By Ashveer Pal Singh | OPINION |
A few days ago, armed with a daffli and the rhythms of Punjabi dhadis two young women sang into microphones amongst a group of farmers camped out on the Haryana-Delhi Border:
Pimps are trying to sell our land, we will pin them to our knees.
We’ve sharpened the edges of our blunt swords,
the youth is eager to rip out the roots of oppressive rulers.’
These are not the refrains that regularly accompany a trip on the Grand Trunk Road, though perhaps the Punjabi faces might look familiar. Farmers, young women, children, all manner of people moving in one direction, with one purpose. Less makki di roti; more maan ki baat.
The protests have recently emerged across a number of media channels, and while a great deal of commentary and playtime has been spent listening to pundits wax poetic about whether or not one ought to agree or disagree with the vehicle, few have stopped to question the direction itself. How exactly did we get to this point, and what led us down this road in the first place?: So let’s take a moment for a quick explainer: Why are people protesting towards Delhi, who are they, and what is at stake?
Tell me about it. No really, please tell me about it.
This September, the BJP-lead government rammed three acts through the parliament under the guise of achieving that elusive dream of ‘global agricultural capital’. Aside from demonstrating how quickly the government of India is capable of moving (when it is politically motivated to do so), these three acts also succeeded in entirely deregulating agriculture in the country, putting farmers in peril. Crops can be sold outside of government-regulated mandis, contract farming has become formalized, and companies can hoard essential commodities. While these changes may seem abstract and easy to detach oneself from, what is critical to note here is that these changes remove key protections for those who till the land – putting their livelihoods, families, and associated local economies at risk. Keep in mind as well, that these destabilizing changes come on the heels of the farming community in India has made international headlines for widespread suicides under the weight of immense debt among agriculturist households across the country. This is the single most important development in Indian agriculture since the Green Revolution of the 1960s, by which this community labored to make the country food secure and independent of first world nation food aid. The irony is that today, the agrarian community is one which has little margin-left with which to absorb the economic shocks that these acts will bring.
After smaller protests around the country by a multitude of farmers organizations, and failed talks with the central government to resolve the impasse, Punjab’s farmers declared Dilli Challo and marched towards Raisina Hill in cars, buses, and tractors. But they are not alone. Over 500 farmers unions across the country are supporting the march officially.
But take a look on Instagram, and you’ll find young women shouting and singing slogans alongside their turbaned uncles, and children on the road too. International support has been voiced across the diaspora, as well as from elected representatives in the UK and Canada. Every part of the Grand Trunk ecosystem seems to be stepping up to play its part. Local mechanics have volunteered their labor to maintain tractors. The famous Amrik Sukhdev Dhaba fed protestors as they passed. Free medical booths appeared on the roadside as if out of thin air. Local hotels offered their facilities for protestors to wash up. It’s notable that this protest marks one of the first instances that the farmer’s movement has gained such widespread support.
What is at stake?
Reforms like these impact so many lives at so many levels. The trickle-down effects run everywhere from the bhavans of Delhi to the ribbons that tie the braids of a little girl sitting in her second class. Don’t believe us? The next time you eat, take a good look at your plate and consider how many different individual people were somehow involved in the simple production of your lunch.
About the Author: Ashveer Pal Singh is a PhD candidate in the Department of anthropology at Stanford University and a User Experience Researcher at Facebook. His thesis research examines bureaucracy, e-governance, and political culture in Punjab.
Read the full story, ‘A Snake in the Sarson: How Punjabi Farmers Found themselves at the Gates of Parliament’ (The Lipstick Politico, 1 Dec 2020), here.
Don’t let be propaganda fool you (Asia Samachar, 2 Dec 2020)