The Maharashtra Peasants’ Agitation

Five and a half weeks after a ‘farmer friendly’ Union Budget, on March 11, 2018, an estimated 40,000 farmers from across Maharashtra reached Mumbai after marching through 180 km from Nashik to agitate for their just demands. The primary demands included the following:

  • Establishment of the rights of adivasis over forest land and resources under Forest Rights Act,
  • Prohibition in acquiring farmers’ land for elitist projects like the bullet train project,
  • An unconditional waiver of loans and electricity bills,
  • Implementation of Swaminathan Commission recommendations on Minimum Support Price,
  • A pension scheme for farmers,
  • Monetary compensation of Rs 40,000 per acre for crop damage because of last month’s hailstorms and unseasonal rains.

Amidst attempts to discredit the movement and heavy criticism from the ruling dispensation, the farmers stuck to their demands and won a partial victory when the Chief Secretary of Maharashtra gave a written commitment that their demands would be fulfilled in a time bound manner. Whether that actually happens is yet to be seen. This victory of farmer’s is indeed a shimmering light in the landscape of a greater intense struggle that farmers of this country will have to wage against the ruling class.

It is important to keep in the mind the sacrifices that the farmers have made while making this agitation. When a poor agricultural laborer leaves her home for a week, she immediately experiences a drop in food intake, a rise in hunger and a loss of 1/4th of a month’s earning as she is a daily wager. The farmer, who leaves her children back home and the fields unattended, suffers an economic loss too. In spite of such damage to themselves, the farmers of Maharashtra came out in and made their point.

While speaking of the agrarian society, which is under intense distress in India, we generally understand the farmer (including agricultural laborers); however, it is much larger than that. The village carpenter, weaver, potter and people in varied other professions are also a part of that society; their first customer is the farmer. When the farmer goes bankrupt, the weavers starve, the carpenters die; this is because these professionals in the countryside get a major chunk of their income as food grains and vegetables. So it is important to understand that the agrarian society on the whole gets distressed in case the farmers are in distress; the proportion of Indians under duress, due to agricultural crisis, is indeed huge.

Between 1991 Census and 2011 Census, there is a gigantic drop (approximately, 5 crore) in the number of ‘main cultivator’, which is defined as a person who cultivates a piece of land for 183 or more days a year.  This means, on an average approximately 6850 farmers are losing the main cultivator status every day. The question is, where have all these people gone in a situation when the population of this country has grown? The answer lies in the next column of the Census report: as the main cultivator population has gone down, the agricultural labor figures have exploded. As an example, in undivided Andhra Pradesh the main cultivator number reduced by 13 lakh between Census 2001 and 2011; there was an increase of 34 lakh in agricultural labor. This means that not only have farmers been rendered as landless agricultural laborers but a lot of weavers, potters, etc have also been forced to convert to the same.

The attitude of successive governments towards the agrarian society has been dismal. There is clearly a deliberate attempt to create circumstances so that people who are dependent on farming leave the farming sector so that the sector could get more and more corporatized. What would the 65% population dependant on agriculture do for a living in that case? Many leaving the sector are forced to become construction workers or industrial labor as casual workers in some faraway land, mostly with very low wages, horrible workers rights, minimal social security and horrendous living conditions. While the poor farmers’ life deteriorates, the agribusiness companies, who control the farming and the industries where these ex-farmers are ‘supplied’ as cheap labor, flourish.

This peasants’ movement has shown what even a small fraction of the distressed people can do if they come out to agitate. This is just a small battle partially won; a full fledged war against the oppressive ruling class is yet to begin. Going forward, intensification of the ongoing struggles and starting of new ones are the only means for the achievement of our peasants’ rights.

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