The ninth round of talks between the farmers’ movement and government representatives on January 15 again did not yield any breakthrough, but kept some hopes alive by scheduling a next round of discussions—the tenth one—for January 19.
In the meanwhile the farmers’ unions and organizations will be deliberating on the course of actions during the next few days. As they do so, the humble request of this writer will be to concentrate more on consolidation than on confrontation. While all movements need actions, the time at present is ripe for further consolidation, expansion and internal strengthening, not for too much of confrontation with the authorities. Particularly in terms of choice of place or path of tractor rally and other such issues, the farmers’ movement can be accommodative instead of being very confrontationist ( while remaining firm on main demands), and this needs to be emphasized particularly by the more elder and experienced leaders.
Unfortunately the attitude of the government and the overall establishment has been very unhelpful so far, at times being openly hostile and at other times being manipulative and divisive. This is not the way a good-hearted government should behave with its own people, its own farmers who have shown discipline and restraint in their prolonged peaceful movement , as endorsed by several senior government representatives, including the Agriculture Minister, on several occasions. Millions and millions of people are deeply emotional in their support of the movement, but where is the emotional bonding of the government with its own people, with its own farmers?
All this is true and highly regrettable, but despite this there is need for the farmers’ movement to still continue its policy of restraint, discipline and peaceful protest while avoiding an unduly confrontationist attitude.
An important reason for this is that given the unhelpful attitude of the government, it appears that a more longer-term movement than anticipated earlier by most people will be needed, and this has also been stated openly by some farmer leaders. This will be a great endurance test and several difficulties need to be overcome. Hence a confrontationist attitude at this stage is not helpful when a lot of longer-term preparations are needed.
Secondly as the movement is operating in overall conditions of media hostility and a lot of funds are apparently available for spending disinformation about the movement, more work has to be done for countering this and for taking the message of the farmers’ movement to more people. India has very far-flung rural areas and it takes time to spread a movement’s message. The all-India support base of the movement, a wider support base, needs more time and more efforts.
Even in terms of better, clearer evolving its own ideas the movement needs more time. It is relatively easy to agree on negating something ( the three controversial farm laws, for example) but more difficult to reach broader agreement on what changes are actually needed. As this writer has argued repeatedly in these columns, a change towards ecologically protective farming and better meeting the concerns of landless farm workers is really needed. Among various visitors to protest sites, perhaps the most noble advice was given by Baba Seechewal, who spoke of moving towards natural farming and farming based on more mutual cooperation among all rural households. A so many farmer organizations have gathered together at protest sites, others also keep sending representatives, some organizations of landless farm workers have also joined, this is a very good time for reaching wider common understanding and agreement on the changes which are urgently needed by the farm and food system in India. In addition they can discuss issues like diversification of rural livelihoods, contribution of village-level food and crop based processing to this and perhaps even agree on some experiments in this direction.
In addition the period of consolidation can be also used to initiate women-led social reform efforts in many of the villages which have a wide-support base for this movement. Such times of moral strength and stronger ethical base are particularly favorable for social reform such as giving up liquor and all intoxicants, ending all domestic violence, ending all violence against women, ending all discrimination based on caste, gender, faith and other such identities, curbing dowry system, curbing wasteful, harmful and ceremonial as well as consumerist expenditure. This will bring happiness to many households and people even while many difficulties are being faced in the course of the movement.
This great movement has already contributed much to national integration and communal harmony. This can be strengthened further by several symbolic actions as well as grassroots work. Western UP ( particularly Muzaffarnagar district) is a strong base of this movement. However some time back communal violence took place here and as a result many Muslim brothers and sisters are still living in distress. This movement can help in their rehabilitation , and/or promise to extend protection to them in future. Such actions while contributing to reducing distress will also enhance the ethical base of the movement.
The movement can also issue strong messages that no farmer or sympathizer should commit suicide or inflict self-harm as a way of showing support or distress, as the well-being of all is very much needed to strengthen the movement. In addition medical care and ambulance service ( as well as sanitation)can be improved at protest sites ( with linkages to hospitals located nearby), with the help of the Delhi government and some creative contributions by voluntary organizations known for new ideas. This will later help such protests in future also. The plus point of Delhi government being willing to cooperate should be used by the movement to improve sanitation and health services in such a way that the movement is better prepared for a longer peaceful resistance with a wider base.
Hence there is much to be done by way of internally strengthening the movement and taking its message to more people. Clearly this is the right time to concentrate more on consolidating, expanding and strengthening the movement, and more and more people should come forward to help in this.
Bharat Dogra is a veteran journalist and author. His reports from remote villages have been recognized in the form of several awards. His recent books include Planet in Peril and Protecting Earth for Children.