Editor’s Comment.An important document of our times, which undertakes the difficult task of simultaneously preserving and reconstructing an alternative historical perspective to the Farmers’ Protests.
Kisaan Andolan ( Farmers’ Movement) edited by Balwant Kaur and Vibhas Verma is an important document of our time, which details the brave and indefatigable movement of the farmers against the State and the imposition of new agricultural laws.
Instead of detailing the way in which the movement was orchestrated, this book contains a variety of genres that look at the history of the farmers in the past, in recent times and in our troubled contemporary times. History, as one would see in this book, is not just a matter of events; but a series of troubles where farmers were pitted in different contexts. Gandhi’s Champaran campaigns can be cited as a point of reference here. However, progressing far from the pre-independent history of farmers in India, the post- independent and the so called postcolonial conditions of the farmers have become a matter of debate and contention. The postcolonial condition of the farmers that this book outlines, primarily pivoting on the idea of saving land of farming and liberation from the colonial rules of agriculture, has produced another crisis. Such a crisis entails the entire gamut of the State’s methods to control farming land, distribution of goods and market products, taxes levied on them and finally, the consumption of the goods. Each of these items, in contemporary times, are exploited by corporate forces against which the farmers’ agitation began. This history, therefore, is no more different from the past, but it certainly has its pockets of misconceptions.
The book is structured into five parts: ‘Farmers’ Movement in Punjab through the Eyes of History’, ‘History of Agriculture in Contemporary Times’, ‘In between the Movement: The Viewpoint of the Leaders’, ‘Literature and Farmers’ Movement’, and ‘Farmer in Poetry’.
What significantly differentiates these sections is that these articulate the language of how farmers’ movements generate mass awareness against the neo-liberalization of the agricultural sector. The major agricultural conglomerates, needless to say, are the ones that are ready to usurp the land and dreams of the farmers in these postcolonial times. The massive suicides in the last few decades reported from different states point a finger to how the Government-sanctioned schemes were responsible, by robbing farmers’ lands and levying heavy taxes. The major sit-in by the farmers on the tractors at the Northern regions of Delhi lasted for sixteen months, which in some sense resonated Gandhi’s call, and in another, the power of the “multitude” (taking cue from Antonio Negri). However, one must remember here that along with the farmers, there were other people – activists, common pedestrians, nomads and villagers – who came from different states to enrich and broaden the scope of this assemblage.
Gurudev Sindhu , Balvinder Singh and Charnaji Lal Kangliwala have looked at different topographical resistances in the Punjab Farmers’ movements across time. A number of regions are brought into focus here and the leadership of each areas is mentioned. Apart from this, the ‘Punjab Kisaan’, one of the prominent members of Indian agricultural industry, is looked at – historically and sometimes nostalgically in these articles. Rajeev Kuwar and Vibhas Verma also generate a discourse of gender and exploitation. Verma’s article looks closely at the role of women, down the times in agriculture and how they, in the present context, are deeply involved in resistance movements. Many a time, histories of agitations have obfuscated the role of women. Written partly from the subaltern point of view, Verma’s article highlights the methodologies of resistance, and the tone of the essay echoes the pristine joys and celebrations of agricultural fields.
A set of articles and a story translated mainly by Balwant Kaur examine the leadership and the related conundrums of the Farmers’ movement. One would find this section perhaps somewhat one-sided as the main thrust of the leadership and the conflict with the State is not clearly addressed. For instance, in Joginder Singh’s article, we hear in affirmative voice the need to understand the voice through the leaders’ attempts, while no central dimension of the conflict between the law and the citizen is addressed. Another major issue in this section is that none of these writers are suggesting us a way to counter the law by leadership. The ways of countering the law, one needs to remember, stand apart from the leadership of the movement and any particular party affiliation.
The most interesting section in this book is ‘Kavitao Me Kissan’ (Farmer in the Poetry). Poetry since time immemorial have been associated with land and agriculture. Many poets in the past have sung about the good times of the farmers, their passionate tilling of the land and harvesting. The poems in the book comprise a good number of well-known poets such as Pash, Vanita, Rajesh Joshi, Lal Singh Dil and others.
One feels the delight to go through them again and again as they by-turns intertwine folkloric, mythic and modern elements. Lal Singh’s poem ‘In your Fields, Babul’ is both an address to the present and offers a resistance against the set assumptions of farmers. The lines ending, “Tractors will dance in your fields one day, Babul” gives us the picture of the end of old times.
Vanita’s poem “Listen, Faiz Ahmad Faiz” offers the picture of the great Faiz at every step of the Indian farmer’s internal struggle. Set in the context of usurpation of land and other inner conflicts, the address to Faiz , reminds us of the need of the ushering of a new era. Sajay Kudan’s poem “This is the Question” is not just contemporary, but a visionary one that makes one realize the need of resistance against the State and corporatization.
What one immediately surmises is that one of the major drawbacks of the book is the lack of proper theoretical reflection. The long struggle, response from the State, and the toll of lives it has taken during the days of pandemic in the Indian context, need much more theoretical reflection.
All said and done, this is an important document that will be cherished by everyone who is interested in the Farmers’ movements and the articulation of a new historical perspective. This book will certainly serve as a text referred by many who are interested in the ongoing and upcoming resistance movements in India’s contemporary social milieu.
Krishnan Unni P is Professor in English at Deshbandhu College, Delhi University. His areas of interests are the Third World literatures and films, gender formations, changing patterns of sexual dissidence and the politics of the dispossessed –concerned with music, football and popular culture. He is also a creative writer in Malayalam and English and has published five books. His latest book is on the Italian philosopher and theorist Giorgio Agamben published as part of the Theory Series by S.P.C.S. Kottayam, Kerala.