Kolkata: Airul Haque, a rural worker and resident of Vangar, an agricultural hub in the suburb of Kolkata, came to Dharamtalla at the heart of the city on Sunday to express his solidarity to the ongoing farmers movement at Delhi borders. Speaking at the Dharna Manch organised by the state chapter of All India Kisan Sangharsh Coordination Committee, he narrated the plight of small farmers in his locality who grow vegetables in their tiny plots of land but do not get remunerative price for their produce.
“We grow vegetables mainly for the city market. However, we are forced to sell our produces at Rs two to five per kg to local middle men or procurers attached to wholesale markets while the city consumers are buying the same vegetables at fivefold prices. Sometimes we are forced to leave our produces at the field, even dump them unsold. Our survival is at stake,” the organiser of Prantajan, a rural community rights group, said.
His words may have pleased prime minister Narendra Modi as they seemingly justified his claims over the three pro-corporate farm laws which he asserted would be panacea for all the woes of farmers with all sizes of land-holding and free them from middlemen raj and double their income.
But Airul and his rural friends are not convinced about Modi’s magic wand as are the big farmers of Punjab and Haryana, much more prosperous than their Bengal counterparts.
Both have castigated Modi for imposing a monopolistic corporate ‘company-raj’ on farmers in lieu of existing layers of middlemen, some of whom would be absorbed by Ambanis and Adanis in order to swallow the agri-business market and its export.
“We don’t want to jump into the oven from the frying pan. Our experience shows that the big companies are already law unto themselves,’’ Haque said. Pointing to the sustained pro-corporate bias of the Modi regime, he said that the Centre had announced huge financial packages for big business during and after the Lockdown months.
But it did nothing to bail out the pandemic-hit rural poor, particularly women and their families who had taken microcredits from banks like Bandhan Bank and non-banking finance companies. “ These companies are tightening their noose around our necks for interest payments even as there is no transparency and records over the interest rates and other credit conditions,’’ he said.
Interaction with farmers at Singu and Tikri border
Sankar Das, one of the leaders of Save Land, Livelihood and Ecology movement in Bhangar too focussed on the growing angst among farmers against corporatisation of Indian agriculture and agri-business.
“Since the days of the Green Revolution in India, markets for every agriculture input including high-yielding seeds, fertilisers and pesticides are controlled by multinationals and Indian big companies. They are instrumental in ruining the fertility of the land, groundwater level as well as bio-diversity of our rural landscape as well as the livelihoods of farmers and tribals and other nature-dependent communities.
Now Modi is hellbent on rewarding the whole agro-business as well as natural resources to the regime’s crony capitalists while impoverished and debt-ridden farmers are committing suicides more and more. Punjab and Haryana farmers who have first benefited from capital-intensive farming are now realising the perils of complete corporate takeover,” Das said.
He narrated his experience at Delhi’s Singhu and Tikri border where the farmers from adjoining states are holding a virtual siege on the national capital for the last one and half month demanding the rollback of laws.
“It’s not easy to survive the severe cold nights under the open sky with temperatures hovering around one or two degree celsius. Neither it is easy to bring the arrogant government to its knees. But the farmers’ defiance and determination is making a history. Their family life is on the wheels as children are taking online classes under the canopy over trucks and trolleys that had brought them to the gates of Delhi Durbar. We must try our best to turn their heroic struggle into a nationwide people’s movement against this anti-poor government,’’ he said amid cheers.
Bengal- Punjab bond remembered
Those who had gathered at Dharmatala protest site on its second day felt further inspired as Ashis Maity, an octogenarian freedom fighter from East Midnapore’s Khejuri addressed them. “If farmers of Punjab, the land of Bhagat Singh can challenge the rulers of Delhi, their counterparts from Bengal, the land of Matangini Hazra would not be far behind,’’ he said referring to the legendary ‘Gandhi Buri’ of Bengal and the martyr of 1942 movement which saw part of undivided Midnapore free from British yoke for a brief period.
A host of singers, film makers and other cultural activists from different generations, from Pratul Mukhopadhaya, the veteran bard of successive mass movements to greying Asim Giri and Nitish Roy rendered spirited and soulful support to the farmers. Members of Paschim Banga Gana Sanskriti Parishad took part both in off-stage and on-stage performances.
Uncurtain, a group of young dramatists performed a powerful street theatre on the series of cruelties of the corporate-communal BJP-RSS regime to the migrant laborers during the Covid lockdown as well as gang-rapes and murders of Dalit girls in BJP-ruled UP. The performance drew a large crowd that included the passers-by. A group of school children added colors to the protest site as they joined in drawing pictures and posters in support of the farmer’s movement.
As the dusk fell, another group of activists brought out a torch-lit march from south Kolkata under the banner of Netaji- Bhagat Singh United Forum and Justice Unifying Social Transformation (JUST) which celebrates the unity of ideas between the two great icons of the Indian freedom struggle from Bengal and Punjab. The rally participants paid homage to those farmers who had lost their lives during the ongoing movement at Delhi borders.
Similar Dharnas and rallies were held in districts including Birbhum’s Rampurhat, North 24 Parganas’ Khardah, Asokenagar, Nadia’s Nabadwip by different forums.
Jukto Mancha, a forum of writers, artists and intellectuals today held a convention in support of the farmer’s movement. Noted authors and educationists including Pabitra Sarkar, Shovonlal Dutta Gupta deplored increasing attacks on Indian as well as Bengal’s pluralist culture and political ethos by the BJP-RSS regime and its cohorts. Meanwhile, Joint Forum Against NRC has chalked out its new phase of campaign in Bengal and urged the people of the state to organise parallel celebration of the Republic Day on 26 January as planned by the farmers.
Inputs from Soumya Shahin, Panchali Kar, Partha Dey and Malay Tewari