Thousands of farmers gathered in Lucknow today, November 22, to highlight that the year-long agitation which claimed the lives of almost 700 cultivators was not merely about the three laws. What more do the farmers demand? A ground report from the protest site.
Lucknow, Uttar Pradesh
Not satisfied with Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s November 19 announcement in which he informed the nation about his decision to repeal the three controversial farm laws, middle-aged farmer Rekha Devi resolved to come to Lucknow from the protest site at Delhi’s Singhu border and participate in the ‘mahapanchayat’ (mega-gathering) in the Uttar Pradesh capital.
When Gaon Connection went to report the mahapanchayat at Lucknow’s Ecogarden park, a group of women were found rolling rotis (Indian flat bread) to keep the supply of food steady at the protest site. Rekha Devi was one amongst them.
Having witnessed repetitive yearly losses in her agrarian household in Kanpur Dehat district, Rekha Devi’s resolve to get the mess in the country’s farm sector sorted is staunch. She has participated in the year-long farmers stir at the Singhu border as well. She stated that the farmers’ issues are not restricted to the farm laws alone and that the farm crisis is much larger.
Organised by the Samyukta Kisan Morcha, an umbrella body of 40 farmer unions in India, farmers from several states of Uttar Pradesh, Punjab, Haryana have congregated in Lucknow three days after Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced repealing of the three contentious farm laws.
“He [PM Modi] has no children to take care of, but we do. We’re living in poverty. The raja (king) should listen to his praja (people). We elected him to listen to our woes. Now what are we left with? Old and worn out clothes?” she asked angrily.
“I do not believe PM Modi’s words. I want to see that farm laws are repealed in the Parliament without fail or delay. There are no jobs as well, berozgaari (unemployment) is too much. Farm households do not have the means to sustain their livelihoods, mehengayi (inflation) is also rising,” she added.
Farmers and their leaders are far from satisfied with the Prime Minister’s announcement to repeal the farm laws. Although they have been demanding the repeal of three contentious farm laws, they say that urging the Prime Minister to roll back an ‘incomplete victory’. Rakesh Tikait, one of the most popular farmers’ leader who has mobilised thousands of farmers in western Uttar Pradesh, told Gaon Connection that there are multiple issues that plague the farm sector in the country.
“We want this [Modi-led] government to work. We do not know why the Modi government took this decision so suddenly. The biggest question this time is deaths of farmers, guarantee of MSP [minimum support price], Seed Bill. We will discuss this with the government,” Tikait, leader of the Bhartiya Kisan Union, told Gaon Connection.
It is estimated that more than 700 farmers have died during the agitation against the contentious farm laws in the past one year. “The government has killed the farmers. They have to be accountable for it. Had they taken these laws back earlier, this martyrdom would have not resulted. The government will be held accountable for these deaths,” the farmer leader Tikait added.
An elderly farmer, Sukhvindar Singh, came all the way from Punjab, to the Uttar Pradesh capital, early in the morning.
“I came here at around five in the morning. Seven hundred farmers have died in the protest at borders. Unless their families are given compensation amount, jobs, status of martyr, and MSP is guaranteed, till then we will continue to protest at the site, tab tak assi gar nahi jaenge, ” said Singh, a resident of Faridkot district of Punjab. (We won’t go back home till then)
The three farm laws — Farmers’ Produce Trade and Commerce (Promotion and Facilitation) Act, 2020; Farmers (Empowerment and Protection) Agreement on Price Assurance and Farm Services Act, 2020; and Essential Commodities (Amendment) Act, 2020 were alleged by the protesting farm leaders to be anti-farmer.
The legislation was also seen by the protesters as an attempt to corporatise the agricultural sector in the interest of the private corporations.
On November 19, PM Modi announced to repeal the three farm laws in the winter session of the Parliament this month. Several opposition leaders including Congress general secretary Priyanka Gandhi Vadra and former state chief minister and Samajwadi Party chief Akhilesh Yadav took to Twitter slamming the Modi-led government for the sudden decision ahead of UP Elections.
Meanwhile, Yogendra Yadav, leader of Swaraj India party told Gaon Connection that this agitation has the potential to bring about a change in Indian politics. “The illusion of the government’s invincibility has vanished. I believe that the successful farmers’ agitation will bring about a change in politics across the country,” he said.
Yesterday on November 21, the Samyukta Kisan Morcha sent an open letter to Prime Minister Narendra Modi, titled, ‘Your message to the nation and farmers’ message to you.
The letter, while welcoming the move of the prime minister to repeal the farm laws, also set forth other conditions the farmers wanted addressed. It highlighted three of the most urgent matters that the framers hoped would be resolved — making the Minimum Support Price a legal entitlement; withdrawing the draft Electricity Amendment Bill 2020/21 which aims to open up the power sector; withdrawal of the provision for penal action against farmers in the “Commission for Air Quality Management in the National Capital Region and Adjoining Areas Act 2021”.
Besides these, the Samyukta Kisan Morcha has demanded that cases filed against farmers during the agitation be withdrawn; punitive measures be taken against Ajay Mishra Teni, minister of state for Home Affairs, who the farmers allege was responsible for the mowing down of innocent farmers in Lakhimpur Kheri in Uttar Pradesh last month on October 3, and to build a memorial for the 700 farmers who lost their lives in the course of the farmers’ agitation.
In the Lakhimpur Kheri violence, eight people including four farmers, two BJP workers, and a journalist Raman Kashyap were killed. Their families told Gaon Connection that the deceased would have been alive had the laws been repealed back then.