inputs.
Now there is something called as non farming credits. It has been observed by all economists that marriages and illnesses are met with high interest private debt which often push families into poverty. There are serious questions raised by everyone in this regard. Farmer unions have time and again announced that marriages be done in simplistic manner but most farm unions and state policy makers often fail to highlight that it is due to non availability of consumption credit by institutional mechanisms that leads farmers into the hand of private money lenders. A classic example and very common one is that of bank loan funded new tractors being disposed off in second hand market immediately after purchase to arrange cash for functions like marriage, paying off old debts, illnesses etc. The recent suicide of father and son in Punjab made news. Father son duo availed a loan to buy a tractor which they hoped to sell in second hand market to pay off the instalments of their already existing loan. The failure to find a buyer in current scenario and constant harassment by the banks & attachment of small plot of 2ha resulted in both of them committing suicide leaving behind two widows and family of 5 to support. The new laws don’t change any of this.
Some economists with no standing of the ground issues have often argued that the cause of suicide be the immediate one & not the indebtedness of the farmer. This is erroneous assumption and also a horrendous one. The debt related suicides are often prompted by family issues, alcoholism, loss of respect in society, visits by the collection teams etc. Another horrendous assumption made is that farmers don’t sell land so indebtedness is not the cause of death, this again is very stupid and misread assumption because most indebted farmers either don’t have control of their land or consider selling land equivalent to death. The recent data on attachment of lands of farmers in Punjab is rather alarming. More than 60,000 farmers in Punjab have got notices due to non payment of their first instalment. This number is higher than 60,000 but the reported one as per private survey of opposition parties in Punjab reads it as 60,000. More than 400 farmers have received notices of land attachments by Punjab National Bank and State Bank of India. This data again is of only two banks and will be higher if all banks and non institutional credit agencies are taken into account. More than 83,000 farmers have been fined for failing to pay their seasonal instalment. More than 1lac 20,000 farmers have been red listed or barred from availing fresh loans on machinery.
The broken families of Punjab and role of women.
The extent of indebtedness and farmers taking recourse to suicide leave thousands of fatherless families with the entire burden on the women folk to raise children and support the families. In my discussions and research I have found the following cases that are worth noticing on how women support the families after men are gone.
In Ferozpur there was a suicide in Nov 2008, the family faced constant harassment by bank agents and private money lenders. Constant harassment, education of children, etc used to worry Baljit singh. Baljit singh had his children removed from private school to government school. The prospect of marrying three daughters kept him stressed. Baljit Singh consumed pesticide at his farm on 8 Nov 2008.
Balwinder Kaur and Kuljit Kaur two neighbors in Mansa sold their lands 2ha and 1.5ha respectively in 2010 to pay the remaining loan amount after their husbands committed suicide on the same day by jumping into canal. The women earn their livelihood and support their children by selling milk and doing tailoring work at boutique. Many important factors contribute to further worsening of situation when men leave because women do not undertake the jobs like being a maid in the same village. Kuljit kaur for example goes to a different village to work as maid for rich farmer.
There is need for pushing better irrigation systems as recommended by Swaminathan report. The micro irrigation programs need to be subsidised because the current system is unsustainable and will only act as black hole for farmers money pushing them into debt. And no the new laws don’t talk about it.
There is institutional decay when it comes to agri finance leading to vacuum which pushes the farmers into debt cycle. The need of the hour is to reform the agri finance sector by more cooperatives and widening the scope of consumption and non consumption loans.
There is dire need to unmark the farmers from the black lists that institutionalised credit centres have maintained. These black lists are clear methods of pushing farmers into the clutches of private lender and arthiyas.
Mechanisation of agriculture means nothing if there is no impetus on diversification of crops. The diversification as argued by many economists is not the responsibility of the farmer. No program by central government has made its journey half way when it comes to diversification. There is need for heavy subsidies and financing for diversification to make farmer feel safe. The new laws don’t do it in any way. The new laws take away the safety of MSP from farmers pushing them to fight the diversification fight alone (without govt accountability) and worse with the preying eyes of corporations ready to take away the lands of dying farmers.
