DGR are interested in these protests in India, led primarily by those in poor farming communities, because they offer insight into successful campaigning and highlight the brutality of those in power.
By Parth M.N.
Farmers’ protests have been on at sites beyond Delhi’s borders.
One in Uttar Pradesh was dismantled by a late-night crackdown – with some leaders dubbed ‘suspects’ in the Republic Day violence in the capital.
If it weren’t for the violent blows of police lathi s, the farmers protesting in Uttar Pradesh’s Baghpat district would not have left their protest site on January 27. “The protest had been going on for 40 days,” says Brijpal Singh, 52, a sugarcane farmer from Baraut town, where the sit-in was held.
“It was not even a rasta-roko . We were peaceful, and exercising our democratic right. On the night of January 27, the police suddenly started beating us up. They tore our tents, and took our vessels and clothes. They didn’t even care for the elders and children,”
added Brijpal, who owns five acres of farmland in Baraut.
Until that January night, about 200 farmers from all over the district had been staging a protest on the Baghpat-Saharanpur highway in Baraut, against the new farm laws. They are among lakhs of farmers across the country who have been protesting ever since the central government introduced three new farm laws in September 2020.
Farmers in Baghpat and other parts of western Uttar Pradesh (UP) have also been demonstrating their support for those famers – mainly from Punjab and Haryana – agitating at the borders of Delhi since November 26, 2020, demanding a repeal of the laws.
“We received threats, phone calls,” says Brijpal, who is also the local leader of the Desh khap – the all-male council of the Tomar clan in Baghpat region. “The [district] administration threatened to fill up our farms with water. When nothing worked, the police lathi -charged in the night when we were sleeping. We were caught by surprise.”
Before his bruises could heal, Brijpal received another shock.
A notice from Delhi Police informing him to appear at Seemapuri police station in Delhi’s Shahdara district on February 10. The notice said that he would be questioned about the violent events in the national capital on January 26, during the farmers’ Republic Day tractor rally. “I was not even in Delhi,” says Brijpal. “I was at the dharna [in Baraut]. The violence happened 70 kilometres from here.” So he didn’t respond to the police notice. The farmers’ protest in Baraut had been going on until the night of January 27, confirms Baghpat’s Additional District Magistrate, Amit Kumar Singh.
Eight other farmers who protested in Baraut also received notices from Delhi Police. “I didn’t go,” says 78-year-old Baljor Singh Arya, a former sepoy of the Indian Army. His notice said that he had to appear on February 6 at the Pandav Nagar police station in East Delhi district. “I have no clue why I am being dragged into it. I was in Baghpat,” says Baljor, who farms on his two-acre plot of land in Malakpur village.
The Baghpat farmers are “suspects” in the Delhi incidents, said Sub-Inspector Niraj Kumar from Pandav Nagar station. “The investigation is going on,” he told me on February 10. The reason for sending the notices cannot be disclosed, said Inspector Prashant Anand from Seemapuri. “We will see whether they were in Delhi or not. We have some inputs. That is why we sent the notices.”
The notices sent to Brijpal and Baljor cited the first information reports (FIR) registered at the Delhi police stations. The FIRs listed various sections of the Indian Penal Code pertaining to rioting, unlawful assembly, assault on a public servant, dacoity and attempt to murder, among others. Sections of laws such as the Prevention of Damage to Public Property Act, the Epidemic Diseases Act and the Disaster Management Act were also included.
But the farmers were only demanding their rights, says Vikram Arya, a 68-year-old sugarcane farmer from Khwaja Nagla village, eight kilometers from Baraut. “Ours is a land of agitation and protest. Every peaceful protest has Gandhi in it. We are protesting for our rights,” says Vikram, who was at the Baraut protest. The regime at the Centre, he says, “wants to eliminate everything that Gandhi stood for.”
The three laws that farmers across the country have been opposing are: The Farmers’ Produce Trade and Commerce (Promotion and Facilitation) Act, 2020 ; The Farmers (Empowerment and Protection) Agreement on Price Assurance and Farm Services Act, 2020 ; and The Essential Commodities (Amendment) Act, 2020 .
The farmers see these laws as devastating to their livelihoods because they expand the space for large corporates to have even greater power over farmers and farming. The new laws also undermine the main forms of support to the cultivator, including the minimum support price (MSP), the agricultural produce marketing committees (APMC), state procurement and more. They have also been criticised as affecting every Indian as they disable the right to legal recourse of all citizens, undermining Article 32 of the Indian Constitution.
