‘Suicides Increase and Hunger Grows’
Officials being transferred in Lakhimpur Kheri, farmers arrested
Last week a large protest was held against Prime Minister Narendra Modi in Glasgow. A number of Indian diaspora in the United Kingdom, who are supporters of the historic farmers’ movement in India, gathered in Glasgow last week to protest against Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
Holding placards that said "Struggle of Indian Farmers is Our Struggle" and with banners "killer of hundreds of innocent protestors", these people of Indian origin extended their support to the protesting farmers in India. They held up banners saying that Modi is not welcome in Scotland.
The protest happened at a time when the Prime Minister was visiting Glasgow to take part in the United Nations COP26 summit to tackle the global warming emergency on an urgent and committed basis by all countries of the world, for humanity’s future to be saved.
The Samyukta Kisan Morcha reminded the Indian government of the farmers’ movement’s demands against corporatisation of our food and farming systems, and for an MSP legal guarantee are pathways that will tackle emissions from agriculture and food systems.
SKM appreciated the strong solidarity and support being extended by the Indian diaspora in various countries, and urged them to continue building pressure on the Indian government.
In response the government took authoritarian actions against NRI supporters, cancelling the OCI (Overseas Citizens of India) cards and long term visas of an unknown number of NRI supporters of the farm movement and accusing them of indulging in "anti-India activities".
Supporting this farmers’ movement cannot be construed as "anti-India" activity by any stretch of imagination. The government is revealing that it is afraid of the continuing movement and its growing strength by actions such as this. The SKM condemned this action by the Indian government, and demanded that the government revoke its undemocratic and authoritarian actions, including the deportation of supporters like Darshan Singh Dhaliwal.
It is learnt that Darshan Singh Dhaliwal, a US-based supporter of the farmers’ movement, was reportedly asked not to support the langars at the morcha sites if he was to be allowed entry into India, and it was for this reason that he was deported by Indian authorities from India without being allowed to enter.
Meanwhile, coming under pressure from the Supreme Court, for some days the Delhi Police has been putting in special efforts to make a show of removal of barricades and various other obstacles that they placed on the roads against protesting farmers. This is happening at Tikri Border as well as Ghazipur Border.
It is well known that the police have behaved as though the protestors are enemies of India and the greatest threat to the safety of the country. Police have fortified the morcha sites by placing huge cement boulders, multiple layers of metal barricades, placement of sand trucks across the roads and also fixing multiple layers of nails on the road.
In the latest narrative that they are seeking to spin, the partial removal of these barricades is being taken up to impress the Supreme Court of India.
The SKM has always maintained that it is the police who blocked the roads, not the farmers, and the hasty removal of barricades clearly vindicates the stand of protesting farmers. The SKM has already clarified that it has allowed two-way movement of traffic in the past, and will do so in future too at the morcha sites.
If the government wants to open the passage completely, it also has to open the passage to fulfill the farmers’ demands. Whether the farmers’ agitation will continue in the same location or whether it will move into Delhi is a collective decision that will be taken at an appropriate time.
For now, as shared in an earlier press release, the SKM is watching all developments, and appeals to all citizens who are part of the movement to remain peaceful, and not to be provoked by anything.
Developments are also underway in Lakhimpur Kheri. In the investigation related to the farmers’ massacre there, after it was criticised by the Supreme Court, the SIT has reported that 75 statements have been recorded so far, and 60 eyewitnesses have been provided with security, with 16 more likely to get the same. The SKM has invited local farmers to take the help of the 7-member advocates’ team put together for legal aid, so that justice can be secured.
On the other hand, two farmers Gurvinder Singh and Vichitra Singh were arrested last week, based on the counter-FIR filed by arrested BJP worker Sumit Jaiswal, who is also one of the main accused in the case.
In videos and eyewitness accounts, Sumit Jaiswal is seen running away from the killer Thar jeep which mowed down farmers in the front. His FIR was lodged a few hours after the FIR from the farmers’ side was lodged, and alleges false charges of stone pelting by peaceful protestors.
The above two farmers have been sent to police remand, and cases have been registered under Sections 147, 323, 324, 336 and 302. Reportedly, the investigation is trying to frame more farmers in the case.
The family of slain journalist Raman Kashyap has also alleged that the police are trying to charge the farmers for his death. It is clearly evident that attempts are being made by the investigation team and junior home minister Ajay Mishra Teni’s side to frame farmers.
The SKM has condemned the arrests of the two farmers, demanded their release, and reiterated its demand for a Supreme Court monitored SIT probe in the case.
The 7-member advocates’ panel formed to provide legal aid to farmers in the Lakhimpur Kheri farmers’ massacre will pursue the legal fight against the accused, including the main accused Ashish Mishra. A team of volunteers from farmers’ organisations has also been formed to coordinate with the lawyers’ team as required, to assist in legal proceedings.
