Farmer protests
Farmers from across the country marched to Delhi’s Ramlila Ground, demanding a special Parliament Session to address the agrarian crisis in India.

With all the might the 12-year-old could gather, Sumit tried to keep away others from walking over the bedsheet he had laid out for his parents to rest upon. It had been a long day for him and his family. Having arrived at Nizammudin Railway Station after travelling for more than 30 hours, the three had marched for more than ten kilometres to Ramlila Ground, joining thousands of other farmers who arrived from different parts of the country to take to the streets of Delhi over the past two days.

“All those who are involved in farming are in severe distress, we have no other option other than taking our demands to the streets,” says an aggrieved Bandu Goler, Sumit’s father.

Bandu and his wife Lata are cotton growers with 10 acres of land but the cotton yield has only been 20 quintals for the couple this year.

“Ever since Bt Cotton (a genetically modified type of cotton) has been introduced, our yields have gone down. With a yield of just 20 quintals, we can only make 1 lakh rupees going by the market price of Rs 5,000 per quintal that is on offer currently. From this amount, I need to pay around Rs 20,000 to the women farm labourers who worked in my fields. I will also have to take care of the costs involved in getting all the produce to the mandi with other costs” complains Bandu. “Over the past one year we have spent around Rs 2 lakh on our farms and after having sold all our produce, we will have less than Rs 80,000 in our hands. The tur daal that we sowed was also badly affected by pests.”

Bandu is staring at a loan of Rs 3.5 lakh which he had taken last year from a private bank. The 47-year-old has no idea how to pay back the loan along with the interest amount calculated at 18 per cent. He has pinned all his hopes on an unconditional loan waiver from the government, a cause for which he travelled with his family all the way from Yavatmal in Maharashtra to Delhi.

Bandu Goler with his family

At the two-day Kisan Mukti March (Farmer’s Liberation March), he is joined by farmers and farm labourers from across 26 states. Marching under the aegis of All India Kisan Sangharsh Coordination Committee, an umbrella body comprising of more than 200 farm organizations, farmers are demanding a three-week-long special Joint Session of the Parliament to address the mounting agrarian crisis.

On the first day of the march, on November 29, farmers marched from four gathering points in the capital towards Ramlila Ground where they also camped for the night. The massive congregation then together marched towards Parliament Street from Ramlila ground on the morning of November 30, painting Delhi in different hues of red, green and yellow.

The farmers also want the Parliament to discuss the recommendations made in the five reports submitted by the National Commission on Farmers(more popularly known as the Swaminathan Commission), between 2004 to 2006. They also want the government to pass two bills, labelled as the Kisan Mukti Bills (Farmer’s Freedom Bill): the Farmers' Right to Guaranteed Remunerative Minimum Support Prices for Agricultural Commodities Bill 2018 and the Farmers' Freedom from Indebtedness Bill 2018.

Along with the provisions of right to obtain institutional credit and setting up of a National Farmers’ Distress and Disaster Relief Commission amongst other demands, the two bills primarily demand guaranteed remunerative MSP for all agricultural commodities including forest produce, fishery produce with minimum 50 per cent profit margin above the comprehensive cost of production (C2 costs) and an immediate one-time complete, unconditional loan waiver.

“If I don’t get a loan waiver, the bank will start harassing me soon. People from the bank will keep coming to my house. This is what is happens to farmers like me in Yavatmal,” says Bandu, pointing towards the group of around 200 farmers who had come with him to Ramlila Grounds from Yavatmal.

Like himself, the group had also participated in the Kisan Long March, earlier in March, where they had marched for six days from Nashik to Mumbai under the banner of All India Kisan Sabha, demanding proper implementation of the Forest’s Rights Act and a blanket loan waiver from the Maharashtra government. Despite several assurances, the state government is yet to walk the talk on the two key issues. “If the governments will not help us out, what options we have other than committing suicide?” he asks, referring to Maharashtra’s record of highest number of farmer suicides.

Not very far from Bandu – who had many tragic stories to share about his farmer friends and acquaintances committing suicide from indebtedness – sat a rather quiet Kavitha tightly holding onto a photograph. The photograph is of her husband, Osru Kaasiya, who committed suicide in 2015.  Kavitha is one of over 50 women from various parts of Telangana who marched to the capital holding pictures of their dead husbands or fathers, all farmers who had committed suicide.

Having lost the prime bread earners of their households, the women who have come from various districts like Warangal, Karimnagar, Aminabad and Vakirababd want the government to provide for their children’s education and to give them guaranteed monthly assistance other than what they will earn from working in the farms.

“We were provided low-quality seeds by the government and after not receiving sufficient rainfall, our crops failed, following which my husband killed himself. We hadn’t received any compensation for our crop loss,” the 29-year-old resident of Nalgonda district tells this reporter.

