Bharat Bandh in Tamil Nadu
Bharat Bandh in Tamil Nadu

Farmers’ ‘Grameen Bandh’: Total Closure in Few States Amid Chakka Jams, Dharnas

The rural strike, being described as “one of the largest ever mass actions of the people in Independent India” raised people’s livelihood issues ahead of the forthcoming general election.

New Delhi: The ‘Grameen Bandh’, a nationwide strike being observed by farmers and workers on the call of farmers’ collective Samyukta Kisan Morcha (SKM) and backed by the joint platform of the Central Trade Unions (CTUs) on February 16, witnessed a mixed reaction across the country. While it was apparently successful in a few states, it had a moderate impact in other regions.  

The rural strike reflected “people's anger against the brutal repression by the Central and Haryana governments on the protesting farmers at Punjab-Haryana Shambhu Border in Ambala. The agitators there want to march to New Delhi as part of thor ‘Delhi Chalo’ call against the Narendra Modi’s government’s “unfulfilled” promises and “betrayal”. 

The strike, which is being described as “one of the largest ever mass actions of the people in Independent India” raised the people’s livelihood issues in the national agenda just ahead of the forthcoming general election.

While Punjab witnessed almost a total closure, shops, industries, markets, educational institutions and government offices in villages were largely closed in other states and union territories in villages — with employees staying away from work and peasants from their farm activities for a day.

Workers staged protests across the country. Demonstrations and protest rallies were organised across the country.

This action — as per the SKM — helped fortify the farmer-worker unity across India and further advance it towards unity of the people up to village, town level. “It is the greatest achievement in the fight against the corporate-communal nexus under the patronage of the Modi government,” it said.

Activists of Bhartiya Kisan Union (Charuni) lay seize of Bastara toll plaza on NH-44 in Karnal, allowing vehicles to pass without paying the toll fee
Activists of Bhartiya Kisan Union (Charuni) lay seize of Bastara toll plaza on NH-44 in Karnal, allowing vehicles to pass without paying the toll feePic- HT, Twitter

People from Delhi, Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Odisha, Haryana, Punjab, Maharashtra, Kerala, Tamil Nadu, etc. are gathering in large numbers in their respective villages, talukas, towns and district headquarters — raising slogans against the government and putting forward their demands.

At various places, they are holding ‘chakka jams’ (traffic closure) on highways — with the police forcibly detaining and evicting them. 

Sections of road transport workers, industrial workers, anaj mandis (food grains market), coffee growers, forest workers, among others are also taking part in the strike on the joint call of the SKM and CTUs.   

The rural strike — according to the SKM — is aimed at reminding the Prime Minister Narendra Modi-led government in the Centre of the “unfulfilled” demands of farmers, formulate a new agricultural policy, implement the Swaminathan Commission recommendations as well as demands of workers such as unemployment, scrapping of the labour codes, stop to privatisation of PSUs, bringing back the Old Pension Scheme or OPS and a minimum wage of Rs 26,000 per month.

The protesters say the bandh is an attempt to “punish the anti-farmer and pro-corporate government at the Centre for formulating and implementing policies — which are “worsening farmers’ economic condition, aiding and abetting grabbing of their land and putting them in a situation where they leave farming so that corporates can take over crop production and food supply chain and monopolise it for profiteering”.

Protest held by Himachal Pradesh farmers in Shimla.
Protest held by Himachal Pradesh farmers in Shimla.

The protesters are describing recent government policies as “renewed assault” on the livelihood of peasants and the agriculture sector — which, according to them, has literally been “handed over to the corporate sector for profiteering”.

Talking to The Mooknayak over the phone, representatives of the SKM said the current trajectory of agricultural development is “deeply hurting” them.

“The markets of pesticides, fertilisers, herbicides and seeds have been captured by big companies. And therefore, it is the need of the hour that government-supported cooperatives are formed to give farmers their due and prosperity,” they said.

Many political parties — including the Congress, the Communist Party of India (Marxist) or CPI(M), the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK), the Communist Party of India (CPI), the Communist Party of India (Marxist -Leninist) Liberation or CPI (ML), the SUCI (Communist) and the Communist Party of India (Red Flag) have extended support the ‘Grameen Bandh’ and industrial/sectoral strike.

The People’s Alliance for the Gupkar Declaration of Jammu and Kashmir — the five party alliance, including the Jammu & Kashmir National Conference, the Jammu & Kashmir Peoples Democratic Party and the Awami National Conference also have supported the agitation.

The Jammu Kashmir Apple Farmers Federation and CITU held a demonstration at Press Colony in Srinagar. The police resorted to lathi charge “without any provocation” to disperse the protesters.

Many leaders and workers — including the federation’s president, Zahoor Ahmad Rather, secretary, Ab Rashid Itoo, farmers’ leader Mohammad Afzal Parray, CITU leader Ab Rashid Pandit and many workers have been taken into custody.

Demonstration held at Jaipur, Rajasthan
Demonstration held at Jaipur, Rajasthan

Charter of Demands

Raising the government’s alleged “anti people policies” and “repression of farmers, the SKM has put forward a list of demands that is as follows:

1. Control price rise, remove GST (Goods and Services Tax) on essential items such as food, medicines, agro-inputs and machinery; and reduce substantially central excise duty on petroleum products and cooking gas.

2. Withdrawn under the pretext of Covid, Railway concessions to senior citizens, women, differently-abled persons and sports persons should be restored.