The SKM legal team members met with officials of the UP government’s SIT and demanded the immediate release of two farmers arrested in a counter FIR (No. 220 registered against unknown persons); they also demanded immediate stopping of police notices being sent to farmers in this FIR.
The Uttar Pradesh government of the BJP is effecting transfers of key officials even as the sensitive investigation into the Lakhimpur Kheri farmers’ massacre is getting prolonged, as noted by the Supreme Court. These transfers for political expediency could further affect the investigations and justice in this barbaric massacre of peaceful protestors.
In a situation where Ajay Mishra Teni, as the Minister in question, or the Prime Minister, do not seem to have any moral compass to guide them towards removal of conflict of interest, and to actually arrest Ajay Mishra Teni as the ‘sutradhaar’ of the Lakhimpur Kheri Massacre, the SKM hopes that the Supreme Court will also look into these transfers and why they are being undertaken.
Meanwhile, reports continue to come in of the VIP treatment that Ashish Mishra has received in jail so far. The SKM once again demands that the entire investigation be supervised directly by the Supreme Court for justice to be secured in the matter.
The Shaheed Kalash Yatras for the martyrs of Lakhimpur Kheri continue unabated all over the country. They are meeting with a rousing response from farmers and all other sections of people. However, Union Minister of State for Home Affairs Ajay Mishra Teni still continues in his post in an immoral fashion.
Last week, when Teni visited Bhubaneswar in Odisha, student activists held a black flag protest and threw eggs on his convoy of vehicles near the airport. The SKM warns Ajay Mishra that he will face such ire and wrath from all right-thinking citizens wherever he goes, and demands that he be sacked and arrested immediately.
The family of Lakhbir Singh, the Singhu border victim of goons of a Nihang sect, has been paid compensation by the Union and the Haryana state BJP governments. These governments, which earlier claimed that they have no information or records about deaths in the farmers’ movement, have immediately shown readiness to pay compensation in the case of Lakhbir Singh.
As we had seen in our earlier columns, the photos and news of the leader of one of the Nihang sects’ Aman Singh meeting BJP ministers Narendra Singh Tomar and Kailash Choudhary had gone viral. There was a deep conspiracy in the case to give a bad name to the farmers’ movement and to entrap it in violence. But that has been repulsed by the movement.
Last week on October 28, in a sad and unfortunate development, three farmer protestors were killed at Bahadurgarh at the Tikri Border by a tipper truck; two other protestors were badly injured. The injured were rushed to PGIMS, Rohtak.
In this accident, Amarjeet Kaur, Gurmail Kaur and Sukhwinder Kaur of Khiva Dayalpura of Mansa district in Punjab lost their lives. The SKM is deeply saddened at the loss of lives of these brave women protestors, and will support the injured for their recovery.
Their last rites were performed in their village. There was a pall of gloom everywhere. Thousands of people bid final farewell to these bold women during the cremation ceremony. They had undergone great hardships in their lives, with two of them being single women and all of them smallholder farmers carrying heavy debts.
The SKM paid its heartfelt homage to these martyrs. It also demanded that any foul play in the incident has to be ruled out through a thorough investigation.
Suicides among farmers too have shown a rise in the latest NCRB data. The Government of India’s National Crime Records Bureau has pegged the annual number of farm suicides in 2020 at 10,677 of which 5,579 suicides are of cultivators and 5,098 are of agricultural labourers.
Maharashtra, Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh and Chattisgarh account for the largest number of farm suicides, which have been put at 7% of the total suicides in the country in 2020.
Despite the increase, several critiques exist of the reliability of data on farm suicides in the NCRB reports. Overall there has been a trend of reporting declining farm suicides since 2016. The anomaly of several states like West Bengal reporting zero farm suicides in these reports is notorious.
While this suppression of the real picture with regard to farm suicides is on, there is no denying the acute distress that farmers are going through in the country, with the lockdown-induced hardships adding to the same.
The SKM has demanded once again that the Government of India not exacerbate the situation of farmers further by bringing in pro-corporate laws that worsen the situation for farmers, and demands that it immediately repeal the three anti-farmer laws. The SKM also demands that the Government of India should urgently enact an MSP guarantee law for all farmers and all agricultural produce.
Several other long-pending issues related to reducing costs in agriculture and external input dependence, of mitigating and buffering against risks including natural disasters especially in the age of climate change, of supporting the real cultivators in agriculture etc., need to be addressed seriously by governments.
The recently released World Hunger Index shows that more people are going hungry in India. On October 16, World Food Day, India slipped further in global hunger ranking in a shameful manner, from 94 out of 107 countries last year, to 101 out of 116 countries this year, despite boasting about record production of food grains, milk, fruits and vegetables, fisheries’ produce and so on.
