Indian socialist Kavita Krishnan on farmers' protests: ‘Hope lies in the movements’

Issue 
Women farmers protesting on January 18. Photo: @dipankar_cpiml/twitter

Protests against the Narendra Modi government’s three new farm laws are continuing at Delhi's border as the deadlock between farmers’ unions and the government continues.

Green Left spoke to Kavita Krishnan, leader of the Communist Party of India (Marxist-Leninist) Liberation, Secretary of the All-India Progressive Women’s Association and participant in the farmers’ struggle against the Modi regime.

“The protests are still strong, the farmers are determined that they will not go back and they will not end the protests until the three laws are repealed.”  said Krishnan.

It is the harvest season in Punjab and farmers are taking turns going back and forth to deal with the harvest simultaneously with the protest.

“The protesters have a lot of support from the Indian public,” said Krishnan.

“A large majority of Indians have a relationship with the farming communities. Most migrant workers [in the cities] come from villages.” 

Krishnan said there has been no disruption to food supplies or road access as the protesters remain in a government designated area that is not blocking roads into Delhi.

Since September, there have been ongoing protests by farmers against the unilateral passage of the Farmers' Produce Trade and Commerce (Promotion and Facilitation) Act, 2020, Farmers (Empowerment and Protection) Agreement on Price Assurance and Farm Services Act, 2020, and the Essential Commodities (Amendment) Act, 2020, by the Bharatiya Janata Party-controlled parliament.

Recently, the Indian Supreme Court, without being presented with a case, jumped into the debate to give the Modi government more time to rationalise the laws. “They stayed the laws in order to allow the farm unions to save face and convince the farmers to go along with the law,” said Krishnan.

In an insult to women farmers, who mobilised in their thousands for Women Farmers Day on January 18, the Supreme Court questioned their presence at the protests, asking why women were “being kept” there — as if their presence was some kind of ploy — and said they should be sent back home.

Krishnan said the women farmers’ response was: “This is women farmers day. We are here to stay. We are farmers and our place is in the resistance ... It is no one’s business to keep us here or keep us there, keep us at home. We are not things to be placed here and there. Women farmers are making their voices heard and are very much part of the leadership.”.

Krishnan said the protests are bringing progressive changes to the roles of women in Indian agriculture, where women are mainly small farm owners or labourers. “These rural societies in the Delhi national capital region area are very macho societies,” she said. “They are not societies where feminist values are easily understood. In a way this movement is bringing a significant degree of change. Men are doing roles of cooking and cleaning on a regular basis at the protest sites, and feeling the need to see women farmers as equal leaders.”

The protesters’ demand for a minimum support price (MSP), which also guarantees government procurement of supply and prevents large corporations from skewing the market price, has major impacts on small farmers and labourers.

Through the CPIML’s base among very small farmers and farm labourers, the party has been able to educate its broader base about the impact of the new farm laws, said Krishnan. CPIML has been “mobilising the farmers, explaining the link between food rations and these farm laws [and that the Modi] government will replace food rations with a cash dole”.

Krishnan said that food coupons would not account for increases in food prices and that it is more likely the cash dole would be spent on pressing items, such as medical care and debt, and not on food.

She said the Modi government continues to lie about the new laws, saying they would raise the price farmers receive for their crops. But, a senior minister in Modi’s cabinet told the Indian Express that one of the “problems” the laws are supposed to solve is that the MSP is actually higher than the market price.

The Modi regime is serving corporate interests through the “Company Raj” (corporatisation and neoliberalisation of India’s economy), said Krishnan. Meanwhile, the “godi [lapdog] media” perpetuates the regime's lies and propaganda.

This is the largest people's movement in India in a long time, and “the government has been rattled by the  international support”, said Krishnan. Celebrities, politicians and activists have also taken to social media to bring awareness to the struggle.

Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg recently tweeted out an organising guide for activists provided to her by Indian Fridays for Future activist Disha Ravi, which led to Ravi’s arrest.

“The government is using that tweet and google doc as proof of an international conspiracy ... [that] young climate change activists, who work with Fridays for Future, were conspiring against the Indian state, conspiring to incite violence, incite farmers against  the Modi regime, against the state,” said Krishnan.

Hypocritically, the Modi regime has its own tool kit, said Krishnan, which it uses to respond to student movements, the Dalit movement, the movement against the Citizenship Amendment Act, and now the farmers’ movement.

“The government is equating ordinary advocacy of democratic, non-violent resistance and protest with sedition,” said Krishnan.

“This is not the first time. They use sedition laws and the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act, under which “any individual can be declared a terrorist based on nothing, any flimsy tale can be spun about anyone the government wants to target.

“They can name you in a police case invoking this law. The person can be held in jail without bail, without trial, indefinitely. The law doesn’t allow a judge to form an opinion about the contents of the case.”

Despite these facsist laws, the farmers' protests persist and are part of a historic moment for Indians. In the past year, workers, farmers and people of all classes and faiths have come out against the Modi government.

“The hope lies in these movements,” said Krishnan. “We need to keep fighting back. They are rattled by these movements. Refuse to be distracted.”

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