Updated: Jan 15
Why should academics be concerned about the misinforming and misleading of the public by the Indian government with regard to the provenance of the farmers who are protesting in one of the biggest non-violent protests in history?
See our article in Discover Society: Farmers protests in India and academic freedom: connecting the dots between farming and education,14 January 2021.
As we say in the article, you will find many publications explaining the complexities and implications of the farm bills. Our focus is the connection between the farmers' protests and the arrests of scholars and civic activists.
Re-visiting the accusations made by the Indian state about the protesting farmers
“Farmers being misled for political reasons: PM Modi on farmer protest” (Hindustan Times, 25 December 2020)
“Maoists, Leftists have infiltrated ‘so called’ farmer protests to scuttle reforms, says Goyal” (Remya Nair, The Print, 12 December 2020)
We note that in a bid to discredit the farmers’ arguments, government representatives have alleged that the farmers are being misinformed and misled towards other political agendas, ranging from Khalistan to Maoism (1–6). This is not just arrogant but also astonishing as to why one would think that farmers would not have an understanding of farming. In fact they have been protesting for several years already and the current protest is being hailed as iconic in terms of what a protest can be like. Hardly any media have paid attention to the plights of agrarian societies in the past decades (7,8). In contrast, the farmers' unions involved in this protest are reaching out in all kinds of ways to educate rural and urban populations, using the power of the internet and social media. They have consulted lawyers and spent time studying the laws in depth, and then speaking out themselves in detail and in plain language about what the laws entail. At the same time they are reaching out to the public at large by also talking about what the laws will mean for the consumer. As we note in our article, farmers are part of a broader horizontal, egalitarian movement for social and ecological justice (9–18), a point that is made by farmers across the globe, who are supporting this historic protest (19, 20).
In a growing climate of fear and binary thinking, it's easy for the government to label anyone who opposes their agricultural or education 'reforms', land displacement and mega-development projects as ‘Maoist’ or as plotting to overthrow the state to alienate them from the public (21,22). The public does not then see that it is the extreme conservative and neo-liberal state that is encroaching onto people’s lands and plundering the mountains and forests and rivers (23–25).
Piyush Goyal, Minister of Railways and Commerce & Industry, Government of India, Deputy leader of the Rajya Sabha, addressing the 93rd Annual Convention of @FICCI India on 12 December
As we note in our article and the accompanying photo by Randeep Maddoke by so powerfully captured, on Human Rights Day, 10 December 2020, the Bharatiya Kisan Union (Ekta Ugrahan) displayed remarkable solidarity with the arrested students, academics and civil activists. The BKU (EU)'s manifesto clearly states that their demands are closely tied to the concerns of the jailed scholar-activists and students (18,26) who have been outspoken about the attack on civil liberties, about practices of land-grabbing for mining and other industries, and the illegal nature of several developmental projects, whereby Adivasi communities have been deprived of their rights and the environment has been destroyed (27). Clealry, the farmers are very aware of the bigger picture when they ask for the farm laws to be scrapped in totality rather than simply amended here and there.
Moreover, with the quick labelling of farmers with the same terms as anyone who dares to challenge the government, the public's attention is diverted from the state's own abuse of the rule of law through unconstitutional laws such as the UAPA (28).
“Putting farmers first” Ministry of Information and Broadcasting, Government of India
A publicity 'booklet' has been prepared that supposedly explains how the farm laws are based on science and agricultural expertise, but in reality is just about 'educating' the people again about how Prime Minister Narendra Modi is working for them while actually not -- 'explanations' about the the farm bills hardly take up a few of the over 100-page booklet (29). As we note in our article, whereas countries around the world are now trying to undo the damage as a result of heavily industrialised agriculture, the Indian government is pandering to corporates by drawing on pseudo-science and putting farmers last (30,31). While everyone agrees that reforms were needed (32), these radical neo-liberal overhauls are far from reforms informed by social justice. The enormous economic and ecological crisis of rural India is one that needs to be seriously addressed. However, it needs to be done with the help of science that is committed to social and ecological justice (29–34).
Connecting the dots between farming and education
Similar trends: corporatization of education and agriculture
Commentators have noted how neoliberal policies are already being applied to the field of education, public health and other sectors (35,36), without consultation with relevant stakeholders -- just as noted by the farmers themselves about the agricultural 'reforms'. As we say in our article, just like small-scale and subsistence farms are pushed to the brink and privileges are showered upon large agribusinesses, so universally accessible public education aimed at building an independent citizenry is squeezed dry in favour of a technology-driven, ethically empty, elitist education system. Corporate-oriented agricultural reforms, hand in hand with the corporatization of education, will impoverish us not just economically and nutrionally but also intellectually, and examples of similar 'un'-development are evident in other country contexts (37).
Pauperization of rural communities will amplify their exclusion from education
Rural populations are facing a real problem with the reduction in funding for the public education sector -- education in anything more than the tokenistic sense is becoming harder for many people to access. As we have written in our article, when farmers are driven into debt and their incomes are at the mercy of multinational corporations, when subsistence and landless farmers are displaced to make way for special economic zones and large agribusinesses, it will result in the exclusion of vast sections of the Indian rural population from education, in particlar the Adivasi and caste-oppressed rural communities and religious minorities (24,25).