The widespread incidence of hunger and malnutrition cannot be denied. It is not just production, but the overflowing public granaries which don’t reach the needy that need to be looked at. The fact that India’s food security basket assured under the Public Distribution System has not been diversified to deliver on true nutrition is disastrous for both farmers and consumers (in many instances, these are overlapping categories), as well as our environment.
The corporatisation paradigm being promoted in our food and farming systems, represented by the three anti-farmer laws and other policies, will prove even more disastrous, and that is what the current farmers’ movement is fighting against.
This movement is trying to establish equity, viability, sustainability and nutrition security into our food systems, in its pushback against corporate control over our food and farming systems. Within this pushback are issues of:
- skewed cropping in the country
- so-called ‘fortification’ of food to allow more corporate takeover of our food
- deregulation of food stockpiling and freedom to black-marketeer
- dismantling of PDS
- trade liberalisation allowing subsidised dumping of produce into our markets, pushing down purchasing power in our rural economy
- destruction and corporatisation of forests
- diversion of rice to ethanol production, and several such reductionist non-solutions.
Causing further distress to consumers and producers, the rates of petrol and diesel were hiked for the sixth successive day in the country. Diesel has crossed the Rs 100 mark and petrol has crossed the Rs 110 mark per liter long ago. Cooking gas prices have crossed Rs 1,000 per cylinder.
Through these massive increases in fuel prices, the Union government is hitting hard not just farmers, but all people. The SKM has demanded yet again that the prices be reduced by more than half immediately, so that the vast majority of citizens in the country can improve their tenuous livelihoods and lives with dignity.
This is all the more important given the ongoing ecological crisis, including global warming. Heavy unseasonal rains in several parts of the country in October destroyed the season-long effort and toil put in by lakhs of farmers in different states in this crop season. Thousands of hectares of paddy and other crops lie totally destroyed in Uttar Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Haryana, Punjab and many other states.
It is estimated that 120 lakh metric tonnes of standing paddy crop ready to be harvested has been affected by the rains and hailstorms. Paddy brought to market yards is now lying in yards that are full of water. The disaster compensation that is given through NDRF and SDRF mechanisms is meager and does not cover the losses incurred by farmers during such natural disasters.
The SKM has demanded that that the governments take up a comprehensive assessment of the damage faced by farmers and pay them compensation immediately. Farmers are also agitating for compensation for cotton crop damage due to pink bollworm, and for paddy procurement to be started in right earnest in several locations.
As for the supply and cost of inputs, news about severe hardships in accessing chemical fertilisers like DAP continue to pour in from various parts, including deaths while standing in long queues or even suicides.
The current fertiliser shortage in India reflects not only the lack of planning and management by the Government of India but also its encouragement to black marketing. The government’s claims that it has created a safety net for market fluctuations after the pandemic lie exposed.
A hard-hitting AIKS press release on this issue stated, “Over the last three decades, with continuous undermining of the public sector and domestic capacity for manufacturing fertilizers, India has become increasingly dependent on imports of fertilizers. In 2020, of the total supply, 25 per cent of urea, 68 per cent of DAP and 100 per cent of Potash was imported. Even for fertilizer that is manufactured in India, key raw materials such as phosphatic rock and phosphoric acid are imported.
“More seriously, the Government of India did not do anything to ensure that adequate fertilizer stocks were obtained before the Rabi sowing. Total supply (production and import) of DAP between March and September in 2021 has been 31 per cent lower than in the same months last year. The supply of Potash in the same months has been 68 per cent lower than last year. The fall in supply of fertilizer has also been accompanied with an increase in prices as no further increase in subsidy or a policy of price regulation has been announced by the government.
“Under the privatised and deregulated regime, large scale hoarding and black marketing of fertilizers is going on. On the other hand, farmers are unable to get fertilizers even after standing in long queues for days. It is reported that five farmers died in the Bundelkhand region in Uttar Pradesh due to exhaustion while standing in line for two to three days. One farmer in Uttar Pradesh and another in Madhya Pradesh are reported to have committed suicide as they had taken loans but were not getting fertilisers. Unless immediate corrective steps are taken it could have serious consequences for the peasantry and agriculture as a whole.
“All India Kisan Sabha (AIKS) demands that the Central government should immediately constitute a high-level task force to explore the possible ways to immediately secure adequate supplies of fertilizers, re-introduce price controls for all fertilizers under the NBS scheme, and establish a high-level committee of experts to prepare a roadmap for enhancing the national production of fertilizers and preparing a mechanism to ensure that adequate stocks of fertilizers are maintained.”
Ashok Dhawale is the President of the All India Kisan Sabha.
Cover Photograph - At the Singhu border DANISH PANDIT