Suicide is not an individual act, it is clear indication of failure of state policies and economic mechanisms that are dictated by global policies without on ground knowledge. Farmers suicides in Punjab are just tip of an iceberg indicating the plight of millions of cultivators across the nation. The current reality is a grave indicator of the changes that need to be brought in the state and financial institutions. The peasant movement of 2020-2021 is a step forward in highlighting the condition of peasantry in the country.
Nodeep Kaur and Disha Ravi’s arrests have once again proved that India is no land for female activists. The space for dissent in Narendra Modi’s India is narrowing every single day but history of India tells us that irrespective of who was in power at Delhi, nation was never kind to its female activists. As Nodeep Kaur and Disha await their bails, let us take a look at how some of the female activists have been treated in India.
Gauri Lankesh was tall and unapologetic journalist who highlighted the bads of Hindutva. She had started her own ‘Gauri Lankesh Patrike’, a Kannada fortnightly. In the times of fake news and sold out media, Gauri painstakingly ran a newspaper in the local language without any advertisement revenue, and while the champagne-sipping urban elite talk of dissent in only English-speaking exclusive panels, Gauri was a staunch critic of right-wing Hindutva politics and this brought her under the radar of right wing lynch mobs. She was shot by Parashuram Waghmore who even claimed that he killed Gauri to save his religion. The religion that survived the Mughal invasions, British Colonisation felt threatened by a woman activist goes on to tell the narrative building against the women activists in India.
Natasha Narwal and Devangana Kalita of Pinjra Tod
Two female activists Natasha Narwal and Devangana Kalita who run Pinjra Tod (an NGO that talks about hike in hostel fee of colleges) were arrested for being part of anti CAA protests.
Kalita is an MPhil student at the Centre for Women’s Studies at Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU), and Narwal is a doctoral student at the Centre for Historical Studies at JNU.
Both were arrested multiple times during anti CAA protests. Natasha was even stamped with UAPA. Nothing could be proven against the two girls and were given bails but not before they were harassed and assaulted in Police custody.
Soni Sori is a lesser known name in the urban circles of India. Sori is an Adhivasi activist and talks about land grabbing of tribals by corporates. She was arrested in 2011 by Delhi police on charges of acting as a conduit for Maoists. During her imprisonment, she was tortured and sexually assaulted by Chhattisgarh state police. By April 2013, the Indian Courts had acquitted her in six of the eight cases filed against her due to lack of evidence. After release from prison, Sori began campaigning for the rights of those caught up in the conflict between Maoist insurgents and the government, in particular criticising police violence against tribespeople in the region.
India is the last place to be a woman and if you are a Muslim woman activist it sure is close to hell. Safoora Zargar, an MPhil student in Jamia University is an activist from Kishtwar in Jammu & Kashmir. She was very vocal anti CAA protests and led the protests at Shaheen Bagh. She was arrested and detained during her pregnancy amid covid pandemic. She was constantly vilified by media and narrative was built around her personality that she was an instigator of violence in Delhi. She was kept in prison and got bail after humanitarian organisations took cognisance of her pregnancy and arrest. Her character was assassinated by verified profiles and leaders of the ruling party. Safoora continues to raise her voice for the oppressed even today.
Arundhati is the most feared woman activist by right wing government. She has been very vocal in highlighting the army excesses in Kashmir including the rapes and extrajudicial killings in Kashmir. She has been centre of attention for years now. Multiple FIR’s have been filed against her for standing with oppressed Kashmiris. Top leaders of right wing like Subramaniam Swamy have been spewing Hate for Arundhati Roy.
Inderjit Kaur spent 45 months of her life in Jodhpur jail after she was arrested from Golden temple post operation Bluestar. Inderjit Kaur was an activist and worked effectively for orphans in Punjab. When she was arrested, she left behind a one-and-a-half-year-old son and three elder daughters. During her 45-month detention she met her son only twice. “Till a month back I was not sure whether I would see my children ever again,” Inderjit was harassed and abused in detention.
