Temperatures are rising, and so is communal hate. Rainfall is drying up, and so is employment. A war is being waged on the working masses by the corporates and ruling classes on every front. A war in which the people are losing one battle after another. But when the corporates and their henchmen in the seats of power thought that they were about to win and take control over people’s lives and livelihoods to fill their coffers, they suffered a massive loss. A battle in this war was won by the Indian farmers as the anti-people farm laws passed in September 2020 were repealed in November 2021.
A protracted movement for which over 700 farmers gave their lives and countless others toiled in extreme weather conditions at the borders of Delhi, the farmers’ movement was a sum of many struggles, aspirations and contradictions. But most importantly it was historic and its history with all its complexities, contradictions and aspirations must be preserved. The Journey of the Farmer’s Rebellion is a memoir of the farmers movement using the voices of those who led it and lived through it.
Using interviews with many farmer leaders, agricultural labourers and landless peasant leaders, and progressive artists and intellectuals, The Journey of the Farmers’ Rebellion explores the journey of the farmers and the obstacles it had to overcome to attain a resounding victory.
This book is a collaborative effort of three independent collectives — Workers Unity, Ground Xero and Notes on the Academy. Comprising over 512 pages, it has 21 in-depth interviews of peasant leaders as well as activists who participated in the movement in active solidarity.
Here is a brief outline of the contents:
The book is divided into four sections along with a foreword and an introduction.
The Introduction outlines how the brewing unrest of decades in Punjab found resonance in the more recent nationwide campaigns of the AIKSCC, demanding peasants’ freedom from indebtedness as well as the guarantee of MSP in all states. It engages critically with the organising potential of other sections of the peasantry like women, landless peasants and agricultural workers to assert that peasant resistance can consolidate despite the contending interests. The introduction also touches upon the absolute necessity of peasant-worker alliance and argues that the peasantry needs closer alliances with working class struggles and anti-displacement movements that are challenging growing corporate power over people’s livelihoods and resources.
The introduction is followed by the salient features of the three farm laws in brief for readers to relate meaningfully to the various aspects of the laws that interviewees refer to in their interviews.
The repeal of the three farm laws was achieved by an unprecedented unity of a coalition of 32 farmer unions in the Samyukta Kisan Morcha (SKM) along with other mass organizations like BKU (Ekta-Ugrahan) and Kisan Mazdoor Sangharsh Samiti.
In Section One, interviews with some prominent leaders show how this unity was achieved despite the different ideological persuasions of those involved. The determination to repeal the three farm laws and demand guaranteed MSP fostered unity, which further became a compelling imperative in the face of continuous state repression and distortion of the movement by mainstream media. Leaders also question the policies of international bodies like the WTO, World Bank, IMF and the world economic forum that ram down imperialist policies on national governments whose subservience paves the way for unbounded exploitation of workers and farmers.
Women leaders discuss the mobilisation of women farmers, both organised as well as spontaneous, in the protests and also share their views on their struggle as women within mass organisations to gain recognition for women’s participation in agriculture and in peasant resistance.
Interviewees explain how agrarian capital exploits farmers on the basis of feudal relations. SKM’s democratic functioning and information dissemination with regular updates drew support from across the country. The role of the Haryana and UP peasantry especially was spectacular and sustained. The grit and tenacity of the unions to sit in protest for 380 long days, even with peasants getting martyred in the process, made the movement historic in an unprecedented manner. Leaders reflect in this section about points of both agreement and differences and also opine on the way ahead. The need for a broad democratic movement to address the growing fascism of the ruling class is highlighted.
Section Two contains interviews with leaders of landless peasant and agricultural worker unions for whom fighting for land to the tiller and bargaining wage rates with landed farmers are a continuous struggle. In the course of the movement, agricultural worker unions came together to form a coalition named Sanjha Mazdoor Morcha to highlight their demands for both wages and guarantee of work. SKM made its support clear; yet, the struggles on the ground have become a test for this unity to be more decisive in the interest of landless peasants and agricultural workers. The interviews highlight the centrality of land relations in the lives of agricultural workers.
Section Three highlights how the landless peasantry has been historically denied land. Panchayati land reserved for Dalits continues to be usurped by upper and middle caste farmers with the connivance of the administration. Organising collectives and bidding in auctions for land happens at the cost of physical confrontation and fabricated criminal cases. They demand the implementation of the Land Ceiling Act. Although landless farmers are able to perceive the imminent threat of corporations coveting the same land, their active support for the repeal of the three farm laws is only part of the longer struggle for dignity, equality and restoration of justice after years of discrimination.
Section Four has interviews with journalists, economists and cultural activists who stood by the farmers’ movement in unwavering solidarity. It shows how the ethos of Sikhism and left politics in Punjab have evolved together. It problematizes the critical support lent by Dalits and agricultural workers and how their stake in fighting corporate aggression is crucial for the future generations. And above all, the section asserts how resistance fosters creativity be it plays, music, theatre or film making. The expressions of resistance are myriad; the beauty in resistance makes the vision of a future society sparkling clear and complete.
At the end, the book provides a chronology of the main events of the 380 days of resistance at the borders of Delhi. And the appendices list the names of all unions and organisations along with their charter of demands in complete detail.
The Journey of the Farmers’ Rebellion is being released in truly dark times. A bevy of judgements and laws that attack the very humanity of Muslims, from questioning their Indianness to letting loose the perpetrators of the vilest sexual assaults. Codification of labour laws that deprive workers of jobs and dignity and give international corporations ‘ease of doing business.’ Agreement after agreement handing over land to mining conglomerates. And ceaseless arrests and incarcerations of anyone who questions it. The Indian state’s program of selling India off to the capitalists seemed unstoppable until it passed the three farm laws. Recording that resistance from the vantage point of those who were in the middle of it is an important political task fulfilled.
As the foreword to the book asserts, the idea of this project came from a collective political belief in the collective conscience of the people of this country, even as that collective conscience today seems poisoned. There is growing hatred towards Muslims and other minorities. There is the nationalism of the most vulgar variety that is clearly programmed towards a wilful acceptance of the majoritarian Hindutva rule, backed by a coterie of crony-capitalists. Publishers of this book worked with a firm belief that this conscience will be reshaped, and it will be reshaped by people’s movements like the one whose footsteps they have tried to document in this book.
Ultimately, the book pays homage to the farmers movement, which gave hope and inspiration to all struggling sections.
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