Meet Kedar Sirohi, the man who helped Madhya Pradesh farmers speak up
Harda, Madhya Pradesh: Kedar Sirohi believes in speaking up. The founder-member of non-political farmers’ organization Aam Kisan Union says farmers who do not speak up will not be able to sell their produce. He uses a common Hindi saying in Madhya Pradesh to make his point: “Jo na bole uska sona bhi nahi bikta aur jo bole uski raakh tak bik jaati hain (The one who does not speak up cannot sell even his gold while the one who speaks manages to sell even ash)”.
In 2011, this articulate farmer founded the union to give farmers a voice. Six years later, when Sirohi and those associated with his organization speak up, the powers-that-be in Madhya Pradesh, where Aam Kisan Union is at the vanguard of farmers’ protests for a farm loan waiver, listen.
“We use creative and novel ways to get our point across. In their time, my grandfather and father, who were also farmers, would say who listens to farmers if they complain. Things have changed and a majority of farmers who are leading the protest across Madhya Pradesh are young and assertive,” Sirohi says.
In his large 35-acre farm, Sirohi, 35, cultivates soyabean, wheat, and urad (black gram). He has seen the world outside his modest village of Bhuvan Khedi, in Harda district of Madhya Pradesh. He holds a B.Sc. degree in agriculture and a Masters in agricultural economics and farm management. His first job was at the Bhopal-based Indian Institute of Forest Management. Later, he joined ITC Ltd’s e-chaupal project in Madhya Pradesh to see first-hand “the marketing side of farming.” He quit ITC after two years and joined the Gujarat-based National Bulk Handling Corp. “Being a farmer myself, I knew the production side and wanted to see the marketing, processing, handling, and value-chain aspects of farming,” he says.
On the learning curve still, Sirohi went to Myanmar to work at a commodity exchange for a complete understanding of the farm sector. “At the end of this learning, I was convinced that the farm sector needs holistic solutions and it is the farmer who must be the centre of these solutions,” Sirohi says. So, he decided to work directly with farmers.
Given his credentials and clarity of intent, it is not a surprise that Aam Kisan Union became the farmers’ favourite platform in the Madhya Pradesh protests. Violence in the town of Mandsaur made national news. But Sirohi and his friends at the union have been cultivating farm discontent in the state for the last three years even as the chief minister travelled the word to trumpet the 20% growth in the state’s farm sector. Sirohi condemns violence, saying dialogue and peaceful protest are the only way to realize farmers’ well-being. “We have created so much of faith among the local police force that they never carry lathis when we are protesting,” Sirohi says.
“We are a totally localised union which, however, does not think locally only. Using social media like Facebook, Twitter and WhatApp, we reach out to farmers in all parts of Madhya Pradesh and also other states. There are no office-bearers and hierarchies. Any farmer can join and speak his mind openly,” he says.
Sirohi believes the political affiliations of existing farm unions have created space for a non-political, non-profit organization which talks only of farmers’ well-being. “The Congress-affiliated farmers’ union will not speak against a Congress government and the BJP-affiliate will not speak against BJP government. Farmers’ issues got pushed back due to these political compromises,” he says.
Sirohi, however, believes the farm crisis creates farm leadership. “In the 1980s, India had formidable farm leaders in several states like Sharad Joshi in Maharashtra and Mahendra Singh Tikait in North India. The last 20-odd years have seen a vacuum, but now more and more youngsters are coming up. There is more education, awareness, and a refusal to compromise with farmers’ interests,” he says, explaining why his union is getting traction.
Does he have contempt for politics and political affiliations? “No. In India, change has to happen through two systems, political and social. The political system has to deliver growth and development, but it is the social system, in the form of organisations of different social groups, which will have to control the reins of political system,” Sirohi asserts. No wonder Sirohi and his farming friends have kept Shivraj Singh Chouhan on a very tight leash in this season of farm anger in Madhya Pradesh.
This is the eleventh part of Mint’s Fractured Farms - II series that will capture the ongoing agrarian crisis in India through a mix of on-ground reports, opinion pieces, and data analyses. It follows Fractured Farms, a similar series Mint ran in 2015.