12th march, 1930. Eighty Satyagrahis, under the leadership of Mahatma Gandhi set out on foot from Sabarmati Ashram for what would be known as one of the greatest revolutionary protests of Indian freedom struggle- the Dandi March. Exactly 88 years later, on 12th march, 2018, fifty thousand Maharashtrian farmers completed their six day long protest march covering over 180 km to reach Mumbai . The farmers staged a massive rally in Mumbai’s Azad Maidan to protest against the government’s apathy towards the plight of the farming community and its inability to protect the farmers of the country from losses incurred due to crop failure. The protesters, spearheaded by the All India Kisan Sabha, the farmer’s wing of the Communist Party of India-Marxist, demanded an unconditional waiver of loan and electricity bills. They also demanded for the announcement of a pension scheme of Rs.5000 per month for every poor farmer of the state. Earlier the government had implemented the Maharashtra Loan waiver scheme but its execution had been inefficient and patchy. The Kisan Long March was also a struggle to demand for the implementation of the Swaminathan Commission recommendations and the Forest Rights Act 2006.
Drawing inspiration from their counterparts in Maharashtra, the farmers of Odisha, headed by Navnirman Krushak Sangathan organised a similar protest rally in Bhubaneshwar on 12th march. Over 15,000 farmers staged a rally near the state assembly demanding the allocation of Rs.21,600 crores for farmers in the state budget. Similar to the Maharashtra farmers, they too asked for the implementation of a pension scheme and hike in MSP of their crops.
Farmers in Maharashtra walked all the way from Nasik to Mumbai to stage the protest rally in order to draw the government’s attention towards their cause. They skipped meals, slept in the open and covered over 30 km in a single day inspite of their blistered and bleeding feet. They endured all this so that they could breach the government’s wall of ignorance and neglect towards the farmers of the country. They marched all night to reach the Azad Maidan so that they do not cause any inconvenience to the students taking the SSC exams. Even in their suffering, the poor farmers were sensitive of problems that their protest might cause for other people.
The people of Mumbai too, showed their heartening spirit as they welcomed the farmers. Many organisations took upon themselves the task of providing water, footwear and food to the tired and injured farmers. Students from many colleges also showed their solidarity with the protesting farmers by accompanying them in the rally.
Victory finally came for the farmers as the government finally bowed in front of their indomitable spirit on 13th march . Most of the demands by the farmers have been accepted by the government . Regarding the implementation of the Swaminathan Comission report, the government will pursue it with the centre. Protests were called off after the government gave its acceptance in writing. Also, the government will make provisions for the return of the farmers to Nashik by special trains.
The Agriculture crisis in India:-
A farmer ends his life every 41 minutes in India. From 1995-2015, more than 3,18,528 farmers have committed suicide . The average annual income of an Indian farmer is a meagre Rs.20,000 i.e. Rs.1660 per month . How is a farmer supposed to make his ends meet and fulfil the needs of his family with that meagre amount? It takes us five minutes to finish a plate of rice, but do we ever realise how much effort and time goes behind producing that rice? It takes months of hard work and toiling in the field on the part of a farmer to produce the food we consume. And they don’t even get fair prices for their produce. Even the consumers leave no chance to belittle the hard work that goes behind crop production just to save a few bucks.
Agriculture is the only source of income for the majority of farmers. So, what happens when the crops fail? The farmers incur huge losses and are forced to take loans from local money lenders at high interest rates. Many of them are not able to repay the loan and have to lose their land or even worse, they fall prey to the evil of bonded labour. Despite the fact that 70% of the loan defaulters belong to the corporate sector and only 1% to the farming community, corporate sector is issued loans of hundreds of crores at interest rates as low as 0.1% whereas a poor farmer is required to pay 24-36% interest on a loan of a few thousands to microfinance institutes. The lives of the farmers could potentially improve and transform if the banks showed even a bit of interest or empathy towards their cause.
The government’s apathy towards the farmer crisis:-
The farmers have been protesting for their rights since a long time but their demands and requests have fallen on deaf ears. The government has been nothing but ignorant of their suffering. The government needs to accept the truth of farmer suicide due to crop loss and debt burden . Agriculture crisis is for real. The problems faced by the farmers are not specific to any state , they are same throughout the country . So is the government’s approach, little has been done to improve the condition of the farmers. On the top of that , some of the government fronts have gone on to compare the protesting farmers with urban Maoists misguided by the CPM. Such insensitive comments only belittle the struggle and problems of the farmers.
How can the government be so insensitive towards the community that is the backbone of the country’s economy , the community that feeds the entire country? Farmers’ demands for the halting of the acquisition of their lands for projects like the bullet train had also fallen on deaf ears till now. The government needs to rethink its priorities. What is more important? Improving the condition of the farmers or introducing facilities such as bullet trains at the cost of their lives? If the government is unable to provide even the basic rights & facilities or a fair market to the farmers, how can it plan on acquiring their land and using the budget for unnecessary projects like the bullet train? The backbone of India’s economy is agriculture with over 50% of the population involved in the field. If the government cannot even provide financial security to the farmers or fulfil their basic demands, what is the use of spending a large chunk of the budget on high end facility projects?
Media’s non-existent coverage of the Kisan Long March:-
Even more disturbing than the government’s negligent attitude is how conveniently the mainstream media of our country has ignored the Kisan Long March. Instead of covering the protest march and acting as the voice of the farmers, our news channels have left no stone unturned to side-line the issue entirely. The media still has not gotten over the mysterious facets of the ‘Maut ka bathtub’. They would rather show you Md.Shami’s wife’s unseen pictures or update you on Prince Taimur’s latest adventures than take on the coverage of one of the greatest protests of recent times. But then, why would the media choose to cover the Kisan Long March? There’s no glamour in the worn out tired faces of the frail farmers. There’s nothing to sensationalise about their honest struggle. Where would the TRP come from? How would the primetime news circus go on?
The media may have chosen to ignore this powerful demonstration of dignity, determination and strength, but it has shaken the conscience of the small section of public it has managed to reach. The revolution will soon be forgotten with the majority of public not even being aware of it or fully understanding it but the government should understand that it’s time to wake up from the slumber. The farmers have shown their strength. They have suffered silently for long enough. The entire country has been moved by their plight. Maharashtra was just the beginning. It wouldn’t be surprising if the event inspires further protests throughout the country as it did in Odisha.