UJJWAL K.CHOWDHURY | 8 AUGUST, 2018
Why is Bharat Joining Hands For A Bandh on August 9?
Farmers, Veterans, Dalits, Minorities, Tribals Join Hands
NEW DELHI: Bharat goes for a Bandh on August 9, the day the Quit India movement began. And India is disturbed.
Some months ago Bharat came for a march to India. And India was awestruck. Some two lakh of the most impoverished farmers and tribals of Maharashtra marched into Mumbai last March in the dark hours of the night, walking towards Azad Maidan to press for the right minimum support price (MSP) for their produce, and a farm loan waiver as a short-run measure. Today, they stand together with army veterans, Dalits and women. They have called a Bharat Bandh on the day an enslaved Bharat asked the British to Quit India some 75 years ago.
Farmers are angry because prices for their produce have been abysmally low, as low as Rs 2 to 5 per kilo for onions and tomatoes, which sell in excess of Rs 25 per kilo in the urban markets. The MSP announced by the government has been dubbed a fraud on the peasantry. It was determined as per the limited A2 + FL formula, not the comprehensive C2 + 50% formula recommended by the Swaminathan Commission, in which C2 includes land, labour and all input costs.
A few examples of this difference: Paddy – the MSP announced is Rs 1750 per quintal instead of Rs 2340 as per the C2 formula; Cotton – Rs 5150 instead of Rs 6771; Soyabean – Rs 3399 instead of Rs 4458; Groundnut – Rs 4890 instead of Rs 6279.
In fact, the BJP which came to power on the promise of ensuring full MSP for farm produce, has already gone on record as through an affidavit in the Supreme Court that the Centre cannot ensure full MSP.
Farmers are angry because their movements in different states invited state violence. During the last two years, there have been several cases of firing on famers, killing many: six in Mandsaur, Madhya Pradesh; seven in Jharkhand; 13 in Thoothukudi, Tamil Nadu. No action has been taken against the police in any of these cases. Very little, or delayed, or in some cases no relief has been provided to the deceased farmers' families.
Since Independence, across all regimes, some four lakh farmers have committed suicide, or died in abject poverty, or been shot dead in protests. And this is only what the official documented figures reflect.
Tribals are angry primarily because the Forest Rights Act (FRA) enacted for their protection is an Act known for being violated by whoever is ruling. The FRA was enacted by the first UPA government in 2006, largely under pressure from the 61 Left MPs, to correct the 'historical injustice' done to tribals since the times of the British colonial regime. It provided for land rights over the land they had been cultivating in the forests for several generations, and also over minor forest produce.
But in recent times, and more so under the current NDA government, three major violations of the FRA have recurred.
First, lakhs of claims to land made by tribals under the FRA have been unjustly rejected. Second, even where the claims were accepted, much less land than what they are cultivating has been given to them. Third, in large parts of the country, tribals are not even aware that the FRA exists, and have made no claims at all to the land they cultivate.
Under the BJP regime, laws have been passed to curtail the FRA, to ensure that tribal land can be given away to corporate houses for mining, iron and steel industry and even real estate.
Further, the farmers and tribals and Dalits are angry due to their forced eviction from their ancestral lands. The Delhi-Mumbai Industrial Corridor (DMIC), other proposed industrial corridors and dedicated freight corridors in the country, the Mumbai-Ahmedabad Bullet Train corridor, the Mumbai-Vadodara Expressway, the Salem-Chennai Green Corridor, the Mumbai-Nagpur Samruddhi Highway and several Special Economic Zones in the country – in all of these instances, farmers are fighting valiantly against forced land acquisition by the government and private entities.
In May 2018, the Ministry of Defence (MoD) issued instructions to the Army to open all cantonment roads for public use without any restrictions. The MoD’s order to open the internal roads of military areas has been termed illegal by organisations of retired armymen, as it is in violation of the Official Secrets Act and the Cantonment Administration Rules.
The order has also invited criticism for compromising the security of troops, equipment, weapons, ammunition, installations and the armed forces' families. According to the veterans, it adversely affects the conduct of training and war preparedness of the armed forces, compromising national security.
Then there is the vexed One Rank One Pension (OROP) issue. OROP means that all soldiers of Indian Army, Navy, and Air Force must get the same pension for the same rank and the same length of service, irrespective of their date of retirement. And that any increase in the pension of current soldiers must automatically be passed on to past pensioners.
Congress governments kept promising to give OROP but always shied from accepting the demand in toto. During the election campaign Narendra Modi realised this disservice to gallant soldiers, and on September 15, 2013 promised in front of three lakh soldiers at an Ex-Servicemen (ESM) rally in Rewari that his government would release full OROP if brought to power.
A large family of ESM voters (four crore votes) voted for BJP/NDA candidates. The NDA government was sworn in on May 17, 2014. It approved OROP in its budget on July 10, 2014. But despite various discussions, the formal announcement and implementation of OROP was delayed.
Finally, the ESM family began a relay hunger strike and agitation at the Jantar Mantar in New Delhi from June 15, 2015. OROP was released by the government on November 7 of the same year, but it fell short of the promises made. From the Top of the Scale Model which would cost Rs 8300 crore, the government has implemented only the Average Model, at a cost of Rs 5500 crore.
There is a slew of other demands including widow pensions and medical care that have not been looked at all.
Dalits are angry in the light of the atrocities meted out to them from Una to Shahjahanpur to Bhima Koregaon, and the arrests of several Dalit leaders who do not belong to any party but were involved in protests against local atrocities. They now demand the withdrawal of all cases against Chandrashekhar, Shiv Kumar Pradhan, Sonu, Upkar Bawre and others detained under the National Security Act, and those arrested or implicated for the Bharat Bandh on April 2, 2018.
Further, Dalit organisations want the restoration of the Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of) Atrocities Act, 1989, as it existed, with its all provisions and penalties as prior to the Supreme Court judgment of March 20, 2018, which limited these.
They believe that the Dalit presence in the judiciary is negligible, and that an Indian Judicial Service should be established under Article 312 of the Constitution.
Those who have called for the Bharat Bandh on August 9 also demand an end to the hate-driven mob violence and lynching plaguing the country. They ask for the fast-tracked arrest and prosecution of those responsible for the murders, as well as those backing them, in an exemplary manner.
Alongside, they ask to revive and vote into law the Women’s Reservation Bill – guaranteeing 33% reservation for women in the Lok Sabha as well as the state assemblies – within the term of the current Lok Sabha.
All the groups calling for the bandh have also demanded the scrapping of Aadhaar, which has wreaked havoc with welfare schemes by widening exclusion, and compromised civil liberties by creating new forms of discrimination, and made real the threat of a surveillance state. The absence of Aadhaar cards has led to rations being denied to the marginalised, for instance in Jharkhand, with many dying of starvation in the recent past.
(Professor Ujjwal Chowdhury is a media academic and columnist and is currently head of the School of Media at the Pearl Academy, Delhi and Mumbai; and former dean of Symbiosis and Amity Universities.)