3. Guarantee food security and universalise the Public Distribution System (PDS).

4. Guarantee right to free education, right to health, water and sanitation for all. Scrap the National Education Policy, 2020.

5. Ensure housing for all.

6. Stringent implementation of the Forest Rights Act (FRA) and Land Acquisition Rehabilitation, Resettlement Act (LARR Act) 2013; withdraw the amendments to the Forest (Conservation) Act, 2023 and Biodiversity Act and Rules that allow the union government to permit clearance of a forest without even informing the residents. Ensure land to the tiller.

7. Implement a national minimum wage of Rs 26,000 per month.

8. Convene Indian Labour Conference regularly.

9. Stop privatisation of public sector enterprises, government departments and scrap the National Monetization Pipeline (NMP). Amend existing law on mining of minerals and metals and ensure 50% share of profit from mines — including coal mines — for upliftment of local communities, especially adivasis and farmers.

10. Withdraw the Electricity (Amendment) Bill, 2022. No pre-paid smart meters should be installed.

11. Right to work should be declared a fundamental right. Fill sanctioned posts and generate employment for the unemployed. Expand and implement MGNREGA (200 days per year and Rs 600 as daily wage). Enact the Urban Employment Guarantee Act.

12. Increase subsidy to farmers on seed, fertilisers and electricity; legally guarantee minimum support price (MSP) as per the C-2+50% formula for farmers’ produce and guarantee procurement. Prevent farmers’ suicides at all costs.

13. Withdraw the pro-corporate Pradhan Mantri Fasal Bima Yojana and establish a comprehensive Public Sector Crop Insurance Scheme for all crops to compensate farmers for losses due to climatic change, drought, flood, crop related diseases, etc.

14. Declare a comprehensive loan waiver scheme to free all the farm households from the trap of indebtedness.

Women protestors in a rally held at Noida
Women protestors in a rally held at Noida

15. Implement written assurances given by the Union government, based on which the historic 2020-21 farmers struggle was suspended: a memorial at Singhu Border for all the deceased farmers, pay compensation and rehabilitate their families, withdraw all pending cases, prosecute Ajay Mishra Teni, the Union MoS for Home.

16. Withdraw four labour codes. Do away with the fixed term employment and ensure equality and safety at work. Stop casualization of labour. All categories of unorganized workers, such as home-based workers, hawkers, rag-pickers, domestic workers, construction workers, migrant workers, scheme workers, agricultural workers, workers in shop/establishments, loading/unloading workers, gig workers, salt-pan workers, beedi workers, toddy-tappers, rickshaw-pullers, auto rickshaw/taxi drivers, expatriate workers, fishing community etc. should be registered and given portability in comprehensive social security — including pension.

17. Give ESI coverage to construction workers — with contributions from the Welfare Fund — also give coverage of health schemes, maternity benefits, life and disability insurance to all workers registered on the E-Shram portal.

18. Ratify ILO conventions on domestic workers and home-based workers and make appropriate laws. Make comprehensive policy on migrant workers, strengthen existing Inter-state Migrant Workmen (Regulation of Employment) Act, 1979 — providing portability of their social security cover.

19. Scrap NPS, restore OPS and provide Social Security to all. Ensure a minimum pension of Rs 10,000 per month.

20. Tax the super rich; enhance corporate tax; re-introduce wealth tax and succession tax.

21. Withdraw the draconian provisions of the Bharatiya Nyaya Samhita — including the hit and run provisions.

Rally at Palwal in Haryana led by AIKS
Rally at Palwal in Haryana led by AIKS

Future Course of Action

The SKM has decided to immediately intensify its agitation. It said it will give multiple calls for “massive actions” in coordination with workers and all other sections of the society.

The SKM Punjab unit is meeting on February 18 at Jalandhar, and it will be followed by the meetings of its national coordination committee and general body in New Delhi to take stock of developments and suggest future course of action. 

The next line of their action, said the farmers’ body, will be finalised as per the response of the Central government. 

It declared that it wouldn’t allow those involved in the Lakhimpur Kheri “massacre” go scot free and that farmers from across the country would fight “tooth and nail” to ensure that culprits are sent to jail. It said its demand with regard to minimum support price (MSP), loan waiver and end to farmers suicide “must not be taken lightly”.

The SKM also shot off a letter to Prime Minister Narendra Modi on February 13, appealing to him to be “sympathetic and considerate” to farmers who are “suffering farm losses, distress, debt and unemployment, while farm labor “suffers severe hunger, failure of treatment and deprivation”. 

“It is unfortunate that the Prime Minister has shown full sympathy to the corporate companies, but has unleashed repression on farmers with lathi-charge, pellet firing, tear gas sprays, use of drones, road blockade, house to house threats and continuing with a ‘war like approach’ towards the farmers,” reads the letter, vehemently condemning the injury caused to to three farmers at Shambhu border, who have lost their vision. 

“Mr Modi’s govt is blinding the farmers to serve the exploiting big businessmen. It has deliberately vitiated the atmosphere on farmers issues and hoodwink people into believing that he is truthful and sincere. He promised a committee to consider MSP and other demands in December 2021. Seven months later, he formed the committee with those who were openly opposed to giving MSP. The government included the Crop Diversification and Zero Budget Natural Farming in its agenda,” said the farmer unions. 

Now, in the name of talks, they said, the government is “mocking” negotiations by sending ministers to the agitators at Shambhu to “fool people”.

The SKM raised questions over BJP’s policy of “stubbornness” towards solving “basic problems” of the people and allegedly diverting their attention towards communal and religious disputes.

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