Hundreds of thousands of farmers from across India gathered under the banner of Samyukt Kisan Morcha, an organization of 40 farmers unions, in the northern state of Uttar Pradesh’s Muzzaffarnagar on September 5. As the farmers’ protest entered its ninth month, the massive gathering called Kisan Mahapanchayat was organized to give the months-long agitation a new direction and re-energizing the movement.
“The central government has been saying that only a handful of farmers are protesting. Let them see how many of us are protesting now,” speakers reiterated during the mega protest in Uttar Pradesh. Police officials also confirmed that around 500,000 farmers attended the rally in Muzaffarnagar.
The farmers have now called for a nationwide strike on 27 September to protest against the three contentious farm laws.
Representatives from 22 states and over 300 organizations, including 11 from Punjab, including workers, employees and, students, participated in the protest, which has been termed the “biggest in the region’s recent history.”
Organizers of the mass protest said that the movement has the support of “all castes, religions, state, classes, small traders and other sections of the society.”
Tens of thousands of farmers, mostly from northern India, have been protesting against the right-wing Bharatiya Janata Party-led government blocking major streets in the capital of New Delhi and carrying out protest marches. Still, despite the long marches and rounds of talks since November, the deadlock persists.
Farmers are demanding that the government revoke the three contentious farm laws introduced to allow farmers to sell their produce directly to big buyers. Meanwhile, farmers fear losing the minimum support price will hurt their livelihood and leave them with scant bargaining power against the private retailers and food processors.
Farmer Balbeer Singh, who had traveled from Uchana in Haryana’s Jind to participate in a mass congregation in Muzaffarnagar on Sunday, said that the arbitrary procurement process remains a challenge for small farmers like him.
“The agriculture market officials would reject your produce on the pretext of excessive moisture. The farmers, who would get INR 1,888 per quintal of rice, are compelled to sell it for INR 1,600 per quintal. This hardly covers our costs. We are deeply distressed. Our children are languishing at home because there are no jobs. We came here to join our brothers to show our unity,” Singh told NewsClick.
Many farmers in the state believe that the new regime brought misery to tens of thousands of farmers, as unregulated traders did not have to conform to minimum support prices announced by the central government.
Dharam Pal Singh, veteran leader of the left wing All India Kisan Sabha, [All India Farmers’ Organization] who has been engaged in mobilizing farmers in Bulandshahar and neighboring districts for the last few days, said: “From Samyukta Kisan Morcha and the people who have been working on the ground, this important gathering has only one message: bury the politics of social rift stoked by the gangs who were hand in gloves with British imperialists in the national movement for independence.”
The farmers gathered in big numbers brandishing flags and wearing colored caps hit the streets of Muzaffarnagar. The leaders of farmer unions were seen pledging to occupy all roads in a 12-mile radius around the city.
Several battalions of the paramilitary and the state police’s Rapid Action Force were also stationed near the protest site; the authorities have beefed up the security around the entire region.
Farmers claimed they would be intensifying their protest in coming weeks by going to every single city and town of Uttar Pradesh “to convey the message that Modi’s government is anti-farmer,” farmers’ leader Rakesh Tikait said.
Farmer leaders stressed that Yogi Adityanath, the chief minister of Uttar Pradesh from the ruling right-wing party at the center, along with the Modi-government at the center, must have seen the strength of farmers, laborers, and those who are supporters of the farm movement. At least 32 farmer unions from the state of Punjab have now given a deadline of September 8 to withdraw cases against the protesters, the members of Samyukt Kisan Morcha said.
“If the cases are not withdrawn by the state government, the farmers will be left with no option but to prepare a roadmap for bigger protests on September 8,” it added.