Around two months after India’s farmers launched their latest round of protests against three controversial laws, they are set to hold a major round of tractor parades across the country, coinciding with India’s Republic Day commemoration on January 26. Farmers who have camped outside the capital, New Delhi, for two months are planning to enter the city in a massive tractor parade.
Hundreds of thousands farmers in tens of thousands of tractors will enter New Delhi from three locations and follow pre-approved routes. The Samyukta Kisan Morcha (SKM) or United Farmers’ Front, the coalition organizing the Tractor Parade, intends it to be a show of strength and resilience, as the farmers’ protest continues to grow in numbers.
On Sunday, reporting from the ground from the Fatehabad district of Haryana State, where tractors en route to Delhi had assembled at the Fatehabad bypass on National Highway-9, Peoples Dispatch got a peek into the monumental efforts and meticulous coordination that has gone behind the upcoming parade.
By evening, it was estimated that a total of 1,000 tractors would hit the highway from this district alone. Ramchandra Sehnal, district secretary of All India Agricultural Workers Union (AIAWU), told Peoples Dispatch, that various farm unions subscribing to different ideologies came together under a joint platform to coordinate this logistical feat.
After several meetings in the over 240 villages in this district, it was collectively decided that each farmer will contribute Rs. 100 (USD 1.37) per every acre of land they own. “Some villages have 1,000 acres of farmland in total, some have 2,000. It is using this money that we funded the cost of fuel and food for the comrades who are headed to Delhi,” Sehnal said.
30 kilometers down the highway, at the Landari toll plaza in Agroha block of Hisar district, loud speakers greeted the arriving farmers and invited them for tea and snacks at a community kitchen set up at one of the lanes.
Tractors, trucks and passenger vehicles all pass free of cost over other lanes of this toll, which has been occupied by farmers since December 25. Prior to this occupation, “I used to pay INR 50 (USD 0.69) each time to cross this toll,” explains Mukesh Kumar as he drives through.
Ajay Johar, head of Agroha block committee (local government body), was among the group of people who first freed this toll. “At the instruction of our leaders from SKM, who are coordinating this action from Delhi, me and about 20 other people from nearby villages came here on December 25 and explained to the authorities that we are taking charge of the toll booths to let the vehicles pass for no charge. The Deputy Superintendent of Police was also here. No one objected,” he said.
“At first, we were serving only tea. Now we feed 15,000 meals everyday, up to 1 am,” he added.
Farmers join in across the country
In the western State of Maharashtra, thousands participated in a long march to the capital, Mumbai. After walking for two days, they reached Mumbai’s Azad Maidan on Sunday evening. On Monday, they held a huge rally at Azad Maidan and also marched to the governor’s residence in Mumbai.
They were met with massive support from people on their way to the State capital. With the successful march and the imminent agitation, Mumbai has become the second major center of farmers’ protest in the country after Delhi.
Speaking to NewsClick, Tiru, a 70-year-old woman from Palghar, said that she had come to Kasara (a suburb at the outskirts of Mumbai) to join the Vahan Jaththa (cavalcade). She was accompanied by another farmer from her village in Dahanu taluk (district sub-division). “I am one of the 20 women from our village. Some men have also come. This government is not listening to the farmers in Delhi. We will force the government to listen to us,” said Tiru.
By Sunday morning, about 20,000 farmers had joined the Jaththa. Condemning the “adamant” stance taken by the Narendra Modi-led BJP government at the Centre, Devram Bhika Jadhav, a 75-year-old farmer from Vani, Nasik, said, “We gave you (the prime minister) power. We lifted you up on our shoulders. We made you a leader and now you won’t pay heed to us and will make laws against us? You will have to listen to us. Else, you must quit the post. You have no right to stay there.”
From the eastern state of Odisha, over 500 farmers traveled nearly 1,800 km to reach Chandauli in Uttar Pradesh, adjoining the borders of Delhi. Despite roadblocks and set up by the Uttar Pradesh State government, led by a Hindu nationalist former priest, Yogi Adiyanath, thousands of farmers managed to reach the Delhi borders.
The government has tried various measures to halt the protests. Last week, the Uttar Pradesh government imposed an emergency measure in the districts adjoining Delhi, and yesterday, January 24, directed diesel suppliers in the region to not supply fuel for tractors that may participate in the Tractor Parade.
Nevertheless, thousands of tractors are expected to sweep the streets of Delhi on Tuesday, after the government-sponsored Republic Day parade concludes. Every year, the Indian government organizes a cultural and military parade on January 26, commemorating the day when India adopted a republican constitution in 1950.
Here is a recap of the farmers protests and why it is significant for a country like India.
Why are the farmers protesting?
The immediate trigger for the protests was the passing of three farm laws by the Modi government passed in September 2020. The three laws ease regulations which farmers saw as essential to protect their rights and the price they get for their produce.
What do the three laws do?
The laws will remove the monopoly of the agricultural produce market committees (APMC). These government-run bodies that hold markets (mandis). At these markets, produce is procured from the farmers at a pre-determined Minimum Support Price (MSP) by government agencies. Farmers fear that this step will allow big private players to establish their own markets and over time, wreck the price security that the MSP system brings. The MSP system has already been considerably weakened and farmers fear this law will sound its death knell.
Other dangerous aspects of the law flagged by the farmers include provisions on contract farming which they feel will enable the dominance of big agri-businesses at their expense. Similarly, many crops, including food grains, have been taken off the list of essential commodities, which the farmers fear will lead to greater speculation and hoarding by private players which have the necessary storage capacity.
The farmers have been clear that they are not willing to accept anything less than the repeal of the laws which together will bring about a drastic transformation in agriculture.
How will this affect farmers and others?
The farmers’ distress in India and the crisis in agriculture, goes as far back as the 1990s. According to estimates, over 300,000 farmers have committed suicide between 1995 and 2015, owing to the crisis in the agricultural sector that has rendered thousands of farming families into debt traps. According to a 2020 report by Down To Earth, a journal focusing that focuses on land defenders, environment and agriculture, 20,629 farmers committed suicide in the years 2018 and 2019. This translates to an average of 28 farmers a day in India.
Nearly half of Indian families are dependent on agriculture as their primary source of income and sustenance. The three laws, along with recent unilateral environmental regulations and proposed legislation to scrap electricity subsidies for irrigation activities, will only further expose the crisis-ridden farming sector to the vagaries of the market.
And considering that nearly 500 million people are estimated to be food insecure in India, a number that has only expanded over the past five years, the reforms are also likely to have a severe impact on food security.
(With inputs from Pavan Kulkarni, Anish R M and NewsClick)