Sitting with several buckets by his side, Ramrishi Dalal politely serves water to each person that passes by. Dalal, who hails from Manat in Haryana’s Bahadurgarh, is here to attend the Mahapanchayat called by the all-caste Dalal Khap-84 to support the agitating farmers against the three Farm Laws and the Electricity (Amendment) Bill 2020. Farmers’ unions, who have been camping at Delhi’s borders for 79 days now, are also demanding a law facilitating the procurement of crops at the minimum support price (MSP).
Dalal, a farmer who owns six acres of land, maintains that the small and marginal farmers are already feeling the heat of the Farm Laws. Speaking to Newsclick, he said: “Families in our villages are being hounded for taking a commercial electricity connection after our buffaloes were counted in the animal census.” Dalal was referring to a new rule where people in rural areas were mandated to take up a commercial electricity connection if the household had more than two buffaloes.
When asked about BJP-ally Dushyant Chautala – the Jannayak Janata Party (JJP) president and deputy Chief Minister of Haryana – not relenting to the farmers’ demands, he said, “Every family has an errant child but if he does not relent we will show him the strength of farmers’ unity.”
The management of the entire assembly could teach a lesson or two to event management companies. Dalal told Newsclick that each village has been assigned a specific duty to help the participants. “The volunteers from Mandothi have been told to arrange tobacco and fire for hukkas. Similarly, volunteers from the village of Chhara are looking after parking arrangements so that traffic moves smoothly and any mishap can be averted. People from Asoda are serving food,” he elaborated.
Narendra Dalal, who has come here from Chhara, is miffed at Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s comparison of the laws with legislation against the dowry and sati system. “Why is he conveniently forgetting the fact that laws against these social ills were brought after significant sections of society carried out movements for reforms. He is also conveniently forgetting the fact that it was agriculture which supported the economy when all the growth in all sectors nosedived during the lockdown. He still brought in the regressive laws. But let me be very clear. We are prepared for a long fight and we will not return until these laws are repealed,” he said.
The farmers also maintain that the movement brought together all sections of society which had moved away after the BJP campaigned for the alignment of 35 castes versus the Jats. Rakesh Kumar, another farmer, said that the divide “never worked in our region but it is true that the gap between communities has healed. I must tell you that Dalit communities like the Valmikis and Chamars are more vocal in opposition because they understand they will be worst hit. What did we get under Modi’s rule? He promised that common people will get an LPG gas subsidy in their accounts. Do you know what we received in lieu of subsidy? Rs 1.40,” he said.
He went on to claim that the government is giving Rs 6,000 per year as part of Pradhan Mantri Kisan Samman Nidhi but was simultaneously eradicating several pension schemes. “Soon, the public distribution of ration will be dismantled and we will get a pittance for that too in our accounts,” he added.
The farmers also highlight discrepancies in disbursal of loans sanctioned under the Kisan Credit Card and are pressing for a one-time waiver of loans from banks. Showing the messages he got on his phone from a bank, Bharat Singh from Mandothi said: “I own about 1.5 acres of land. It is safe to say that I am a small farmer. The government keeps repeating that loans will be disbursed at the annual rate of four per cent but we are paying as much as 11% to grameen (rural) banks. I got a loan of Rs 1.09 lakh and the bank deducted an interest of Rs 6,159 rupee for six months. It is certainly beyond the prescribed limits. The main issue is that corporates have always been favoured over farmers. The producers of salt increase the price per kilo where as the minimum support price is increased per quintal. In the last six years the price of salt increased by Rs 10 per kilo whereas the increase in MSP has crawled ahead. We did not even get an increase of Rs six per kilo. Please keep in mind that the production cost of salt and wheat are way different,” he explained.
On the question of one time waiver of loans, he said that they “need to get loans not only for agriculture but also for education and treatment of the elderly, simply because we do not have other sources of income. Why are we compelled to send our children to private schools? It is because there are no teachers in government schools. We heard that the Delhi government improved facilities in schools. Why can’t our schools be improved? A similar situation exists in government health centres,” he said.
Gurnam Singh Chaduni, the fire-brand farmer leader and president, Bharat Kisan Union (Chaduni) said that the farmers have waged a second struggle for economic freedom. “This fight is not about the farm laws alone. In this country a person is earning Rs 90 crore per hour whereas another person is struggling to earn Rs 9 per hour. Our farmers are being hounded for the recovery of small loans. As a result they die by suicide. Have you heard of corporates resorting to such a step? An estimate suggests that the farmers are getting Rs four lakh crore less due to non-compliance of the MSP. It is struggle to reclaim our dignity,” the senior leader said.
Amid all the hustle-bustle, a speaker announced from the stage: “My dear brothers, please be mindful that the farmers were always called names. Sir Chhotu Ram was once called Chhotu Khan, Charan Singh was isolated as a Jat leader. Tactics to divide us will always be deployed.”