By J. Singh
Farmers in India are continuing their struggle without letup. They continue to demand the repeal of the three farm laws which favour agribusiness at their expense. They rejected the announcement by the Supreme Court of India that it has stayed the implementation of the three farm laws which the farmers demand be repealed. Nine rounds of talks with the government have been fruitless. The government is adamant that it will not repeal the laws. Meanwhile, the Supreme Court formed a panel packed with supporters of the laws and big agriculture companies for consultation with farmers about solutions to their problems. The farmers see this as another manoeuvre by the ruling elite to exhaust them and then attack them. They have announced that they will not go back home without the repeal of the laws. They have announced a program of intense agitation culminating in a tractor rally in Delhi on January 26, which is India’s Republic Day.
They have organized actions on January 15, 16, 18, 20 and 23 in the lead-up to January 26. On January 6, they held a rally with thousands of tractors, described by some as a “teaser” for the January 26 tractor March on Delhi.
On January 8, the anniversary of Chhotu Ram was marked. He was one of the leaders of the farmers’ movement against their indebtedness in 1905, which forced the British to repeal the offending law at that time. On this anniversary, farmers went to every village in India and discussed issues with the people and mobilized them. They are also asking people to go to Delhi on January 26 and take as many tractors and trolleys as they can.
On January 13, which is celebrated as Lohri, copies of the three anti-farmer laws were burnt as people lit bonfires and declared that these laws constitute their “death warrant.” Lohri marks the arrival of longer days after the winter solstice. It has been celebrated for millennia, possibly as far as back as Stri Rajyas (the time of Women’s Rule). Thus it celebrates the memory of women who discovered fire (agni devi) and harnessed it. Even now a huge bonfire is built and the winter crops gur, sesame, corn and mustard are offered. People sit around the fire, dance, sing and celebrate the birth of their progeny. In the last 500 or so years, Dulla Bhatti’s name has become associated with Lohri as well. Dulla Bhatti fought against the oppression of the emperor Akbar. Folk songs about Dulla Bhatti’’ valour and generosity were sung in all the farmers’ encampments around Delhi.
January 18 is Women Farmers Day. Big rallies will be held leading to the January 26 Tractor March on Delhi. The tractors in the Tractor March will be driven by women.
January 23 is the anniversary of Azad Hind Fauj (Free Indian Army). This was the army of the Provisional Government of Free India, mobilized during World War II and constituted of Indian expatriates and prisoners of war in southeast Asia. It is being celebrated with rallies of soldiers and farmers as Azad Hind Kisan Day (day to free Indian working people).
Meanwhile, the boycott of Ambani and Adani products and services across the country continues. The farmers have also warned against “Facebook Warriors” of the IT cells of the ruling elite that are trying to mislead the people.
On the Singhu border of Delhi, farmers of Punjab and Haryana who have been encamped for more than 50 days, recalled their memories of the centuries-old fight against Delhi. They recalled the uprising of peasants against Akbar led by Dulla Bhatti; the battles against Nadir Shah and Abdali and their determination to continue their fight against the new Nadir Shah of Delhi – Modi and his cronies and the ruling elite. Throughout the month of Poh (December 14 – January 13 is Martyrs month), they recalled the battles against Aurangzeb and the valour and sacrifice of the gurus and their sons. Speaker after speaker recalled Ahmad Khan Kharal, Nizam Lohar, Malangi, Jabroo, Ajit Singh, Chhotu Ram, Bhagat Singh, Rajguru, Sukhdev, Kartar Singh Sarabha, Barkatullah, Udham Singh, Baba Sohan Singh Bhakna, Baba Hari Singh Mrigind, Baba Bujha Singh and many others who fought for the cause of the people.
Many speakers also pointed out that all the establishment political parties have betrayed the people. The sentiment expressed is that now is the time to take political power in their own hands without the establishment parties, without the MLAs, MPs and judges who swear allegiance to the state handed over by the British, as presently constituted. The current system of party government inherited from the British has never served the Indian polity but acts as gatekeeper of the power of the rulers. Some farmers gave examples of how they are running the toll barriers and the morcha (resistance) by relying on their own forces. They also pointed out that morcha is Beghampura in the making, as envisioned by Guru Ravidassji in his hymn by the same name, during the bhakti movement which took place in the 14th to 15th centuries. Written long before the French Revolution, it extols the virtues of a society based on equality, liberty and universal brotherhood, where there is no discrimination, taxes or oppression. As such it is an expression of Indian thought material based on rich experience through the millennia.
