Thousands of people poured into the sit in protest at Ghazipur border in Delhi on Friday to mark the one year anniversary of the farmers' movement. However, to many of the attendees at today's events across India, and especially at the protest sites at Delhi borders, the one-year anniversary indicates a renewal of their struggle as several major demands of the movement remain unfulfilled.
After a year of braving extreme weather conditions, rough living situation at the protest site camps, State crackdown and ideological attacks from the Right, the farmers' movement remains as strong and united as it was last November. The protest site at Ghazipur border has only widened in the last one year and the main stage has acquired a permanent shade for the audience sitting area.
The Ghazipur protest site was crowded since the morning on Friday. Beside those who were staying at the site, many people affiliated to different organisations turned up with their flags, banners and paraphernalia. They shouted slogans as the marched through the protest site with their small contingent and then, settled down at the main stage area. Green-yellow flags of different Bharatiya Kisan Union factions and red flags of Leftist farmers and workers unions dotted the protest site.
In Ghazipur, like other border protests, farmers held a kisan panchayat where an array of programmes was held from morning to late evening on Friday. Cultural groups and folk singers performed in between speeches by activists and leaders, evoking the revolutionary spirit of the movement and hailing the role farmers play in the society.
More than five langars were also running tirelessly to feed the increasing number of people along with security personnel and a large number of media professionals. Many set up stalls with books, badges and caps of their parties.
The legal counsel for the Samyukt Kisan Morcha (SKM), the platform of about 500 farmers organisations leading the movement, claimed that nearly 50,000 cases have been filed against those participating in the farmers' movement across India. The SKM has demanded withdrawal of such cases, among others.
Though PM Modi announced in a national address that the three farm laws that farmers have been protesting against would be revoked, several protesters Newsclick spoke to expressed doubt over the government’s intentions to follow through with the plan.
“Till the government officially withdraws the laws, we will be right here. Modi had also said people will get Rs 15 lakh, but where is that?” asked Jamil Ahmed, a farmer in his 60s, from UP’s Amroha. Ahmed, who owns 3 acres and 25 bighas of farm land, rued the lack of MSP for crops and the recent scarcity of fertiliser, which he said made it difficult for him to grow sugar cane this time. Ahmed said he had been at the Ghazipur protest site for a year, with his family members also joining in often, but the fight is far from over for him as farmers are yet to get MSP for all crops as demanded by the movement. Like many others, he was cautious in feeling happy about the recent development as he bore doubt over the Modi government’s actions and wanted to wait till the laws are actually withdrawn.
However, All India Kisan Sabha (AIKS) national secretar Ashok Dhawale dismissed the fear over the Centre not withdrawing the laws. “The BJP government had to bend in face of this one year long strong movement. Cabinet has approved that these three farm laws will be withdrawn. They don’t have another way out now. Even PM Modi has announced the same to the whole nation. So, they will have to revoke the laws in Parliament,” he told Newsclick.
Dhawale said the main agenda now was to get a central legislation implementing the minimum support price at 1.5 times the production cost for all crops for all farmers across India. “This was our demand since day one when the protest started last year on November 26. But the PM has not said a single word about it in his speech,” he said. He added that another important agenda was withdrawal of the Electricity Amendment Bill. The Centre has listed the Electricity Bill for passage in the Winter session. “This law, if passed, will not only affect farmers but also the general public as it will significantly raise the electricity bill cost for their households. Through this, the government wants to completely privatise the power sector and help corporates benefit at the expense of the common people,” he said.
He also underlined the other two key demands of the SKM -- firstly, the arrest and dismissal of Union minister Ajay Mishra Teni in the Lakhimpur Kheri case where a car belonging to the minister’s son ran over and killed four farmers and a journalist; second, the withdrawal of cases against protesters; third, compensation for the families of those who died during the protest and land for building a memorial for the deceased. “The SKM has written a letter to the PM with all these demands but we are yet to get a reply,” he said.
He said no other movement in recent times has sustained for so long, with solidarity between farmers and workers, against massive repression. “The movement faced attacks from all sides. The State cracked down many times with police force, tear gas and water cannon. ... We also faced the second wave of the pandemic. But we continued peacefully throughout, which is rare given how the movement involved lakhs of farmers from different parts. Also, this was a very secular protest, largely bringing Hindus and Muslims together,”he said.
There was a lack of female participation in Friday’s event at Ghazipur that commemorated one year of the farmers’ struggle that saw significant involvement of women. Mala Devi, who had been part of the protest at Ghazipur since the beginning, told Newsclick that a large part of those at Ghazipur border were from Uttar Pradesh and rural women from the state found it comparatively more difficult to step out of the house. “You will see more women at Singhu or Tikri border,” she said. Devi, a member of the All India Kisan Mahasabha from Ghaziabad, also added that the dwindling number of women on Friday also meant that women were busy with farm work as it is the harvest season.