In the era of eye-catching violent protests across the country, ranging from a particular community demanding reservation to supporters of godman convicted of rape destroying public properties, the media ignored a dynamic peaceful protest for social change. The peasants’ struggle in Shekhawati region of Rajasthan wouldn’t have yielded as much TRP as Jat agitation and Ram Rahim controversy but it did have an inspiring story of success which must be known to the masses.
The Shekhawati region, comprising the districts of Churu, Jhunjhunu and Sikar has a history of peasant movements during the British Raj.
Nearly 20,000 peasants had been protesting in Sikar district since September 1 under the banner of the All-India Kisan Sabha, the peasant’s wing of Communist Party of India Marxist. Their demands included a complete waive off of farmers’ loans, implementation of suggestions made by the Swaminathan Commission, the withdrawal of the 2017 restriction on cows trade, protection of minorities and Dalits and a pension for farmers. The cost of pesticides, fertilisers and manure, diesel and so on has been rising, yet the costs for farmer’s harvests didn’t increase relatively. The government has capacity to pay more to import grains, but can’t pay the farmers to produce in our own land. The farmers had been disappointed with the fact that no one utters a word when the government waive off the bad loans of the corporates but everyone raises their eyebrows when a farmer asks for a complete waive off. The Yogi Adityanath government giving even one rupee loan waivers to people who feed the country, the BJP was clearly not in mood to make it easy for the farmers. An average of 52 farmers commit suicide every 24 hours because the government is not doing anything for them.
The struggle was led by a veteran leader and four-time MLA Amra Ram who rarely gets time to sit under the portraits of Lenin, Stalin and Jyoti Basu from his busy schedule in Sikar’s CPI(M) office.
The leaders of the Kisan Sabha went place to place in Sikar district for persuading people in solidarity with their cause. Since the demands drafted by the the All-India Kisan Sabha (AIKS) concerned nearly every section of the society, the movement soon resulted in massive turnout. Almost every segment that constitutes the socio-political economy of Sikar had lend support to what had begun as a farmer protest, be it an-ganwadi workers, students, the auto-rickshaw union, the small traders, and even DJs. Vijoo Krish-nan, the AIKS joint secretary, states that the farmers’ protests have provided the basis to build a broad consensus for a struggle against the policies that have caused agrarian distress and the loot of forests, land, and resources.
The idea of cow protection was already a sensitive issue yet In 2015, the BJP government in Rajasthan made the laws against the trade of cattle much stricter. Thousands of cattle now roam the villages, eating crops and destroying agricultural land, putting an additional burden on farmers. In May, the Union government drafted another law that prohibited the trade of buffaloes and cattle, for slaughter. However, the restriction stayed after two months by the Apex Court. A cow that was sold for 50,000 now fetches only 20,000, and a buffalo’s price has dropped from 60,000 to 30,000. In 2016, the famous camel fair in Pushkar saw only 2,500 camels on sale compared to 40,000 a decade ago. The terror of cow vigilante groups had been another issue. Pehlu Khan named six people in a dying declaration, but the state police didn’t find them reliable and closed the case. No dairy farmer would risk his life in trade of cattle if terrorists hiding in cloak of cow vigilantism will never be caught.
According to Amra Ram, livestock is a farmer’s ATM. Any time, a farmer needs money, he sells his livestock. Thirty per cent of a farmers income comes from selling milk and animals. Before the farmers could’ve recovered from the devastation caused by demonetisation, the restriction in cattle trade crippled their economy.
The farmers felt morally cheated. The people who proffered themselves as their saviours and promised a social change turned out to be ordinary political opportunists, if not worse. The AIKS leaders had lived with the other protesters day and night, eating with them, being a part of their struggles and lives. It is quite difficult to bring out in words, the love that people had for the Kisan Sabha and its leaders. When Amra Ram and other Kisan Sabha leaders were away in Jaipur for almost two days for negotiations with the government. The people, meanwhile, stood their ground peacefully and with a lot of faith. They had enormous faith in their movement and their leaders. Another interesting thing was the presence of local DJs, who joined the protest along with several SUVs, loaded with a high-end sound system. However, instead of coming to a consensus with Kisan Sabha, the Rajasthan government banned internet services in Sikar to prevent this news from spreading like a wildfire.
The All-India Kisan Sabha had a part to play in the farmers’ struggle in Maharashtra and Mandsaur.
Everyone has had this issue with Indian communists that they only indulge in intellectual talk. There idea of bringing about social change might be good but a poor, uneducated man who always voted his caste instead of casting his vote would have no idea about who Marx and Lenin are. But in Sikar, the communists hit the streets and spoke in favour of farmer issues and against communal-isation. In Hindi-speaking regions, there is a lot of religion and caste in politics so it is no doubt difficult for the Left to do well, yet in Sikar, by taking up the issue of cattle trade restrictions, the Left seems to have cut through this problem, picking up an issue that affects both Muslim animal traders as well as farmers. The farmers in Sikar have had a long association with the CPI(M) while the small traders are the bedrock of the BJP. Farmers and traders protesting together for a cause was something one of a kind since the farmers and traders are always opposed to each other, according to theoretical Marxism. The absence of effective Opposition parties and the CPI(M)’s work on the ground resulted in attracting mass support even beyond its core farmer support base.
On September 14, when almost 1.5 lakh people marched in solidarity with the farmers, the Rajasthan government, responding to the scale of the stir, gave in and accepted the key demands put forward by the Kisan Sabha. The government agreed to a debt waiver up to 50,000 each, though farmers had sought a sweeping 39,500 crore.
The mass support AIKS achieved was because the people involved in the agitation did not indulge in any violence in contrast to other movements in North India. DJs, Protest songs and passionate speeches defined this struggle. It was the spirit and passion of the movement, which compelled the people of Sikar town to join the rural agitation. The movement we witnessed in Sikar would rarely find any space in the mainstream media platforms. Instead, the po-litical pundits would love to talk about how the left has lost its ground.
The views expressed are personal