CONTEMPORARY FARMERS’ MOVEMENTS IN INDIA

 

Practice Question – Are the contemporary farmers’ movements in India changing their course? Discuss. [UPSC 2020]

Approach – Introduction, Outline briefly the history of farmers movements, List the features of contemporary farmers movements, Mention how the course of farmers movements are changing, Give examples, Conclusion. 

 

INTRODUCTION

Emerging in 1970s and gaining farther momentum in 1980s, the farmers’ movement in India has exposed some newer contradictions of Indian agrarian society. Participated mostly by the middle and rich farmers of different Indian states, the farmers’ movement represents a distinct phase in the history and tradition of agrarian unrest in India. Unlike the earlier mobilizations of the small and marginal peasants along with the landless agricultural labourers against the zamindars and landlords, the farmers’ movement, concerned mostly with the demands of the upper stratum of the rural society, poses certain interesting questions about the relatively long tradition of mobilization of the peasantry. Questions arise whether the farmers’ movement is an aftermath or more developed stage of the peasant movements in India or whether it can be considered as the denial or rejection of the fundamental dynamics characterizing the peasant mobilization against the landed gentry of the rural society.

 

NEW FARMERS’ MOVEMENTS

It was obvious that with the termination of colonial rule, the character and nature of the peasant or farmers’ movement underwent sea change. The Post-independent India saw
broadly two kinds of peasant or farmers’ struggles in the recent past.

 Peasant movements led by Marxist and Socialists- such as Telangana Movement (1946-51), Tebagha movement (1946-1949), Kagodu Satyagraha (1951), Naxalbari Movement (1967) and Lalgarh movement (2009).
 Farmers’ movement led by rich farmers in Uttar Pradesh, Karnataka, Maharashtra, Punjab and Gujarat.

The beginning of the New Farmers’ Movement in general is seen from the decade of 1980s. However, its genesis requires to be stretched back to the earlier decade of 1970s. This was the decade when farmers of green revolution area began to rally around political parties and leaders. One such leader who organised the farmers under political party was
Chaudhury Charan Singh, the former Prime Minister of India. He organised few rallies raising such issues as parity in prices between industrial and agricultural commodities; allowing import of agricultural input from abroad, reducing the protection given to industry, due representation of farmers in different boards and committees, subsidies to electricity,
water fertilizer, seeds, reducing the income disparity between the urban and rural people, establishing Kisan Banks as well as agricultural polytechnics etc. During the same decade, farmers in Punjab organised struggles under Khetkari Zamindari Union. In 1974, the word Zamindari was dropped from the organisation. Incidentally, the same Union became part of Bharatiya Kisan Union during the next decade.

The 1980s saw the beginning of what is called New Farmers’ Movement in different parts of India. The reasons were: terms of trade going against the agriculture, declining purchasing power, un-remunerative prices, agriculture becoming losing proposition, increase in input prices, declining per capita income from agriculture etc. It all began in Maharashtra when Shetkari Sanghathana under Sharad Joshi, a former employee of UN turned farmer, began agitating in village called Chakan in Pune for remunerative prices for agricultural commodities, particularly for onion. This one point agenda of remunerative prices began to be enacted by farmers in other states of India. In Karnataka, it was started by farmers of Navalgund and Navilgund demanding abolition of betterment levy in Command Area. This helped in the formation of an organisation called Karnataka Rajya Raitha Sangha.In Uttar Pradesh, the movement started much late in 1986. It was spearheaded by Mahendra Singh Tikat a peasant by profession. His organisation is called Bharatiya Kisan
Union. His movement started from a small village called Sisoli and Shamli in Meerut District in Uttar Pradesh.

Except for the Maharashtra movement, in other movements, more than remunerative prices the other issues received focus. The list of demands would cover each and every
issue of farmers. Many a time the demands of the farmers’ movement would include such issues as remunerative prices, writing off loans, anti-government policy of procurement,
levy policy, liberalisation etc. Other than these economic issues, the farmers’ movement also focused on social issues. In this respect the experiment done by the Karnataka Farmers’ Movement under Raitha Sangha and Maharashtra movement under Shetkari Sanghathana are noteworthy. Both tried to address the issues of gender or women by organising massive rallies.

