Thousands of men and women poured into the rally. They walked under the scorching heat of sun. Nothing could have stopped them from reaching their destiny. They walked throughout the day and slept under open sky at night. They cooked food and shared their meals. They sang and danced to avoid the tiredness and the difficulties of walking over a hundred kilometres. On their way forward, men and women came up with drinking water, biscuits and medicines. They were all strangers and yet they found brotherhood and compassion. And when they reached their destiny, what was kept for them was the joy of success. Their struggle paid off and they all left for their homes with a sigh of relief.
What you read is not an excerpt from a novel depicting freedom struggle or the fight for independence. It is not an historical account from some of the popular social movements or mass protests. It is not the history but a part of ‘present’. However, this ‘present’ is now history; indeed, a historic milestone in the farmer uprising that we have ever seen in the country. When 45,000 men and women flocked through the lanes of Maharashtra, no one thought they will make it up to Mumbai. It is not just that they succeeded in reaching Mumbai from Nasik, but also the fact that they gained support from all sections of the society. The government of Maharashtra was so cornered that they had to agree with the farmers on almost every demand that they put forward.
The long march of the farmers and tribal cultivators came as a response to the sluggish government policies over the years. Subsequent governments, both from Congress and BJP, often used to promise attractive schemes for the welfare of the farmers and the agricultural sector. However, most of the schemes remained in paper with little done in reality to raise the welfare of the farmers. The dissatisfaction among the farming community continued to grow owing to this pattern of historical injustice and reached the peak when the 2017 loan waiver programme announced by the government failed to bear fruits. The loan waiver scheme, which was announced for more than 80 lakhs of farmers, finally got confined to 31 lakhs of farmers when implemented. There were also reports of how technical problems often prevented the debt-ridden farmers from gaining the benefits of the same programme. Between the period of the announcement of loan waiver programme and October 2017, nearly 2400 farmers committed suicide due to the agrarian crisis. The farming community in the State was so frustrated to continue living the way they were and it was this break-even point that created the sparks of the protest.
However, this time farmers’ demand grew from an unconditional loan waiver to other demands like waiver of electricity bills, implementation of the Forest Rights Act, better minimum support price scheme and an extensive pension programme for all the farmers. Soon after the announcement in February, farmers started mobilizing in and around Nasik. Finally, when the march started, it became a popular uprising against the discriminatory policies and negligence from the part of government and bureaucracy. The farmers also showed an unprecedented example by walking late night to enter the city so that they could avoid creating any trouble to the people during rush hours, especially students appearing for their SSC board exams. Finally, when the farmers met the government, the cabinet had no choice but to agree on each and every condition of the distressed farmers.
The long march has already brought a sizable amount of media attention and agrarian crisis has once again become the talk of the town. The discussion is now not just confined to the nine ‘O’ clock channel debates but has been embraced by all sections of the society. However, this attention must not just fade away. While we are busy talking about ‘Make in India’, it was these farmers who were actually ‘Making in India’; they cultivated crops, cereals, vegetables and pulses, and this ensured our stomachs remained full. Their hard work in the field ensured that the society slept without an empty stomach. Though their share in the GDP is relatively smaller compared to the other sectors, we must not conveniently forget that food and thus agriculture, is one of the most important activities of any human settlement.
Rather than limiting our policies to mere loan waivers and subsidized energy supplies, there must be further elaborate, long-term policies that can actually bring in a positive change to the current crisis that the farmers of the country are experiencing. Many hope this would be another chapter in the story of Indian agrarian crisis. Yes, indeed it would be the beginning of a series of further strengthened farmer protests across the country, who are in great distress now. It is these farmers who feed us by tilling the land and we must ensure they are steered clear from the seeds of trouble. After all, we all owe them, a big red salute!
-Contributed by Jiss
Picture Credits: businesstoday.in