By Nageshwar Patnaik in Bhubaneswar, March 10, 2021: India’s largest farmers’ protest has completed exactly 100 days on Saturday and is still very much alive. Tens of thousands of farmers have been on strike since 26 November braving both chilly temperatures and rain. It has turned out to be the largest and longest peaceful citizens’ protest anywhere in the world. Until very recently, the worldwide rally against U.S. President George W. Bush’s decision to invade Iraq in 2003 had been known as the largest in world history, amassing 10 million to 15 million people in more than 600 cities across the globe.

This summer’s anti–police brutality protests within the U.S saw the participation of up to 26 million people in the country alone. So even if the 250 million figure is difficult to pin down with certainty, the Indian farmers’ protests still clearly dwarf these numbers by several degrees. By November 30, between 1-3 lakh farmers were protesting near Delhi borders, with no intention to step back and return. Farmers, mostly mainly from Punjab and Haryana, initially tried to enter Delhi following their ‘Delhi Chalo’ call but were stopped by law enforcement agencies citing law and order situation.

Protesting farmers are demanding the repeal of three firm laws which they think will contract their incomes. Incidentally, the country has never seen so many farmers’ organisations joining hands to agitate in unison. Despite different political ideologies, the leaders of these organisations are learning to work with each other signaling maturity among the farmers in the country. This has also pushed the Indian farmers into the centre of our polity after a very long time.

The farmers’ agitation also has sparked open large and intense public debates on economic reforms, future of Indian agriculture as well as on democracy itself. The Supreme Court orders also have upheld the democratic right of peaceful protest. In this case, the Supreme Court had earlier ordered a stay on the implementation of the contentious laws, hoping it will end the protest.

The farm union leaders have also rejected the Centre’s proposal to suspend implementation of the laws for 18 months. The farmers are demanding a complete rollback of the new farm reform laws and a guarantee on the Minimum Support Price (MSP) system being retained. Multiple rounds of talks between the Centre and the farmers’ union leaders have ended in a stalemate. Protesting farmers fear that the new laws will dismantle the MSP system and corporatise farming.

The world is watching this agitation with awe. With the agitation drawing attention beyond boarders, the Modi government had to meet the protesters. However, several rounds of talks between the farmers’ representatives and the Centre’s representatives have ended in a stalemate. Between December 3 and January 20, the government and protesting farmers unions met for 10-11 times, when both the sides put their viewpoints regarding the new farm laws. But after every round of talks, no conclusion, solution or compromise was reached.

But situation worsened when hundreds of farmers moved to Red Fort, barged in, created havoc, vandalised, damaged public property, and hoisted Nishank Sahib (a religious flag) on the Republic Day. Farmers turned violent when Delhi Police tried to stop them. Agitating farmers clashed with police, broke barricades, rammed their tractors into police vehicles. In order to control them, the police used teargas and were forced to lathicharge. Ever since that day, no major talks with the government have taken place.

Union agriculture minister Narendra Singh Tomar, nevertheless, on Sunday reiterated that the Centre was willing to amend the farm laws. The protesters, however, have made it clear that they would not stop the agitation until the three laws were rolled back. Bharatiya Kisan Union (BKU) leader Rakesh Tikait said, on the completion of 100 days of the protest, that the agitation would not stop until all the three laws were withdrawn.

What is unique about the agitation is that thousands of women farmers have made their presence felt by driving tractors to Delhi boarder. On Monday, they were asked to lead the protests to mark International Women’s Day. But they are insisting now to move beyond token gestures and have sought a national discussion on recognising women as farmers. Women are denied the institutional support of banks, insurance companies, cooperatives and government departments because of gender discrimination and practices like having land title rights mainly in men’s names.

Women are joining in large numbers in the movement and they are taking on multiple roles and exhibiting their capabilities and resolve. Their assertion of their identity as farmers is quite refreshing and will have positive consequences in the future too. Going by the Census 2011 and the Center for Land Governance index, women constitute 32% of India’s agricultural labour force and contribute 55-66% to farm production. Yet, their share of land holdings is just 12.8%. Women farmers are excluded from entitlements like institutional credit, pension and irrigation sources because of lack of official recognition to them.

Before the new farm laws were brought in, a key demand of farmers’ bodies was the implementation of the recommendations of Swaminathan Commission on Farmers on fixing MSPs in letter and spirit. Prime Minister Narendra Modi had promised just before the 2014 Lok Sabha elections that if voted to power, his government will change the way MSP is set. It will follow a new formula — the entire cost of production plus a guaranteed profit of 50 percent which was one of the key recommendations of the 2006 M.S. Swaminathan Commission on farmers.

Modi government should see the writing on the walls and accept the Swaminathan Commission’s recommendations which also echo the just demands of the country’s farmers and provide the legal sanction to end the storm for all time to come.

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