There are increasingly worrying signs of the government becoming increasingly becoming more repressive towards farmers. On October 3, just a day after Gandhi Jayanti, four farmers and a journalist were killed at a protest site in Lakhimpur Khiri district (UP) when a car of a son of a union minister crashed into them. Just a little before this, the BJP Chief Minister of Haryana is alleged to have made a very threatening statement, instigitating supporters to take up sticks against those in the farmers’ movement, adding that if they go to jail for this they will emerge as leaders. A few days before this, an official had been widely condemned when evidence surfaced of him telling policemen to break the heads of protesting farmers. Prominent oposition leaders including Priyanka Gandhi sypathisizing with victims of repression have faced excessive hostile actions from the government. As if on clue, sections of media which habitually support the government line have become more hostile towards the farmers’ movement than in normal times.
Does all this amount to signs of a more persistent increase in the repressive attitiude towards the farmers’ movement on the part of the authorities? It is important to voice a warning in the interests of democracy, human rights, overall peace and stability in the country that the government should completely avoid use of force and repression with regard to ongoing peaceful and democratic movement of farmers.
Here are some important reasons why the government should avoid repressive action against the farmers’ movement.
- In a democracy the peaceful resolution of issues by people’s movements is of the greatest importance. Indian democracy had an overall good reputation in this context but this reputation has suffered in the recent past as many peaceful protestors were arrested in other movements and tear gas, batons and water cannon were used by the police in the initial stage of even this movement. This is just the right time for the government to redeem the reputation, nationally and internationally, of India as a democracy which can resolve the demands of its social movements A peaceful resolution of this stand-off ( which can be achieved very easily by agreeing to repeal the three controversial farm laws ) should be accompanied by withdrawal of cases against genuine participants in this movement.
- Repression will be widely seen as strengthening those who believe in violence, while a peaceful resolution of such an important movement will strengthen the hands of those who believe in non-violence.
- Repression and use of force against peaceful protesters will lead to increasing bitterness and hard feelings against authorities which is not good for any democracy. Already a lot of damage has been done by a senior offcial being heard to be telling policemen to break heads of protesting farmers.
- Repressive actions including forced eviction will cause a lot of distress to protesting men and women including elderly persons.
- Repression will cause a lot of distress to a much larger number of people who are attached to this movement in strong emotional terms, in India as well as abroad.
- Repression by the government will weaken patriotic forces in Punjab, while strengthening separatist elements.
- Repression by the government will weaken the patriotic NRIs while strengthening separatist NRIs.
- A policy of repression will cause much distress to a large number of soldiers and policemen who have close family and emotional links with protesting farmers.
- Repression against the biggest farmers’ movement will be harmful for Indian agriculture, food security and more specifically the immediate farming work.
- A policy of repression will be harmful for the Indian economy in many ways at a critical time.
- Forced eviction will anyway not solve any problem as dharnas (sit-ins) may re-emerge soon at other important places and the protest may continue.
- Over a period of more than 10 months of this movement, an impressive array of prominent scholars, economists and others have stated that the three controversial farm laws are not good for the country and the opposition of farmers is justified.
- The basic stand of the farmers’ movement regarding the need to oppose increasing grip of big business over farming and food system has been justified due to various decisions of government whch will harm small-scale farmers and processors while increase control of big business. Examples include big promotion of palm oil based path in edible oils sector, increasing emphasis on mandatory food fortification and others.
- India enjoys a lot of goodwill internationally for its peaceful and democratic resolutions of protests and this is where it scores over authoritarian competing regimes. This goodwill and reputation , which has already been harmed in recent times, will suffer a huge setback if repression is unleashd gainst the farmers’ movement.
- India is passing through very difficult times and a path or reconcilation and peace rather than conflict and repression is best advised during such times.
It is becoming increasingly clear that only a peaceful resolution will work and peaceful resolution is possible only by repealing the three contested farm laws. This message is completely clear for anyone who is willing to face the reality.
However the farmers’ can help their cause as well as the larger as well as longer-term interests of their country by moving towards additional demands relatng to eco-friendly farming, which can also reduce their costs, and also protect the interests of landless peasants and village artisans.
Bharat Dogra is a freelance journalist and author. He has received several awards for rural reporting and human rights reporting.