By Vijay Prashad
November 2, 2016.
From all parts of the country, Indian kisans will descend upon Delhi on November 24. They are marching as part of a Kisan Sangharsh Jatha, organised by the All-India Kisan Sabha. The farmers began their Jatha – their march – at the corners of the country, holding meetings as they go along to spread the word about the harsh attack on rural India. This attack has been on-going for the past twenty-five years – with cuts at rural credit, push to consolidation of farms and the emergence of a new kind of predatory factory farming. It is what has led to the over three hundred thousand farmer suicides in the recent period.
The journalist who broke that story – P. Sainath – recently gave the Safdar Hashmi Memorial Lecture at Studio Safdar (next door to LeftWord Books) in New Delhi. You must watch the lecture, which is available in two parts: first segment and second segment. At the lecture Sainath bemoaned the media for ignoring the crisis of Indian agriculture – ‘any vestige of spine’ that the media once had, Sainath said, ‘has vanished’. The media has largely ignored this Jatha. It is not in the interest of the press to cover the lives and politics of workers and peasants. The General Strike of early September this year was barely covered by the media. It is unlikely that the media will turn its gaze on the farmers’ march.
What are the issues that drew the farmers to the streets? The issues come out of the contest between the government – which has pushed a corporate agenda – and the farmers – who are fighting, literally, for their lives. For instance, the procurement price – the Minimum Support Price – remains low, while consumer prices have risen. This means that the merchants and corporates profit along the agricultural commodity chain, while the farmers suffer from low prices at the field and high prices at the shop. There is a need for the government to subsidise agrarian inputs and lift the floor on the Minimum Support Price. We are far from that place, since this government has even failed to compensate for crop losses due to weather and other factors. Even calamity is outside the purview of the government. Cannily – as Sanjay Reddy and others have shown – the World Bank and governments across the world have cooked up poverty rates to prove that there are less people in great need within the country. In India, reduced poverty rates conducted by the alchemy of statistics has enabled the government to remove people from the Public Distribution System (PDS) – to remove them from access to low price food and fuel. The Kisan Sabha demands a universal PDS, in which anyone in distress should be allowed to avail themselves of basic needs. The United Nations says that India is home to almost 200 million hungry people – the highest in the world. It is a travesty that needs to be addressed. To learn more about the agrarian situation and the on-going crisis, please read the journal Review of Agrarian Studies – one of the best researched outlets for information on the agrarian world.
Other issues that are front and centre for the kisans are the two Acts of parliament, which the Kisan Sabha fought to pass and which have been whittled down in their implementation. The first is the 2013 Land Acquisition Act, which provides some protection – but not enough – for farmers from predatory land capture. The Modi government’s 2014 Ordinance for Land Acquisition, which has not yet been withdrawn, is a declaration of war against the farmers. This is the tenth anniversary of the passage of the Forest Rights Act, which provides reasonable rights for adivasi farmers. Please read LeftWord Books author Archana Prasad’s report from 2006 on this Act (she has an excellent essay on the long history of the Warli struggle in the first volume of Communist Histories). Defence and expansion of these Acts is central to the Jatha.
Finally, there has been a renewal of harsh attacks along lines of caste and gender in rural India. The relationship of these attacks to the agrarian crisis needs to be elaborated. On gender, we recommend Elisabeth Armstrong’s Gender & Neoliberalism, a close study of the work of the All-India Democratic Women’s Association (AIDWA) and its work – especially, in light of this Jatha, its activism in rural Haryana against the intensified attack on women in the state. We also want to recommend a new edited volume in honour of the civil servant S. R. Sankaran on Marginalisation, Development and Resistance (edited by K. B. Saxena and G. Haragopal). This volume has strong essays on the question of dalits and the agrarian crisis. The fight for the rights and dignity of dalits and women is an indispensible part of the long struggle of the Kisan Sabha.
Watch this brief video from Comrade Vijoo Krishnan, the Joint Secretary of the All-India Kisan Sabha to get a fuller sense of the issues involved in this Jatha.
Please keep an eye out for the Jatha when it comes through where you live – and please talk about these issues to those around you. LeftWord Books is looking forward to publishing more books on the crisis in rural India. One of the books that will come out next year is a Reader from the People’s Archive of Rural India (PARI), a project at whose heart is Sainath. It will collect the best PARI stories from its inception and provide a window into the world of rural India – a world of joy and struggle, suffering and contestation.