“I have been running from pillar to post to get compensation for my husband’s death. Even after proving my case I have only received assurances from the government authorities and no money in my account,” she says as she spreads on the ground her husband’s death certificate and the police FIR regarding the suicide.

“We carry pictures of our deceased family members with us so that we can put across our demands for compensation through the media to the government,” she adds.

 Kavitha holding the photograph of her husband Osru Kaasiya

She blamed both the central and the state government for the poor state of affairs of farmers.

“The KCR government had done nothing substantial for farmers all these years and is only now dolling out populist sops to garner votes before elections. With the fuel prices at an all-time high, the amount being given to farmers is not sufficient,” she says, referring to the Rs 4,000 given as financial assistance for every acre to each farmer under the Rythu Bandhu Scheme, launched in the state earlier in May.

With a loan of Rs 4 lakh over her head, Kavitha desperately needs a loan waiver. Along with better remunerative prices, seen as the most important measure to address low farmer incomes, the cotton and rice growers also demanded easier access to government mandis (agricultural markets) without intermediaries, especially for women farmers.

This is the second time Kavitha has come all the way to Delhi for her demands. She, along with 11 other women, had participated in the Kisan Mukti Sansad (Farmer Freedom Parliament) held in Delhi in November last year.

Her frustration over government’s inaction which forces farmers like her to resort to a public mode of protest is shared by farmers from Tamil Nadu, who had made headlines for their dramatic protests at Jantar Mantar last year. Many of whom who had participated in the agitation which lasted more than 100 days, found themselves in the capital yet again, chanting slogans against the ruling government.

“I sat on protest for 20 days at Jantar Mantar last year and am back here to highlight the distress that has gripped Tamil Nadu, forcing many farmers to commit suicide. My own father was also forced to commit suicide,” says Shanmugan, a paddy grower from Kancheepuram.

He is accompanied by his 26-year-old son Murugun who is carrying his dead grandfather’s femur bones with him.

“We are carrying the bones to show PM Narendra Modi the severity of our problems. We need loan waivers and compensation for the crop damage that we have incurred from the devastation caused by Cyclone Gaja” he adds.

Shanmugan with his grandson holding his grandafther's bones

Shanmugan’s concerns resonate with Kamaraj’s woes, who had to make the long journey from Tamil Nadu to Delhi twice in one and a half years for his demands.

“We were demanding a loan waiver and profitable prices for our crops last year as well but they have not been fulfilled and we stand here with the same demands. I have a loan of Rs 5 lakh which I am unable to repay; on top of that the cost of production is on the rise especially with the implementation of the GST prices” says the paddy farmer from Trichy.

“The Modi government is cheating the farmers. The Prime Minister had promised the implementation of Swaminathan Commission report in his manifesto but hasn’t fulfilled his promise till now,” claims Swamimalai Vimalnathan, Zila Secretary, Cauvery Farmer Protection Association, as other members of the group chant, “Ruling Government, don’t dupe us! Give us fair prices, don’t dupe us!” behind him.

Taking paddy seeds in hands, Vimalnathan says that even after revising the prices, the Union Government had set the MSP for rice at Rs 1,750 per quintal. As per recommendations of the Swaminathan Commission, MSP should be calculated at 50 per cent profit over the comprehensive cost of production (C2 costs) which would put the MSP for rice at Rs 2,340 per quintal.

“We agitated for 141 days at Jantar Mantar asking for better remunerative prices for our crops. It has been 12 years that the successive governments have not given prices recommended by Swaminathan’s Commission. If the Union government does not step up and fulfil their promises, farmer suicides will continue to happen in Tamil Nadu and the rest of the country,” warns Vimalthan.

As the anger towards the Modi government spilt over onto the streets, the Kisan Mukti March witnessed the coming together of several opposition parties, who promised their support to the agitating farmers.

Several prominent leaders like Congress Presiden Rahul Gandhi, CPI(M)’s Sitaram Yechury, Delhi’s CM Arvind Kejriwal, JD(U) leader Sharad Yadav, Farooq Abdullah of the National Conference and CPI’s D Raja amongst others, were seen holding hands in a show of strength.

Earlier in April, 21 parties had expressed their support for the two Farmer Freedom Bills. The bills have been introduced by as private members bills by Raju Shetty in the Lok Sabha and KK Ragesh in the Rajya Sabha, respectively.

The Kisan Mukti March is the third occasion within three months that farmers protested in Delhi, after the All India Kisan Sabha’s protest in September and the Bhartiya Kisan Union rally in October. The last 18 months have been witness to many massive farmer agitations which acquired prominence at the national level. It is believed have been kicked off from farmer’s protests at Mandsaur in Madhya Pradesh in June 2017 where six people lost their lives in police firings.