Farmers’ protest; Day 102, toll 274 and coming summer

Photo: Shaheen Abdulla/Maktoob

Amandeep Sandhu

In the last few days I have seen a sentiment on social media and by interviewers of farmer leaders: scorching summer is coming, will farmers stay or will they go back to their villages? Yesterday, some media was reporting numbers of farmers at protest sites have come down but qualified it by reporting that the KMP highway blockade was hugely successful, maintained all decorum.

This shows us the entitlement of urban India. What does media expect? That farmers keep up a full attendance when they themselves do nothing to push the government to even negotiate with famers – now off for more than 40 days. The belief the petitioner should be at their beck and call!

Notice, these are the same farmers who collected in thousands in the middle of a foggy winter night in January when Tikait called. If need be, they will collect again. They are anyway collecting in lakhs in the Mahapanchayats. They are fanning out to election-bound states.

This media never questioned why is the Election Commission conducting these farcical elections when the government itself does not conduct the Parliament – winter session was cancelled under the alibi of Coronavirus but we all know the government had its tail between its legs.

Photo: Shaheen Abdulla/Maktoob

Anyway, going back to the question media poses farmer leaders. Tikait answered it the best: go away where? Are the villages with electricity cuts any cooler? Please know that we need the blazing sun to ripen the wheat, we need the temperature to rise so snow can melt and water can flow in our rivers. That is what gets you food and water. Farmers are re-modelling their dwellings on the roads – bringing in straw huts, making walls from nets, fans and water coolers are reaching. The media never asked why has the government not provided toilets.

The irony is that this media is from the same urban cohort that loves their early April rains. That puts up messages – relief from summer sun, so refreshing it rained. They do not realise, those rains severely damage the wheat ready to be harvested. The grains fall off, the bare stalks are no use.

Indeed this is a brutal summer. The effects are showing. A friend from Shimla, who manages apple orchards, tells me it has already gotten too hot in early March. The blooming is premature. It affects the fruit. Also, it’s not snowed enough, that will affect the moisture content through the season. A few hours later: it is thundering outside. We fear a hailstorm. The prematurely bloomed flowers will die.

Friends from Panjab say, we have watered the wheat fields but it has suddenly turned hot and windy. The stalks will be flattened, the grain will shrivel. Then there is the whole question of whether the government will procure the wheat at all this year? As is the character of the current government, it could be vengeful to farmers. In any case, Ragi is coming up for sale in Karnataka. The going rate is Rs 1000 per quintal less than MSP.

This is what the farmers are protesting against: the age old vulnerability of the farmers to natural and man made causes versus the relative stability of the bahi khatha, the corporates. They seek parity, they seek justice.

I add to Tikait’s retort: instead of verbal sympathy for farmers in the summer months, do whatever you can to push the government to re-open talks with farmers. Everything else, is just superficial. It burns worse than the sun.

Amandeep Sandhu is the author of Panjab: Journey Through Fault Lines