Gulfisha, 25, an MBA student, who was arrested by the police on April 9 2020, but continues to languish in judicial custody “without proper access to her family or lawyer”. The only fault of Gulfisha was that she addressed the anti CAA protestors at Seelampur area.
In addition to Safoora, Gulfisha and Pinjra Tod activists many other female activists were harassed and troubled by police. For example- Police seized the phones of AISA activist Kawalpreet Kaur and arrested many others.
Sudha Bharadwaj is a trade-unionist, activist and lawyer who has lived and worked in Chhattisgarh for over three decades. Part of the vibrant labour movement that began in the iron ore mines of Dalli Rajhara. Sudha is an active member of the Chhattisgarh Mukti Morcha (Mazdoor Karyakrta Committee).She has fought hundreds of cases for the most exploited of contract workers across the factories of Chhattisgarh. Her deep empathy and relentless pursuit for justice made her a lawyer for and of the people of Chhattisgarh. She is also a prominent civil rights activist, and has been served as the General Secretary of PUCL Chhattisgarh, is the founder of Janhit (a lawyers collective), a founding member of the Chhattisgarh Bachao Andolan (CBA), a member of the Indian Association of People’s Lawyers (IAPL), and Women against Sexual Violence and State repression (WSS).
Sudha was arrested on Aug 28, 2018 in connection with Bhima Koregaon case. She was stamped with UAPA. The Pune police filed a chargesheet against Bharadwaj in 2018 claiming that some documents were recovered from her co-accused which mention her activities and prove that she is an ‘active member’ of banned organisation CPI (Maoist). But now that Bhima Koregaon Case has taken new turn with evidence that material was planted in phones, it has further exposed the state and its iron fist against the women activists.
Sunitha Krishnan is a social activist and chief functionary and co-founder of Prajwala, an NGO that rescues, rehabilitates and reintegrates sex-trafficked victims into society.
Krishnan has been physically assaulted 14 times and she receives regular death threats. She says that a Sumo van once deliberately rammed her auto rickshaw but she escaped serious injury. She was again fortunate to escape injury when acid was once flung at her. Good fortune saved her a third time when she was the target of a poisoning attempt. Krishnan says that these assaults have only steeled her resolve to carry on her crusade against human trafficking.
In 2012, an RTI activist led an attack on one of Prajwala’s transition centers in Kalapather. A mob of young Muslims with posters and printouts of Prajwala’s website staged a dharna in front of its school. The media picked up the story, presenting one-sided information, insinuating that Prajwala had been defaming Muslim women in order to access foreign funds. Hundreds of Muslims came to attack the centre with swords, chains and stones. Their leader declared loudly that he would kill Krishnan and “cut her into pieces”. He also threatened to close all her other centers.
The list of women activists who have been stopped from doing their job is very long and ever increasing one in India. One can start with the detention of Harjee Malik in 1984 and conclude with rape threats to 8yr old climate activist Licpriya Kangujam in 2021.
Farmers across the country are protesting against the three farm laws that were brought by right wing BJP government by bypassing constitution. The laws not only are regressive but also open back doors for exploitation of farmers at the hands of corporations. Farmers protest like all massive organic movements that have taken place in india started from Punjab. It was unthinkable for anyone to march to Delhi under Narendra Modi’s regime but punjabis did and by doing this they inspired lot of people leading to cracks in the Hindutva agenda.
Hindutva by definition means ‘Hindu that resists’, however it is exactly the opposite of what it is supposed to be. The main goal and common sentiment binding all ‘Hindutvis’ is the hate for minorities (including Muslims, Sikhs, lower castes, Christians and basically anyone who questions the system.). Many political thinkers are often seen concluding that Hindutva is not a recent phenomena and has nothing to do with otherwise very tolerant and peaceful religion of Hinduism. Historically, Hindutva has been used by one and all irrespective of their party lines. Mahatma Gandhi is often misunderstood and seen as secular figure by many, but the truth is that Gandhi like many others advocated for Hindu Rashtra. Gandhi disliked the minorities and his bias for Sikhs is common knowledge among well read Sikhs. Indira Gandhi who is used as a devilish figure by current regime was once referred to as goddess Durga for her ways of dealing with Sikhs. Rajiv Gandhi was hailed by RSS and was given popular support after carnage and genocide of Sikhs. The popular mandate of Rajiv Gandhi in 1984 elections was due to ‘Hindu Saver’ image that he had managed to carve for himself using RSS and Hindu organisations. Historians often conclude that the current day Hindutvis are remnants of congress of those days. This conclusion might be slightly controversial but it fits very right.
