New Delhi: Thousands of farmers from across India gathered in the national capital on Monday to press demands for fair crop prices and loan waivers, returning the spotlight to prevailing agrarian distress.
The demonstrators marched to Delhi’s Parliament Street after which they organized a women farmers’ parliament in which participants narrated the ordeal posed by rising debt, falling crop prices and suicides in their families.
A ‘kisan sansad’, or farmers’ parliament, comprising members from over 25 states, also appealed to Prime Minister Narendra Modi to end rural distress.
“We are holding a ‘kisan mukti sansad’ (farmers’ relief parliament) to deliberate on laws that would give effect to two minimum demands of farmers of the country," read an open letter to Prime Minister Narendra Modi from the All India Kisan Sangharsh Coordination Committee (AIKSCC), a coalition of 184 farmer unions which participated in the protest.
Farmers want a legally binding assurance of fair and remunerative prices through measures like higher procurement, deficiency price payment, appropriate trade policy and punitive measures for traders purchasing farm produce at below support prices, the letter said.
“...farmers (want) to be freed from debt from all sources with an immediate, comprehensive and unconditional loan waiver," the letter said.
Addressing the farmers, Puja Ashok More, a woman farmer from Maharashtra, said the Bharatiya Janata Party had promised before the general elections in 2014 that it would implement the recommendation of the M.S. Swaminathan commission to fix minimum support prices (MSP) at cost plus a 50% margin, but never acted on it after coming to power.
“Governments have changed over the years but our plight continues," she said.
The women came from all parts of the country including Tamil Nadu, Bihar, Madhya Pradesh, Karnataka and Telangana. Conversant in only their mother tongue, they sat in groups, each wearing a card with the phone numbers of a few people from the organization that had brought them to the capital. The women from Anantpur, Andhra Pradesh, were carrying an extra item—photographs of their late husbands.
Subamma has left behind her two school-going daughters and foregone at least four days of work to be in the capital. Her husband killed himself in 2015 after incurring a debt of Rs5 lakh he owed local moneylenders.
“There was constant harassment from the moneylenders. One day I came back home after toiling in the fields the entire day to find his lifeless body swaying in the room. That sight never leaves me," she said.
It is that haunting memory combined with the concerns over her daughters’ future that has brought her to Delhi. “I work as a daily wage labourer for Rs100 everyday in other people’s fields and my story is no different from so many others’ out there. Is this the future for our children also?" she asked.
The farmers’ protest in Delhi follows successive years of low crop prices during 2016 and 2017 when, following a normal monsoon and a bumper harvest, prices of crops like pulses, oilseeds and cotton plunged below government-set minimum support prices. Prior to that, in 2014 and 2015, farm incomes were hit by consecutive years of drought.