Vikram doesn’t believe the government’s claim that MSP will continue even after the new laws take full effect.
“What happened to BSNL after the private companies came in? What is the state of our public schools and hospitals? That is exactly what the state mandis would be reduced to. They will die a slow death,” he says. Apart from worrying about the state-regulated mandis (APMCs) becoming redundant, farmers like Vikram and Baljor also fear the presence of corporate entities in agriculture. “The companies will have a monopoly over our produce and they will dictate terms to the farmers,” says Vikram. “Do private companies think anything else apart from profits? How can we trust them to treat us fairly?”
Farmers in western UP, who mainly cultivate sugarcane, know what it’s like to deal with private corporations, says Baljor.
“We have a contract with sugarcane factories,” he explains. “The prices are decided by the state [state advisory price]. According to the law [UP Sugarcane Act], we are supposed to receive our payments within 14 days. It has been 14 months but we still haven’t received payment for the sugarcane we sold the previous season. The state government has hardly done anything about it.”
Baljor, who served in the army in 1966-73, is also angry that soldiers have been pitted against the farmers by the government. “They have sold false nationalism by using the army. As someone who has been in the army, I detest that,” he says.
“The media is busy telling the country that opposition parties are politicising the farmers’ agitation,” says Vikram. “If political parties don’t get involved in politics, then who will? The agitation has woken up the farmers,” he adds. “We are present in 70 per cent of the country. How long will the lies work?”
This article was published in The People’s Archive of Rural India on MARCH 3, 2021 you can access this here!
This article was produced by Local Peace Economy, a project of the Independent Media Institute.
By Barbara Williams
The word “Minnesota” derives from one of two Dakota words, either Mni Sóta meaning clear blue water or Mnissota meaning cloudy water. Just one letter can change the entire meaning. Just one oil spill could ruin the entire ecosystem.
I traveled to northern Minnesota with Jane Fonda and Tessa Wick in March to stand with the Ojibwe who are fighting a massive assault on their ancestral territory. Line 3 is a pipeline that was built in the 1960s and currently has 900 structural problems according to Enbridge, the Canadian company that owns it. Under the guise of replacing it, Enbridge is in fact abandoning the old one and aggressively laying the infrastructure to expand it into a larger pipeline with greater capacity. The proposed monstrosity would snake through 200 pristine lakes and rivers in northern Minnesota including watersheds for the wild rice that is unique to this part of the world and has been intrinsic to the Anishinaabeg/Ojibwe way of life for centuries. A spill could permanently destroy rice beds as well as the fish and wildlife habitat. Enbridge has had over 800 spills in the last 15 years, most notably the largest inland oil spill in U.S. history when 1.2 million gallons leaked into the Kalamazoo River in 2010. A spill is inevitable.
During his lame-duck period, Donald Trump approved Line 3, in spite of no environmental impact study. It is currently under review. Now that justice has been rendered in the George Floyd case, there is hope that Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison will turn his attention to the social and environmental injustice of Line 3. President Biden should overturn the Army Corps permit to Enbridge as he did with the Keystone XL pipeline.
Our first stop was at a compound on the White Earth Reservation. It houses 8th Fire Solar, a facility where tribal members are building thermal solar panels. It is the headquarters for Honor the Earth, an organization founded by Winona LaDuke, with the mission of creating awareness and support for Native environmental issues. Winona is a magnetic and fiery leader who has long been a vital force protecting the earth. In addition to harvesting wild rice (manoomin) and building solar panels, Winona runs a fledgling hemp business, taps maple trees, and has ventured into small-batch coffee roasting. The people on the White Earth Reservation are making every effort to be self-sufficient through sustainable activities.
We were served delicious buffalo egg rolls while the women water protectors shared stories of getting roughed up by the local police for protesting the pipeline. They were strip-searched and kept in overcrowded cells—in the time of COVID-19. The Minnesota Public Utilities Commission has created an Enbridge-funded account to pay for policing Enbridge opponents—meaning they are paid more when they harass and arrest activists. When we were convoying to a press conference, the two women driving in front of us were pulled over for not signaling 100 feet before turning. Fortunately, they were both constitutional lawyers—and white, I might add. After delaying them for 15 minutes, the officer realized what she was up against and backed down.
