Farmers Dying, Centre Unmoved

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Farmers’ protest continued for the third week as several rounds of talks between Centre and farmers’ unions failed. Farmers intensified their protest this week by blocking several roads that connect the capital with many Indian cities. Farmers believe the new farm laws are exploitative and against them and have demanded no less than their repeal. Farmers have firmly stood by this demand in the dead of winter and amidst the reported “cold wave” this week across Delhi. However, this has not gone unaffected. Several farmers have reportedly faced tragic loss of lives this week and also in the weeks earlier. Several died as conditions remain harsh.

Also, a 65-year old Sikh priest by the name Baba Ram Singh who had joined farmers in their protest on the Singhu border reportedly shot himself after seeing the plight of farmers. The purported suicide note read: “I saw the anguish of the farmers. They are suffering on the roads to get their rights. My heart was very pained at this. The government is not doing justice. This is injustice. Oppressing someone is a sin; tolerating oppression is also a sin…I am taking my life in support of … the hard-working farmers.” However, the Centre remained unmoved and continued to suggest that these were simply agitations provoked by the opposition and farmers have been misled by them. Prime Minister Modi who has not been directly involved in talks with agitating farmers travelled to his native state Gujarat where he addressed the Kutch farmers saying that the farm laws were meant for their benefit and that farmers were being “misled” into protests.

The earlier weeks went by by thwarting farmers from entering Delhi, lathi-charging them and opening water cannons on them; the succeeding weeks passed by holding “dialogues” with them and the following weeks were meant for “propagating” the benefits of farm laws to farmers across India with Prime Minister himself jumping into the campaign. It appears that the farm laws have extremely high stakes involved which the ruling government does not want to give up easily without a battle. But it’s the farmers who are losing lives in this battle – for whose sake the “amendments” were made or the new laws were brought. But the Centre looks unmoved. It wants more “dialogues” with them and even a “clause by clause” discussion. A wide “dialogue” and greater consultation with them earlier or even a “clause by clause” discussion in the parliament could have certainly helped and avoided all this furore and tragic loss of lives. But the centre then appeared in a rush to pass the bills and its benefits to farmers or others. It even rejected the opposition’s demands to take the bills to a parliamentary committee for wider deliberations.

The farmers’ protest which has withstood harsh weather, rough treatment by authority, the darkness of the looming pandemic has only grown stronger as the determined farmers intend to continue their agitation even “for months” until the “anti-farmer” laws are done away with. Their protests do not appear to be protests by agitating crowds who have been misled by people or opposition parties. The farmers understand and say that it’s their livelihoods that are at stake. Several farmers have joined their agitation this week and it does not seem that their protests will die with them. The centre appears to understand this and have turned to the Supreme Court over the matter. The centre has pleaded that the blocking of roads is infringing upon others’ fundamental rights. But as the Supreme Court asked centre to suspend implementation of the farm laws while not staying them the centre did not yield. The centre wants to remove the farmers from borders and put an end to protests. However, the Supreme Court said it would not interfere with farmers’ rights to protest, so long as it is constitutional.

The Supreme Court suggested forming a committee of experts, farmers’ unions and others to facilitate dialogue between farmers and the centre. But many farmers’ unions stayed away from the hearing itself. Protesting farmers at Tikri border (Haryana-Delhi border) reportedly said “Govt is taking SC’s help now so their ego is not hurt”. “Table talks should be shown live” they said.

Formation of a committee is not likely to happen any time soon and the farmers are resolved to continue their protest. The current situation, with several farmers already dead, may get worse in the coming days due to the stalemate. The centre wants to campaign and talk but not listen as many economists even pointed out several drawbacks in the farm laws. The centre must listen to farmers and others before more damage is suffered by farmers and others affected by agitation.

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