Seventy-eight-year-old Timme Gowda from Channapatna in Karnataka’s Ramanagara district had a tired look on his face. His thin and worn-out slippers seemed to have had its fair share of toil. But, wearing his faded white shirt and lungi, Thimme Gowda continued to march along with thousands of his fellow farmers on Monday’s sunny afternoon to take a stand at the Vidhana Soudha, the Karnataka Assembly Legislature in Bengaluru, under the leadership of Bharatiya Kisan Union (BKU) leader Rakesh Tikait and Samyukta Kisan Morcha.
Farmers across the state gathered on Monday afternoon at the Bengaluru City Railway Station, called on by the BKU. Rakesh Tikait, along with Yadhvir Singh and Darshan Pal — prominent faces leading the farmers’ agitation at the Delhi borders for the past three months — have been in Karnataka since Sunday to mobilise support in the state for the movement against the three farm laws. This is not the first protest held against these laws in Bengaluru or Karnataka.
Farmers gathered for the protest in Bengaluru
“We came to fight these three farm laws brought by Prime Minister Narendra Modi. If he doesn’t repeal them, we don’t have any option but to keep fighting because if these do get implemented, we are doomed. We will lose everything ultimately and have nothing to give to our future generation,” Thimme Gowda told TNM.
According to Thimme, who grows ragi and rears silkworms, farmers in Karnataka have not been receiving any support from the state government. “Farming is difficult these days. To get loans, sell crops and get subsidised electricity, we have to navigate a lot of systems, including APMC (Agricultural Produce Market Committee), KPTCL (Karnataka Power Transmission Corporation Limited) and banks,” he said.
Along with the Farmers' Produce Trade And Commerce (Promotion And Facilitation) Act, the Farmers (Empowerment and Protection) Agreement on Price Assurance and Farm Services Act and the Essential Commodities (Amendment) Act, the farmers on Monday also objected to the state government amending the state Agricultural Marketing Committee (KAPMC) Act, which allows farmers to directly sell their produce even outside APMC yards.
Prominent Karnataka farmer groups participated in the march on Monday
K Mallayya, another farmer from Ramanagara district who took part in the rally, spoke in favour of the existing APMC system. “Today, private procurers will give a lot of money in private mandis, maybe even at a loss. But once the APMCs shut down, we are completely at the mercy of these private players. Can you ask anything from them and even if you do, you think they will oblige?”
Scores of worker unions, Dalits and women organisations such as the All India Central Council of Trade Unions and All India Progressive Women's Association as well as students’ unions such as the All India Students Association also joined the rally on Monday, in support of the farmers.
Police trying to stop farmers from moving towards Vidhana Soudha
While the initial plan was to end the March at Vidhana Soudha, the farmers were stopped by police near the Maharani College and forced to assemble at the Freedom Park in Bengaluru. Addressing the farmers, Ramesh Tikait said, “During the elections, many people were saying this will not be a government of a particular party, but of one person alone. There is no system here. Only Prime Minister Narendra Modi controls everything. So, if he does not want to solve this crisis, then there won't be any step from the government. This is the reason the government is not ready to discuss and solve the farm law issue. Now a freedom struggle has started, the second freedom struggle.”
Along with the farm laws, the protests also raised the issue of price rise and the Union government’s bid to privatise banks and other entities in the Public Sector Units (PSU). In February, the Union government said that two public sector banks and one general insurance company will be privatised. As part of the consolidation of banking and insurance sectors, the Life Insurance Corporation (LIC) will be listed on the stock exchange in the financial year 2021-22, it said.
“This government has sold the public sector. Twenty-six companies are being targeted, including railways, airports, LIC and even massive oil companies,” alleged Rakesh Tikait.
Reacting to the high turnout of farmers from the state, Karnataka Agriculture Minister BC Patil reached the protest venue and accepted a memorandum from the protesters.