Methods and how Hindutva is losing
1. Centralised Control Of India Vs Farmers Protest
One of the major goals of this government is centralisation of everything. This gives the government led by Modi a very tight control of each and every state thereby making him an absolute master of policies. The efforts in this direction started the day he came to power. ‘One Nation-One Everything’- resonates well with the people who have committed themselves to the cause of Hindu Rashtra but this comes at the cost of bypassing constitution of india that has laid framework to preserve the federal structure and has given rights to states.
The three farm laws are seen as direct attack on the federal structure of India. It is directly seen as violation of state rights to frame laws on agriculture. Narendra Modi and the BJP government had not expected any state to question the basics of framing the law but Punjab did it and then followed UP, HR, MP, MH and many others. The government has even gone to the extent of offering the state wise implementation of the laws which farmer unions have rightfully rejected as well. The farmers have managed to bring the bandwagon to its knees on this part.
Hate machine Vs Farmers Protest
As per political understanding goes, no political party in India aims to be like Congress of 1980’s. And this in context of Sikhs means that no party is willing to fire gums directly on Sikhs. The hate machine that targets Muslims since 2014 onwards by publicly lynching them, promoting hate against their religion, culture or customs, questioning the integrity of Muslims has largely been unsuccessful in doing so with Sikhs. Please don’t assume that there is some love reserved for sikhs, there is none, no one who comes in the way of Hindutva is spared and so for Sikhs alternatives have been devised. Sirdar Kapur singh alerted the Sikhs back then about the nefarious designs of government. The playbook involves creating a section of Sikhs who portray themselves to be nationalist in public & question the panthic narratives. This section of Sikhs is more than happy to be called as Hindus and work in hands with RSS for assimilation of Sikhs. Please understand it in this way, if Sikhs are convinced to be Hindus, there is no obstacle to the goal of Hindu Rashtra. These Sikhs are then used to vilify Muslims or other minorities using history of Sikhs. Muslims are portrayed as tyrants to these gullible sikhs who often end up as assets to the Hindutva.
Farmers protest has dented this very notion of Hindutvis that Sikhs are Hindus. This is the reason of desperation and helplessness among many organisations and RSS. Farmers have been able to counter the hate against Muslims by proudly having them in the protests, giving them opportunities in the sewa. Muslims have expressed solidarity and support for the farmers across the nation. Kashmiris who often suffer excesses at the hands of Indian army have expressed solidarity with the farmers knowing that most of these farmers have been part of that very army as well. This is the level at which farmers protests are bringing down the barricades of hate. Hate is the major tool for advocates of Hindutva and farmers protests are bringing it down brick by brick.
3. Internal matter Vs Farmers Protests
If you analyse any of Narendra Modi’s speeches in the US, or any other nation he toured, he has very clearly maintained the secular and diverse image of india. Narendra Modi’s government has portrayed itself to be very secular in its policies as well by using taglines like ‘Sab Ka saath, sab Ka vikaas’, it is however no surprise that reality is far from it. The government maintains an image using diplomacy that nothing wrong is happening in india. The only government that felt more triggered about foreign press was that of Indira Gandhi.
Farmers protest has given very bad press to Narendra Modi’s government. Farmer voices have been amplified by vast Sikh Diaspora all across the globe leading to noise on social media thereby ushering support from celebrities across the globe. The counter for Hindutva which is already on its knees was to deflect the entire external support to farmers as hate against the nation, India, this shift of bad press aimed against Modi and his government to India has been done strategically by government using its Bollywood celebrities. The desperation and weakness clearly evident.
