“Everywhere I hear the sound of marching, charging feet….” Mick Jagger and Keith Richards sang in 1968. I was reminded of this song, the moment I reached Singhu border of Delhi. Although the sounds were not of marching and charging feet, but the song resonated with what I saw.
As is common knowledge now, the country is witnessing a mass farmers protest against recently enacted three farm laws. Farmers are demanding re-appeal of these farm laws as they fear loss of livelihood and eventually land ownership rights.
As an urban citizen I was a reluctant visitor to the farmers’ protest. Its only in such instances that we realize there exists a rural–urban divide. The urban middle class is unable to find the connection with the farmers. But with time the echoes of the Farmers’ Protest are reaching them; more and more civil society groups are joining in. Now it seems, the sun shining on the farmers is mocking the shade of the city dweller.
Farmers in colorful turbans and white flowing beards greet you with a smiling face. Even a fleeting interaction with some old farmers, gives a glimpse into the moral strength of these frail bodies. According to a Jewish legend world rests on 36 just men. If moral strength of only 36 men can keep the world going, what does this immense reservoir of moral strength entails?
What strikes you the most is the mood of the protest. Unlike what farmers protests usually envisage- sadness, somberness, powerlessness, this protest seemed different. Farmers you meet are upbeat, patient, full of hope and ready to put up a fight no matter what.
And yes, there was absolutely no covid-19 protocol. Everyone was sans masks, only a few media persons could be spotted wearing masks. Not wearing the mask was not a protest statement, rather it was a reflection of more pressing issues being faced by the farmers. When your very livelihood is at stake, you think least about a contagion.
Moving around and talking to farmers I gradually began to uncover the connectedness of urban and rural issues. The public distribution system which feeds scores of urban poor is solely dependent on government procurement of food grains. When food is corporatized, it’s not the rural poor but those on the lowest plank of the urban social ladder that get badly affected. And gradually we all who don’t grow but instead buy food, will end up paying higher food prices.
Another remarkable feature of the protest was the availability of food. Meals were available for each one and everyone, free of cost. In a true sense, the protest is a living example of inseparability of Farmers and Food.
A non-violent protest in the twenty first century is a symbol of the resolve of the farmers, who in spite of many provocations have chosen to remain peaceful. This Farmers’ Protest will definitely go down in history as a beacon of longest running peaceful protest
Spending two days at the protest, I am left wondering – Will this Work? At times there seem to be no immediate effects of the protest, but instead there are long run cascading effects both on the protestors, civil society and government. How this protest will end, only time will reveal?
When a large section of population decides they are not going to put up with something and there is credibility to their assertion, then they become a strong force to reckon with. Sustaining such protests for weeks under difficult conditions is not an easy feat, and there are indications that this protest is already having an impact. The 26 January Republic Day Tractor Parade is both show of solidarity and strength of the movement. Mass participation in tractor parade and the support it is harnessing from even those who are not participating, suggests the Farmers’ Protest is already having a piercing effect. It’s a powerful social movement and will have long term effects, not visible yet. If social analysts are to be believed, it might end up changing lives and minds of both participants and non-participants.
Writer Bio – Livneet Shergill, Ph.D. in Economics. Works as an Independent Researcher, who chooses to be a free agent, for better or for worse.