It appears now that an early agreement with the government is not likely and so the farmers’ movement has to prepare for the long haul. The popular farmer leader Rakesh Tikait has said that the sit-in or dharna can continue up to October this year, and he as well as others have said that this will continue till the three controversial farm laws are repealed. So the next question is how should the farmers’ movement prepare for the long haul.
Before coming to some of the bigger issues, there is this smaller issue that the farmers’ movement should not use the word black for the three farm laws ( kale kanoon) it criticizes so much as black is a very beautiful color like other colors and this word should not be used in a critical sense. Instead the farmers’ movement can speak in terms of anti-people laws ( jan-virodhi kanoon).
It will be very useful for the current leadership of the farmers to invite farmer representatives from various parts of the country and interact with them, giving more space to understanding problems of their areas. For example farmers from dry , arid areas and also desert areas can be invited, farmers of flood-prone areas can be called, farmers from tribal communities can be called, farmers from Himalayan and hilly regions can be called. Detailed talks with them will help in understanding their problems.
The present leadership of the movement is predominantly from the North Indian green revolution belt of Punjab-Haryana-Western UP, and it is very important for them to overcome these limitations and integrate concerns of diverse farming systems of India, if they truly want to represent the interests of all parts of India. Their main demand of repealing the three controversial farm laws is good for the entire country, but regarding some other issues they need to have a better understanding of concerns and problems of other parts of the country.
In particular they need to listen to those farmers from all over the country who have successfully practiced ecologically protective farming in various ways and at various levels. Those farmers who together achieve the objectives of protecting environment, water and soil; reducing costs, achieving higher self-reliance, reducing external costs, producing more healthy nutritious food and achieving economic success at the same time, show the way ahead.
Even while covering problems of farmers I have met farmers who have achieved all these objectives together in various parts of country and there is much to learn from them. Even in green revolution belt we can meet such farmers and farmer activists who are devoted to taking this forward. Fortunately Kavitha Kuruganti is one of the farmer leaders with the movement and she is a coordinator of the ASHA network which includes many of these farmers and activists with valuable learning of this path of farming and such persons can come to farmer gatherings to share their experiences and learning. It will be interesting and useful to see how they articulate their demands.
Thirdly, it is important to also call landless peasants, nomads, pastorals, artisans and other sections of rural society and see how their concerns can also be integrated in the understanding and demands of farmers.
All of them together should discuss and reflect regarding a comprehensive program for rural areas which can give new hope to rural areas and then there can be mobilization around this comprehensive program which should be able to integrate all leading concerns of protecting sustainable livelihoods, production of safe food, justice, equality, environment protection, checking climate change as well as adapting to it, and animal welfare.
This is a good time to discuss concerns like climate change which have not been adequately discussed among most farmers yet. How can farmers prepare better for adapting to climate change? How can they contribute to checking climate change? If they do, can the government engage with the international community to arrange a handsome payment for their efforts? Similarly if they contribute much to protecting soil, conserving water and reducing pollution, will the government reward them for this, and how? How can a generous system of government grants and subsidies be linked to protecting sustainable livelihoods of farmers and production of healthier food? These are important questions for the path ahead regarding which understanding and agreement among farmers should be created.
In addition to building such understanding and agreement on such important issues, some of which have been neglected in the discussions so far, it will be very useful if the farmers’ movement can send out a strong message of social reform in rural and semi-rural areas where it has more strength. This social reform should be led by women and youth of all communities , and not just the main landowning communities. The social reform effort should avoid completely any use of force and should be based mainly on moral strength.
The first priority should be to emphasize voluntary giving up of liquor and all intoxicants. The second priority should be to stop all violence against women and all domestic violence. Thirdly, all discrimination based on religion, caste and gender should end. Communalisation of society in the form of inter-faith hostility should be checked strongly. Unity of villages should be promoted for constructive work like water conservation, saving traditional water sources, saving folk arts and crafts. Cultural groups should be organized and libraries should be set up to promote good literature and reading habits. Preventive aspects of health care with hygiene and sanitation should be spread at community level. Dowry system, feuds and litigation among villagers and other such practices which increase economic and other tensions for villagers should be curbed at community level. Corruption should be fought with unity of community.
Such a social reform effort will contribute much to reducing distress and tensions at several levels in villages and in addition this will enhance the moral strength and internal strength of the farmers’ movement. A part of the money saved from wasteful expenditure can be used for community assets and strengthening the farmer movement as well.
By emphasizing these aspects and at the same time avoiding needless confrontation, within a few months or even weeks the farmers’ movement will be able to increase its internal strength and moral strength to great heights seldom achieved before . At the same time it will be in a much better position to be called a representative movement of all farmers and it will also be able to better articulate concerns of all farmers at the national level.
Bharat Dogra is a veteran journalist and author. His reports from several remote villages were recognized with several awards. His recent books include Planet in Peril and Protecting Earth for Children.