On the banks of the Crow Wing River, against a backdrop of Ojibwe grandmothers in traditional garb, Jane and Winona shared a panel with Tara Houska, an Ojibwe, Yale-educated tribal lawyer who hung up her suit in D.C. to come back and live with other water protectors on a 70-acre resistance camp called the Giniw Collective.
Jane’s presence had brought out a slew of media. She has become the wise woman educating and inspiring her vast network of old and new fans. She spoke knowledgeably on the salient issues surrounding climate change. She emphasized the importance of good-paying jobs being in place as we transition from fossil fuels to sustainable energy. She mentioned a statement Winona made about a moment when we had the choice to have a carbohydrate history or a hydrocarbon history, and we chose the wrong one, adding, “It’s time to correct that.” Tara explained the illegitimacy of Line 3 being built on public lands. She has joined the charge of young activists fed up with ineffectual political policy who are using their bodies and agency to say “no more.” Winona quoted Arundhati Roy, urging us to see the “pandemic as portal”: “We must go through the portal leaving dead ideas behind, ready to imagine a new world.”
The crowd was energized; everybody was wearing red. There was a festive feeling of optimism in the air. At key points, a giant black bear puppet roared with approval or grunted with displeasure. Indigenous drummers drummed. River otters played.
Four years ago, I accompanied Jane on a flyover of the Canadian tar sands in Fort McMurray, Alberta, source of the dirty oil that Enbridge exports. From the air, the open-pit mines made me think of cancer sores with the outgoing vessels bringing disease to the rest of the body. The jobs pay well. It’s how my sister and her husband bought their home. Workers go where the money is. But it’s a dying industry. Justin Trudeau enthusiastically signed on to the Paris climate accord and vowed to invest in renewable energy sources, but he has bowed to the corporate powers who are squeezing out every ounce of filthy lucre from the tar sands before they collapse. Not only is tar sand extraction the dirtiest and most inefficient process, but it’s also the most uneconomical. If the government took the bold step of subsidizing other sectors of the economy such as renewables, housing and transportation, to the degree they subsidize the tar sands, it would be far more beneficial to the economy and people’s lives—in the long run. But they are shortsighted.
The fish and wildlife that the Métis First Nations of the Athabasca region have traditionally subsisted on are riddled with deformities and tumors. Eighty-seven percent of the community believes the tar sands are responsible. We sat with Cece, who was a heavy equipment operator for seven years. At 60 years old, she had outlived all her coworkers, including her husband, who died of cancer the year before. She ran for tribal chief on a platform of pushing for stricter tar sands regulations, but the industry bribed her opponent with the promise of a senior care facility if he would show his support. She lost by one vote. Divide and conquer, the age-old tactic of domination.
With Line 3, Enbridge does not want to repeat the clashes they encountered at Standing Rock, so they have pumped money into targeted communities. The chronic neglect of government on the reservations, exacerbated by the economic downturn from the pandemic, has served to Enbridge’s advantage. People need to feed their families, and Enbridge is there with the jobs. Enbridge created a trust from which the Fond du Lac tribal government doles out monthly payments to their members. It’s a terrible dilemma for individuals who fear reprisal if they express opposition. The project has created deep divisions within the Indigenous community, but the vast majority are fervently against it.
With people coming to work from all over the country, the Enbridge man camps are potential COVID-19 superspreaders. According to the Violence Intervention Project in Thief River Falls, at least two women have been sexually assaulted. Numerous women say they have been harassed by pipeline workers and do not feel safe. Two Enbridge employees based in Wisconsin were recently arrested for sex trafficking.
Jane did a Skyped interview with Lawrence O’Donnell on MSNBC. In a breathtaking six-and-a-half-minute uninterrupted spiel, she laid out the micro and the macro of the entire situation. Later, she worried it might have come across as manic. No, Tessa and I assured her, it came across as urgent.
After a long drive, Tara led us down a narrow, snow-covered dirt road to a small encampment of tents where they were sugaring the maple trees. Sap is collected and continuously poured into a gigantic hand-hewn pot mounted over an open fire, then reduced down for several days. It’s very labor-intensive—the ratio is 26 gallons of sap to make one gallon of syrup. They are not selling the syrup; they want to hold on to it in case there’s a shortage or some other catastrophe occurs. They’re holding on to their wild rice too. Everyone is on tenterhooks waiting for a decision from the White House. Their future hangs in the balance.
Barbara Williams is a Canadian musician, actress, and activist. As a musician, she has performed in concerts devoted to peace, workers’ rights, and the environment. She is the author of The Hope in Leaving: A Memoir.