The fissures in Hindutva agenda are widening every single day. The farmers protest may have well begun as revolt of peasantry against policies of government but it certainly has awakened lot of people against the totalitarian nature of Hindutva. The loss of BJP in Punjab in Muncipal and Nagar Panchayat elections is clear evidence of outright rejection by the masses. Farmers protests have brought together people across caste lines creating further voids in the Hindutva bandwagon. The state rivalry between Punjab and Haryana was used by one and all in power at Delhi to reap votes, Farmers Protest has eliminated all differences between the states and its people. Any extremist group or ideology feeds on hate, differences between people, religious differences, history of communities, and farmers protest has been able to counter all of these very effectively.
Farmers Protest has entered 87th day and is going strong on the four borders (Ghazipur, Singhu, Bahadurgarh and Shahjahanpur)of Delhi. Farmers are protesting against the three farm laws which were brought by BJP’s Indian government during pandemic by bypassing the parliamentary protocols and constitution as well. Farmers are also demanding implementation of Swaminathan report to ensure fair and minimum support price for their crop.
Farmers protest has entered a vital stage as sowing season approaches in the states of Punjab and Haryana. The number of farmers agitating on the borders of Delhi has remained fairly significant since last 87 days with the exception of 27th Jan when farmer numbers dwindled a little bit.
It is grassroots movement in Punjab that has been building up since last two decades due to disillusioned peasantry. None of the governments at the centre or the state have done anything more than the eye wash policies and reforms. Farmer suicides are all time high in India and Punjab is no exception to it. The natural resources are declining at an alarming pace coupled with inflation resulting in ever consistent debt on farmers. The Central government is presenting the new laws as ‘reforms’ but farmers can clearly see through the intent of government.
Villages have kept the movement alive
As evident from the result of recently concluded Nigam Panchayat and Muncipal Elections in Punjab, this movement of farmers is strong in the rural Punjab. The ousting of BJP and it’s former allies Shiromani Akali Dal has defined the picture that there is growing anger in the villages of Punjab against anyone who has wronged peasantry.
Gurdwaras are playing a significant role in keeping farmers movement alive and strong.
The Sangat and gurdwaras have played mitochondrial role in keeping farmers agitation up to date. I visited three villages (Dande, Dhanola Khurd, Mallowal) of Amritsar to find out how gurdwaras are powering the movement.
There are two gurdwaras in Dande village. The Sarpanch of the village who is present at Delhi Morcha is kept informed about the proceedings in the village by his son who visits Singhu border every weekend. Satnam Singh who is the granthi in the gurdwara tells me that gurdwaras have been talking about the farmers laws since June-July when ordinances were brought. He says that talk about the farm laws by people who know about the demerits got strong after the laws were passed in September. “Everyday after Rehraas Sahib and Hukumnaama, we would talk about how the new laws are not good and that we might need sacrifices to repeal these laws.”
In another village Mallowal, the granthi Gurjeet Singh tells me that gurdwaras have played significant role in being the centres for making announcements in the village. He says that all Jathas going towards or coming from Delhi enrol and register in Gurdwara. “We have taken this move to keep data of our people at the Morcha after 26th Jan. We share the emergency contact with the outgoing people and also make sure that ailing people are brought back for treatment.”
In village Dhanola Khurd Gurdwara of the village acts as reservoir for the material that is sent to the protesting sites. The volunteers or the sewadaars of the gurdwara make rounds in the village and collect food items, basic necessities, and items needed at Morcha. These items are brought in Gurdwara and are sent as per needs of the Morcha with every Jatha that leaves. The sewadar tells me that like other gurdwaras they too maintain the data of outgoing and incoming farmers after 26th jan.
With sowing season ahead and farmers ready for long haul the gurdwaras in villages of Punjab are ready to take up the challenge. Gurdwaras in some villages have organised the sewadars who assist the females of village in sowing, urea procurement, seed purchase and labour hiring etc. It is noteworthy that farmers movement has brought the sense of togetherness in villages which was waning away in recent times.