Others pointed to the thought material inherited from Guru Nanak who called for a new society based on Sarbat Da Bhalla – the well-being of all.
Many of the farmers based their remarks on insights from Punjabi Darshan on the duty of the state to ensure the Sukh and Raksha of all (happiness and security). If it does not, then it is the duty of people to overthrow it. Many said that it is not just an economic struggle; it is a fight for their Hond and Vajud – their very being. It is not only a fight for Fasal (crops) but also for Nasal (the coming generations); not only for Kanak (wheat) but also for Anakh (dignity); not only for Anaj (grain) but for Samaj (society). Hundreds of artists and performers are invoking the battles that Punjab has waged. Many artists from west Punjab have also expressed their unity with their brothers and sisters in east Punjab. Some of their songs have gone viral. According to one news report, more than 100,000 Punjabis have returned from abroad to join the Punjabi farmers in their struggle.
Punjabi consciousness for the self-determination and unity of Punjabis has emerged very strongly in this struggle. Dulla Bhatti’s call for the self-determination of Punjab is being repeated in the farmers’ protest. Many people are calling for the decolonization of Punjab, which was occupied by the British in 1849 with neo-colonial rule continued after 1947, suppressing the national, social, and cultural rights of Punjab and Punjabis and finally leading to the brutal division of the Punjabi nation in 1947, as was also done to the Bengali nation.
The present-day Raj in Delhi has tried to demonize the farmers’ struggle and the aspirations of Punjabis by equating them with terrorism but it is not getting very far. Punjabis have risen many times since 1947 for the affirmation of their rights, the quest and aspirations of Punjab. It has been expressed in diverse ways. In the 1950s, it was expressed in the form of the movement for the Punjabi language; in the 1970s and ’80s it was for autonomy and Khalistan. Now it is being expressed in a call for a referendum on an independent Punjab. Many commentators are pointing out that whether the farmers’ struggle succeeds or is drowned in blood by Delhi, this aspiration and determination will grow stronger. The end of the State of the oligarchs in Delhi is unavoidable. Governance is untenable without renewal and renovation which empower the people. But, like Aurangzeb before them, the ruling elite in Delhi would rather have collapse than renewal. They have not learned any lesson from history nor from the collapse of the Soviet Union or from what is taking place in the U.S. and other countries.
The farmers’ struggle shows that all the neo-colonial institutions imposed on India by the British and their collaborators before and after 1947, such as the transfer of the colonial state apparatus, government, parliamentary system, judiciary, corporations and system of elections and party rule, only serve the empire builders, exploiters and a tiny ruling elite and concentrate all the natural and human resources in their hands. In the last 74 years, nine monopolies have acquired more wealth than the 600 million people of India put together. The rights of people are violated with impunity.
It is reported that the anti-farmer laws were recommended by the World Bank 30 years ago. That World Bank document was entitled India: Country Economic Memorandum, Vol. II.
The farmers’ struggle also reveals the necessity of developing the people’s own thought material to solve the problems faced by them and their society. Punjabi farmers, workers, intellectuals, artists, musicians and poets at the Singhu border, in full public view, are articulating and presenting solutions based on the insights of Punjabi Darshan developed over centuries as a guide to action in the present conditions. They are inspired by and upgrading concepts and categories articulated by revolutionaries, fighters, gurus, sufis, saints, bhagats and thinkers of Punjab dating back several centuries. They reject the borrowed phrases from Europe, the U.S. and other places. Punjabi Darshan and Punjabi Reet are robust, rich and capable of dealing with present-day problems and enunciate a vision for the future. Hundreds of poets, singers, musicians and writers and story-tellers are expressing the quest and aspirations of people and their fighting traditions from the stage, through social media, on the streets and parks of villages, towns and cities.
The line of march remains to support the farmers in India and unite in action to demand the withdrawal of the three farm laws. Until they are withdrawn, the farmers have no intention of withdrawing their morcha (resistance).
This article was published in TML Daily, Volume 51 Number 1 – January 15, 2021