Farmers Firmly Counter Allegations of Being Covid Super Spreaders
No answer to protestors in Haryana and Uttar Pradesh
Tempers are running high in Haryana after several farmers faced a lathi charge and teargas shells as they protested against chief minister Manohar Lal Khattar’s arrival in Hisar on Sunday to inaugurate a new Covid treatment facility.
The agitating farmers were moving toward the venue in large numbers when the police stopped them resulting in a violent clash. Later the farmers took to Twitter in a big way to trend the hashtag #KhattarSarkarGundaSarkar – the Khattar government are hoodlums.
The clash, according to kisan leaders, occurrs in the context of an all out effort by the Bharatiya Janata Party and affiliates to somehow blame the second wave of Covid on farmers agitating against the farm laws pushed through Parliament last year.
Farmers say the first goal of such a campaign is to undermine the people’s movement, while diverting attention from the government’s failure to handle the Covid crisis.
They are fighting the “government propaganda” tooth and nail, terming it yet another conspiracy against the movement.
After being set upon by Haryana police, farmers stated on the Kisan Ekta Morcha handle that their agitation may be against central laws, but if the state government continued such attacks they would resort to a social boycott, and prevent BJP or Jannayak Janata Party leaders from entering Haryana villages for as long as they are alive.
A lot has happened in the course of the farmers’ agitation to rattle the authorities.
Coming first to the government campaign, a tweet on the verified BJP4India handle on Thursday, claimed that the protest epicentre Punjab, not the Kumbh Mela, was the origin of the second wave.
This was followed by CM Manohar Lal Khattar saying the farmer protests had turned a few villages in his state into Covid hotspots as people returned from the protest sites. Khattar reportedly urged the farmers to stop their protests, and resume if they wished once the situation was under control.
Narayan Dutt of the Inquilabi Kendra Punjab, an organisation involved in the protests, told The Citizen that the government “has been hatching one conspiracy after the other to undermine the movement and has been failing on every occasion. They have come to realise that they cannot suppress this widespread movement in the name of Covid-19, as they did the anti-CAA and anti-NRC movement.”
He further added, “What they are trying to do is to terrorise people in the name of Covid-19, to instil the fear among them that anyone visiting the protest sites will fall prey to the coronavirus.”
Dutt said, “They are most rattled by the support the farmers have got from Haryana and Uttar Pradesh [both governed by the BJP]. We want to tell them that we are ready to extend every support to the administration in the districts where there are protest sites, when it comes to distancing, sanitising and vaccination.
If the state is really concerned about the farmers, it should extend these facilities along with oxygen to these sites.”
The umbrella organisation Samyukta Kisan Morcha (SKM) in a statement too has pointed to the need for the government to resume the dialogue with the protesting farmers.
Criticising Prime Minister Narendra Modi, for conducting a “scripted and orchestrated” conversation with some farmers while releasing the eighth installment of the PM-KISAN insurance scheme while shying away from a dialogue with representatives of the largest ever farmers’ movement, the SKM leadership said that he did not have the “courage to even allude to the current protest”.
“While the government is forced to procure more under pressure from protesting farmers, this is an inadequate response to the demand that minimum support price be guaranteed. While the public distribution system in India is indeed the largest such programme anywhere in the world, as alluded to by the Prime Minister, the farmers’ movement realises that [the PDS] is under threat from the BJP government,” the SKM leadership said.
On Khattar’s statement, the SKM claimed that protest sites have largely remained free of the pandemic. Its leaders say the Haryana chief minister’s statement shows his “anti-farmer” attitude.
The Citizen reported earlier how Jats in Haryana, who stood alienated after the reservation stir in 2016, are now leading the other communities against the farm laws.
Academic experts observe a similar change in western Uttar Pradesh, where communities like land-owning Jats and Muslim farm labourers stand united again, where they were once polarised by the Muzaffarnagar violence of 2013.
There has also been a coming together of Dalits and Jats in the region, with the latter with leaders like Rakesh Tikait, actively seeking a broader unity.
In his deliberation at an “International Conference on Farmers’ Protest: A Pioneering Field for Social Sciences” Satendra Kumar of the Indian Institute of Advanced Study in Shimla said the farm agitation has brought together the polarised Jats and Muslims, and that the two communities have always shared a common culture with no animosity between them until 2013.
He also said that the agriculture sector in Uttar Pradesh is witnessing a rough patch for the last several years, and this has been further aggravated by laws and vigilantism against the cattle trade.
Kumar explained that in the last few years both the communities had lived in mutual animosity in the remote interiors of the state, because of rumours spread by Hindutva vigilantes about a threat to their lives from the other community.
“It is the right time that they have forgotten their animosity,” he said,pointing to the appeal made by Bharatiya Kisan Union leader Naresh Tikait with regard to forgiveness and coming together, and the subsequent response.
Similarly he pointed to Bhim Army chief Chandrashekhar Azad Ravan coming forward to extend support to Tikait. This support is not symbolic, he said, as it has been facilitated by the new economic conditions emerging in the last 20 years.
He said the caste divide has been blurred on account of youngsters from different strata facing similar hardships and being similarly demeaned when they go out to places like Delhi in search of elusive jobs.
They get rough treatment in the corporate culture, he said, and the pride of being a farmer that is left with them helps them in certain ways.
Another factor playing a role in the region, said Kumar, is that even land owners have been compelled to supplement their farm income from other sources, so the landowner and labourer binary has collapsed over the years.
Cover Photograph ANI