The villagers in Punjab are of the belief that no farmer will return until the laws are repealed. The families of the farmers have made it clear to their men and women at borders that they should not come empty handed even if it means sacrificing their lives. The syncretism seen between the gurdwaras and social movement is really important and significant given the rise of Deras and Churches in Punjab. This has demolished the myth that Punjab is under the radar of massive conversion plans.
Farmers are protesting against the three farm laws brought by government of India since last 83 days. The farmer protests started out in Mansa region of Punjab when ordinances for the three laws were brought by government of India. The anger of people against the Central govt was visible right from the start of the movement. The resentment against the ruling congress government of Punjab started to build up when it was in public knowledge that captain amrinder singh was fully complicit in Centre’s plan to bring the three laws. His participation in the meeting chaired to discuss the laws brought more anger towards Patiala prince. The results of Muncipal Corporation elections however tell another story.
Akalis tried to leverage the protests against the three laws with all their might. As a matter of fact it was Akali Supremo Sukhbir Singh Badal who met farmer unions when ordinances were drafted and tabled. He received the suggestions by unions (two of them) that the laws need more guarantee on safety of Mandis and that MSP be ensured. As per SAD it took the message to centre but centre betrayed them. Farmers however maintain that Akalis were clueless about the laws and did not come back with any major assurance from centre. It was only after the bills were passed to be made into laws that Akalis pushed their protest game. Akali Dal mobilised it’s workers in Punjab and took out rallies from all three Takht Sahibs. The rally which was significant and major due to its sheer numbers proceeded towards Chandigarh. Akalis were detained and the goal of rally to meet Governor was not accomplished. SAD’s efforts to leverage on farmers protests continued with its leaders organising protests using their workers. Akalis gave up on their two decades of alliance with BJP to secure the future in 2022 elections but has it helped them; the Muncipal elections say NO.
Following in the line of Akalis, Captain Amrinder Singh too took out the rallies against the farm laws. The rally even though did not manage the numbers as high as Akalis was attended by Rahul Gandhi himself. Captain tried to keep Punjab’s farmers calm by meeting them and convincing them to end the Rail Roko protests as it had started to affect Punjab’s coal supply and essential goods supplies as well. Captain also chaired session of Punjab Assembly and passed resolution against the new farm laws. The resolution was not signed by governor.
AAP remained a silent spectator for a long time in Punjab when it came to farm laws. AAP being a Delhi based party has struggled with its Punjab face. Bhagwant Mann could not defend his party’s stance on walkout instead of opposition to the laws in the parliament for a very long time. Mann and party did some good and significant work during pandemic including reaching out to people in their areas. Arvind Kejriwal often engaged in twitter war with Captain Amrinder singh but refrained from commenting on the laws until Nov 26, 2020 when farmers landed on the doors of Delhi.
Muncipal Elections 2021.
Muncipal elections are significant because of the timing of elections. These elections were supposed to be held in 2020 but were postponed due to corona pandemic. Muncipal elections are held every five years and hold greater significance this time around because they are seen as trailer to the Punjab Assembly elections next year (2022). Farmers protests make these elections all the more important.
Curious case of BJP
BJP has not been able to breathe in Punjab ever since the three farm laws were passed. Not a single day has passed in Punjab when BJP’s workers and members were not opposed. BJP not only experienced massive attrition and exodus of its members since August 2020 but also faced the anger and wrath of people of Punjab. An estimated 146 BJP workers quit the party and joined no other party in Punjab. More than 35 senior BJP people (of the ranks of state secretary- Kang) resigned from the party. BJP’s visible faces Surjit Jayani, Harjeet Grewal, Ashwini Sharma faced anger of people every single day after farmers came back disappointed from Delhi during their very first meeting in October 2020.
Back to elections
Elections were held in 117 urban local bodies (ULBs) — including eight municipal corporations, 109 municipal councils and nagar panchayats — of Punjab. Bypolls were held in four wards. In 2015, elections were held in 123 municipal councils with 69 per cent of consolidated voting.