The absence of legal recourse and the criminalization of dissent
Last but not the least, we note how commentators have cautioned that hidden in the legal jargon of the laws is a clause that removes the right of farmers to any form of legal recourse [Sections 13 and 15 of The Farmers’ Produce Trade and Commerce (Promotion and Facilitation) Act, 2020] (8). This can have long-ranging implications for the entire citizenry of the country.
It is thus imperative for academics and scholars to engage with the meanings that are hidden between the lines of the new farm laws and which link to the work of the jailed academics and activists, and to stand in solidarity with the farmers protests in India.
References and notes
PTI. Attempt to ‘divide and mislead’ farmers, allege protesting union leaders after PM's speech, The Economic Times, last updated 25 December 2020.
You are being misled, Narendra Modi tells farmers. The Hindu, 15 December 2020.
Farmers being misled for political reasons: PM Modi on farmer protest, Hindustan Times, 25 December 2020.
Remya Nair. Maoists, Leftists have infiltrated ‘so called’ farmer protests to scuttle reforms, says Goyal, The Print, 12 December 2020.
Rituraj Tiwari. Politics behind farmers agitation: Narendra Singh Tomar,The Economic Times, 18 December 2020.
P. Sainath. Everyone Loves a Good Drought: Stories from India's Poorest Districts, Penguin Books India, 2000.
P. Sainath. Did you think the new laws were only about the farmers?,The Wire, 9 December 2020.
Pritam Singh. Glaring flaws in farm laws. The Tribune, 9 December 2020.
Pritam Singh. Farm laws: public perception is in favour of farmers, centre cannot be in denial. The Wire, 9 December 2020.
Trolley Times, various editions (Punjabi, Hindi, English).
Prime Time with Ravish Kumar. Farmers launch own newspaper to counter ‘anti-protest propaganda, NDTV, 18 December 2020.
Seraj Ali and Prabhat Kumar. ‘Trolley Times’, a newspaper of and by the farmer's protest, The Wire, 9 January 2021.
Sushovan Sirgar. How farmers set up their own IT cell to counter hate & fake news, The Quint. Updated 26 December 2020.
Farmer leader Balbir Singh Rajewal on ‘unconstitutional’ farm laws’, NewsLaundry, 3 December 2020.
P. Sainath. ‘We didn’t bleed him enough’, People’s Archive of Rural India (PARI), 10 August 2020.
Shiv Inder Singh. Image that Modi government doesn’t retract statements is shattered: BKU (EU) head Joginder Ugrahan, The Caravan, 7 January 2021.
National Farmers Union. NFU stands in solidarity with Indian farmers protesting new agricultural laws, Press release, 6 December 2020.
Landworkers Alliance. What are the farmers demonstrations in India all about? Landworkers Alliance, 2020.
PTI. Who is an urban naxal, asks Romila Thapar, The Hindu, 20 September 2018.
Bhavna Vij-Aurora. How to divide farmers? Use ‘Khalistan’, ‘Maoist’ And ‘Tukde Tukde Gang’, Outlook, 14 December 2020.
Nandini Sundar. For those dividing Indians in order to rule them, Adivasis are clearly not farmers. The Wire, 15 December 2020.
Akash Poyam. How the Telangana Police is targeting Adivasi students, lawyers and activists, The Caravan, 27 December 2020.
Aathira Konikkara. We all refused: Adivasis contest lease of 2,730 acres to private firm in Attappady, Kerala. The Caravan, 23 November 2020.
Ajoy Ashirwad Mahaprashasta. 'It's time we speak up for each other': farmers' group supports political prisoners. The Wire, 11 December 2020.
See our open letter and supporting references.
A.G. Noorani. UAPA: India's anti-India Act. Frontline, 20 November 2020.
Rajinder Chaudury. कृषि क़ानूनों पर नयी सरकारी किताब में बड़े बड़े दावों के अलावा सफ़ेद झूठ भी: राजिंदर चौधरी. Kafila Online, 21 December 2020.
Utsa Patnaik. The global angle to the farmer protests,The Hindu, 30 December 2020.
Sudha Narayan. The three farm bills: Is this the market reform Indian agriculture needs? The India Forum, 27 November 2020.
PRS Legislative Report. Swaminathan Report: National Commission on Farmers. Report Summary Swaminathan Committee on Farmers, October 2006.
‘Farmers’ concerns, due process ignored’: Indian academics on central farm laws. The Wire, 28 December 2020.
Veena Dubal, Navyug Gill. “Long live farmer-laborer unity”: Contextualizing the massive resistance going on in India, LPE Project. 28 December 2020.
Kiran Kumbhar. Why India's founders championed a state-dominated healthcare system, The Wire, 28 January 2020.
Kiran Kumhbar. Why I'm losing hope in India: A socialist, secular, democratic reflection, The India Forum, 25 December 2020.
United Nations Research Institute for Social Development (UNRISD). Combating Poverty and Inequality: Structural change, Social Policy and Politics. Geneva: UNRISD, 2010.