Ranjona Banerji: Who is the anarchist now?

Mar 14, 2018, 06:17 IST | Ranjona Banerji

A peaceful protest for their rights by a marginalised group of people has somehow goaded the cornered establishment into name-calling

The 25,000-odd farmers walked 180km from Nashik to Mumbai only to demand that they be given their due. File Pic
The 25,000-odd farmers walked 180km from Nashik to Mumbai only to demand that they be given their due. File Pic

Ranjona BanerjiAnti-Nationals. Urban Maoists. Naxals. Anarchists. Not Farmers, "just" Adivasis. Not 25,000 only 7,000. These are some of the ways in which Maharashtra's farmers, tribals and agricultural workers have been labelled and targeted, according to most news reports. Somewhere between 25,000 and 50,000 arrived in Mumbai on Sunday night. The Long March, as it is being called, started 180 km away from India's financial capital, in Nashik.

Through the searing heat, these farmers walked, asking that election and other promises made to them be fulfilled. They were accused of creating problems for students and commuters as they got closer to Mumbai. So rather than inconvenience anyone, they walked through the night so that they could reach their destination before the city went to work.

Mumbaikars came out in large numbers with food, water, footwear for these brave men and women. One of the organisers of the march was quoted as saying that people had been so generous that the truck of provisions, which they had brought with them was still full of food. Several newspapers and news websites carried photographs of blistered, bleeding feet.

So, why did the people of Mumbai care so much and give of their own to these anti-national Naxals? Were all these generous citizens of Mumbai "Urban Maoists"? Or were they just humans who have not lost their empathy for the suffering of others? Who understand that India's farmers are going through some of their worst times? And, perhaps they understand that agriculture is still the backbone of much of India. Perhaps these are people closer to the ground than all our pundits and TV experts.

And, what does one make of an India where people are so blinded by political hatred that they look at a bleeding foot of a peaceful protester and see an anarchist? The biggest crime that these marchers committed was that they marched under red flags, that the organisers of the march belonged to Leftist parties. To be Leftists and to undertake a peaceful march is not against the law in India — yet.

In fact, every other political party should be kicking themselves for not organising it themselves. Most political parties did support the farmers and did help along the march. Except the one party, which tagged these marchers as anti-national, of course.

Farmers across India have been burdened by the weight of loans, by enforced buying of seeds, by lopsided subsidies, by poor irrigation facilities, by pricing policies and by political machinations with land classifications. The last two bad monsoons have added to their misery. We all buy their produce even as we know the farmer gets almost nothing and the middlemen skim off the bulk. What does a farmer's family go through when he kills himself for a debt burden of R1 lakh when Nirav Modi coolly flies off with loans worth Rs 12,000 crore? What does a farmer feel when every small benefit he gets from the government is a vote-getting "sop" while every corporate tax cut is for "development"?

This march will not solve or end all these problems. Although the Maharashtra government has promised "yes yes" to the demands made by these "Maoists" and "anarchists" (words from BJP ministers and supporters), don't hold your breath that everything promised will be received. Several policies for help with rural distress do not cover landless labourers and those who farm on rented land. The bureaucracy is now in charge of making these "promises" come true, so a slow pace is most likely guaranteed.

For us, the citizen, however, this march should be an eye-opener. It is not the only protest by farmers in recent times nor is it the first. But, since this has touched a chord, the onus lies with us not to shift focus or get distracted by a constantly-changing news cycle. These are our people, they feed us and they have been cheated again and again by governments and government agencies. Promises are made again and again and almost none are kept.

And, for every person you know, who talks about sops for farmers, remember all those tax holidays which large corporations get, and the enormous debt which private companies have with public sector banks. Our money, by the way.

And, please take a sharp look at those who think that farmers who ask for what is promised are anarchists. Hope you don't have to look in the mirror for that.

Ranjona Banerji is a senior journalist. You can follow her on Twitter @ranjona Send your feedback to mailbag@mid-day.com

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