This time, 9,222 candidates are in the fray, of which 2,832 are independents.
While the average voter turnout in Punjab’s 117 urban local bodies (ULBs) was 71.39 per cent, 22 Nagar Panchayats (NPs) in the state, which have a large rural base, recorded a turnout higher than the state’s average.
Reason for heavy turnout
It is interesting to note that 12 out of 26 Nagar Panchayats voted above 80 per cent and all of them are in state’s Malwa region, which has 46 per cent of the total NPs while 10 out of 26 Nagar Panchayats voted above 74 per cent and less than 80%.
NPs are connected with villages as either farmers themselves or people of allied professions live in these NPs. So, the voters in these NPs are connected with the protests against farm laws. This creates an interesting dynamic here because most of the people in villages voted against the parties responsible for bringing in the farm laws. In most cases the independent candidates were preferred with congress taking the second preference. The final tally does show congress as the clear winner but independent candidates took major chunk of votes in NP’s. Since NP’s clearly mean either villages or the rural areas, the anger against the political parties translated into the election results.
In Boha which is an NP in Mansa, Harinder Kaur voted and she urged her family to vote. “We never voted during these elections but this time I told my sons and daughters to vote for the sake of farmers. My husband is sitting at Tikri Border, the last thing we want to do is to throne the very people responsible for keeping our men at the borders of Delhi.” The sentiment in Boha is so high that voting percentage is around 84%
Another village Nihal Singh wala in Moga experienced 84.35% voting. This is the village that has maximum number of farmers in Tihar jail after 26th Jan. The Sarpanch of the village Jagjit singh says that the entire village voted against the people who have our boys and men in their jails. “There is no question of BJP. There is no question of voting for their allies (former or future).” He says that he voted for an independent candidate and also says that consensus of village was to steer clear of BJP only.
Bathinda is also an epicentre of the farmers protests in Delhi with major chunk of farmers at Singhu border. Many farmers from Bathinda who could not or have been to Delhi borders once are protesting at Jeeda Toll plaza. Bathinda polled over 80%. In NP called as Kothaguru the polling was around 75% and people had even posted the posters of “No entry for BJP people” in this village right before the polling day.
The final results of Punjab Muncipal Corporation and Nagar Panchayat Elections are
The congress party won six Muncipal Corporations and emerged as the largest party in the seventh in 2021 Punjab MC elections. The Congress won in Bathinda, Hoshiarpur, Kapurthala, Abohar , Batala and Pathankot. The counting for another MC will take place today ie Thursday, 18Feb 2021.
Captain Amrinder singh called the victory of congress as slap to parties like SAD, BJP and AAP. Another congress leader Deepinder Hooda said that people are now aware and are actually listening to their own ‘Mann Ki Baat.’ He said that the results are clear indication of disillusionment of people of Punjab against BJP.
The elections however have not been really peaceful. National media has not been covering the event right from bits but these Muncipal elections were full of violence. At many places the violence between police and candidates was observed. There were instances of booth capturing by Congress and Akalis at some places. Before the elections had started the prelude to its violent nature was seen in a violent conflict between SAD and congress workers in Jalalabad where Sukhbir Badal’s car was damaged. AAP too was not immune to violence and was seen being a victim to police actions. It is also observed that the nomination papers of many Akali leaders and AAP leaders were cancelled day before the elections.
Harsimrat Kaur Badal in her message after results of elections were declared alluded to all these facts about the violence and use of state machinery by congress to oust all other parties in the elections. But is that enough to bring the results that we see?
Factors leading to congress win in rural and urban Punjab
1. Punjab is the only state that has rejected centre’s centralisation efforts and has always advocated for more powers to states. It is clear that more than 70% of people in Punjab see the current BJP govt at centre as threat to federal structure of states. In Amritsar for example, there are theories that central govt might give off Pathankot to J&K and Abohar to Haryana or Chd.