 

MAJOR DEMANDS FOR FARMER’S MOVEMENTS

1. Lower prices on inputs like seeds, fertilisers, pesticides. 2. Lower tariffs on electricity and water.
3. Abolition of land revenue and imposition of tax based on output alone.
4. Waiving of loans owed by farmers to the government, banks and cooperative societies, which are the
offshoots of the unjustified levy system and low prices imposed by the government.
5. Reduction of rate of interest on fresh loans.
6. Removal of tax along with other restrictions on the use of agricultural implements like tractors and
tractor-trailers.
7. Fixation of agricultural prices realistically keeping into consideration the input prices and man-hours
spent for production.
8. Higher output prices with respect to products of grains, cash-crops, vegetables, milk and so on.
9. Introduction of crop insurance.
10. The removal of discrepancy in the terms of trade between industry and agriculture which has been
largely in favour of the former at the cost of the latter.

 

THE ON-GOING PEASANT MOVEMENTS IN INDIA

There is a phenomenal difference between peasant movements then and now. In colonial India, peasant movements were largely against the British Empire or the states under princely rule often involving often some combination of “zamindar, sahukar, sarkar (landlord, usurer and state)”. The protests would be against the rise in revenue rates and other kinds of obligations that elites might demand, such as begar or forced labour without remuneration in cash or kind, oppressive cesses and repayment of loans with high-interest rates.

Peasant mobilisations were not uncommon in Mughal India but they had greatly escalated in British India, particularly against the sophisticated colonial apparatus, including revenue settlement and forest reports and their respective bureaucracies. The colonial bureaucracy was primarily a revenue bureaucracy, hence the appellation “collector” who was then tagged with other roles. The institution of the Indian railways facilitated the deep penetration of the state and market, the extraction and movement of agrarian produce would become a mode of colonial control over the “wild”.

The 2020–2021 Indian farmers’ protest is an ongoing protest against three farm acts which were passed by the Parliament of India in September 2020. As of 21 March 2021, according to Haryana Police, there are around 40,000 committed protestors sitting at Singhu and Tikri at the Delhi border. Farmer unions and their representatives have demanded that the laws be repealed and have stated that they will not accept a compromise. Farmer leaders have welcomed the Supreme Court of India stay order on the implementation of the farm laws but rejected the committee appointed by the Supreme Court. Farmer leaders have also rejected a government proposal, dated 21 January 2021, of suspending the laws for 18 months. Eleven rounds of talks have taken place between the central government and farmers represented by the farm unions between 14 October 2020 and 22 January 2021; all were inconclusive.

The farmer unions believe that the laws will open the sale and marketing of agricultural products outside the notified Agricultural Produce Market Committee (APMC) mandis for farmers. Further, the laws will allow inter-state trade and encourage hike electronic trading of agricultural produce. The new laws prevent the state governments from collecting a market fee, cess, or levy for trade outside the APMC markets; this has led the farmers to believe the laws will “gradually lead to the deterioration and ultimately end the mandi system” thus “leaving farmers at the mercy of corporates”. Further, the farmers believe that the laws will end their existing relationship with agricultural small-scale businessmen (commission agents who act as middlemen by providing financial loans, ensuring timely procurement, and promising adequate prices for their crop). Additionally, protesting farmers believe dismantling the APMC mandis will encourage abolishing the purchase of their crops at the Minimum Support Price (MSP). They are therefore demanding the minimum support prices to be guaranteed by the government in writing.

 

CONCLUSION

Peasant movements in India therefore go far back in history. Though it is hard to say whether the peasant movements and revolts contributed substantially to the larger and more distant goals of complete restructuring of the social order, yet their significance lies in raising fundamental issues about land, lives and livelihood. The state responded to their agitations by initiating land reforms, imposing the land ceiling act, abolishing the zamindari system though these reforms remain unfinished as yet. A significant aspect that is being recognised today is the existence of a considerable overlap of concerns and interests of the peasant movement and the environmental movement as we can find in the Chipko movement or between the interests of the peasant-cultivators and landless labourers dependent on land or in the farmers and others protesting against displacement in anti SEZ movements in the context of globalisation in different parts of our country. Therefore the presence of intersectionality is a persistent, ubiquitous phenomenon in all peasant movements today. In addition these movements have also effectively challenged several myths prevalent in literature, regarding the revolutionary potential of the peasant. In the Indian subcontinent we find that contrary to the dominant theoretical understanding in the West, the agricultural labourers and the small and middle peasants have always engaged in persistent struggles and revolts against the king as well as against the colonial authorities. Secondly, another conjecture that has been falsified concerns the vanishing category of the peasant itself. Despite modernisation, the peasant cultivator is here to stay, though in the contemporary context of huge land grab all across the world and even in India, their existence is in peril. But as long as land continues to be the source of our sustenance, peasants will remain significant a category.

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