2. Arm Twisting tactics of Centre have put Distrust in Punjab. It is clear that centre did use its power to arm twist Punjab when farmers had blocked the railway lines in September-October 2020. It was shocking for Punjabis to learn that centre won’t resume the trains even after assurances by farmers that trains won’t be disrupted. This had led to massive power cuts in Punjab leading to building up of anger. In addition to this Centre stopped Rural Development Fund that Punjab received through Mandis. This was seen as direct attack on Punjab’s development. Centre continued to defend its actions on the issue citing that it seeks audit on use of RFD.
3. Religious issues are never separate from politics in Punjab. The justice seems evasive in Kotakpura Firing incident with Sumedh Saini’s bail application in the court. The inability of govt to bring justice triggered the history of people who shielded the man. Akalis faced the major backlash from panthic circles in Punjab for the complicity and shields it provided to Saini during its tenure. In addition to this SGPC landed in trouble with 328 missing Saroops of Guru Garanth Sahib Ji. The explanation for the missing Saroops never satisfied anyone leading to direct attacks on Badal family due to their direct links and alleged control of the the SGPC.
4. Rising unemployment and Issues of pensioners in Punjab gave major vote share to independent young candidates who looked as promising faces to people in the regular rhetoric of Congress and Akali Dal. Unemployment has been major issue in Punjab with unemployed youth protesting about it since September. Many young independent candidates who talk about these issues stole the show in MC and NP elections.
5. Divisive Hindutva Policies of the Central government have always been opposed by Punjab. As a matter of fact Punjab, Kashmir, Kerala and West Bengal are the only states that have been rather unconquerable for the right wing BJP govt. People of Punjab have voted out secession and divisive policies after the lessons it learnt in the 80s. The congress in Punjab in the words of Captain himself abstains from “interfering in religion of its subjects”. The goal of congress has been national security making it really strong face among punjabi Hindus as well. Akalis on the other hand have been known to play Khalistan card time and again to invoke Sikh sentiments for their votes. People of Punjab through this election have spelt out what they feel. Even though the disillusionment with captain is high in panthic circles with highest number of Sikh youth stamped with UAPA, But it is still considered fairly better option than SAD.
6. Farmers protests against the three farm laws is the strongest nail in the coffin of BJP and SAD in Punjab. With over 200 farmers dead on the borders of Delhi and more than 100 arrests the anger against BJP knows no limits. The party continues to vilify farmers and plays deaf to the demands of the farmers leading to more build up with every passing day.
The biggest ever strike of industrial workers took place in the year 1988. An estimated 13lac workers in industrial units of Delhi and its neighbouring towns (Ghaziabad, Sahibabad and Noida) were on strike to press for implementation of their demands including a minimum wage of 1050/- (instead of 562/-); and to end contract labour, retrenchments and lockouts; provision of cheap housing and crèches for women workers and withdrawal of anti labour laws. The strike and agitation was called by Centre of Indian Trade Unions, CITU.
During the strike period the workers merely wanted to voice their opinions peacefully. They did not want any violence and the leaders of CITU kept all political parties at bay. The strike could not be considered as law and order problem by any angle.
But this was not how Police looked at it, right from the day the strike started, police lathicharged the protestors and made indiscriminate arrests. On the first day of the strike lathicharges were reported from Wazirpur Industrial area, Kundli Industrial area, Rajasthan Udhyog Nagar in Delhi, Ghaziabad, Okhla and Mayapuri. A journalist Mukul Sharma who presented the picture of the protests was arrested as well.
On November 26( two days before the strike ended) the CITU leaders held a press conference and said that 571 workers had been arrested during the protests thus far.
Hired gangsters also attacked the protestors and police lathicharged the protestors instead of going for the gangsters. The citizens report later proved that gangsters were put in the crowd by Delhi police.
The strike ended but 900 people were told to attend the proceedings and investigations by police and other agencies. Govt had blamed communist party of China for the protests and 900 people were told to sign on blank papers. CITU took decision and told all the 900 people to defy the orders of signing on blank papers and to not participate in the investigative procedures.