Mahapanchayats giving timely impetus to farmers’ protest

The two-month-old farmers’ sit-in agitation around Delhi opposing the three farm laws seemed set to fizzle out in the aftermath of the Republic Day violence during the tractor parade, but the series of khap mahapanchayats in its wake have apparently turned the tide.

These mahapanchayats have emerged as new rallying points for the agitating farmers after Republic Day. The massive turnouts at these meetings have not only been just a show of strength, but also given a new lease of life to the movement.

First to hold a mahapanchayat in Haryana’s Jind on February 3 on the farm laws, Kandela Khap president Tekram says the trend is catching up fast and khaps across Northern India, including Uttar Pradesh and Rajasthan, are now holding mahapanchayats to support the agitation. The aim, he avers, is to show the massive support to the movement and mount pressure on the government. “Earlier, the government would say it is the movement of Punjab farmers alone. Now khaps across Northern India have extended support to it,” says Mr. Tekram, also the convener of Uttar Bharat Khap Panchayats.

A recent meeting between the khap leaders and the Samyukt Kisan Morcha, a coalition of around 500 farmer unions, has decided to hold more such meetings in Haryana, Rajasthan and U.P.

Swelling support

Bharatiya Kisan Union (Rajewal) president Balbir Singh Rajewal and Krantikari Kisan Union Punjab president Darshan Pal too have been going to these mahapanchayats. It signifies that Punjab unions’ appreciation for the contribution and significance of the khaps has also gone up in the wake of the Republic Day violence.

Supported by the khaps, the farmers from Haryana have now outnumbered the protesters from Punjab at the Tikri and Singhu borders.

Mr. Tekram claims that the massive turnout at Kandela mahapanchayat sent across a strong message and the farmers are on the boil. “Thousands of people gathered at Jind’s Kandela. They were not Khalistanis and Maoists. They were all farmers seeking their dues,” asserts Mr. Tekram, a former BJP leader.

‘Not anti-nationals’

Farmer leader Raju Maan was among the organisers for the Charkhi Dadri mahapanchayat on February 7 along with Sangwan Khap president and Dadri MLA SombirSangwan. Mr. Maan argues that the huge crowds at the mahapanchayats manifest the farmers’ anger against the attempt to label them as “anti-national”. “It is the son of a farmer who stands guard at the border, you cannot call him anti-national,” says Mr. Maan.

The conspiracy to defame the farmers fighting for their survival has infuriated them to no end and the massive turnouts at mahapanchayats are a testimony to it, he says. In Haryana, farmer unions have little influence and the political leaders have failed the farming community, so only khaps hold the fort, says Mr. Maan, a former Congressman.

The women too have been turning up in hordes. The two meetings recently -- a Meo Muslims mahapanchayat in Rajasthan’s Bharatpur and another in Haryana’s Jat belt in Charkhi Dadri-- recorded a huge turnout of women. “When women can rub shoulders with men in all other spheres of life, they can fight for their rights too. Women too are farmers,” says Nirmala Devi, ex-Sarpanch Pandwan village in Charkhi Dadri. She was among the women from Haryana to participate in the Republic Day tractor parade. “I drove tractor all the way from Charkhi Dadri to Delhi and in the parade,” she proclaims with a sense of pride.

The 40-year-old says that women could not camp at borders for days because of household responsibilities, but they came out to take part in the protests at toll plazas and now at mahapanchayats.

Women power

All India Democratic Women’s Association national vice-president Jagmati Sangwan says the women have been contributing to the agitation in multiple ways from the onset and their participation has grown. “The women are more involved with the farming and the family than the men in Haryana. It is more so in case of small and marginal farmers. So they are impacted the most. We have been educating them about the impact of these laws and their participation is heartening. The AIDWA also created awareness among the Dalit women and labourers to tell them that this movement is not just about farmers, but also about them. It is about the food security,” says Ms. Sangwan.

Young women students and sportspersons have also been visiting the Tikri and Singhu borders both to conduct research and make the contribution.

Centre of Indian Trade Unions, Haryana, vice-president Satvir Singh says working class women, including the Accredited Social Health Activists and mid-day meal workers, have also been supporting the agitation and detained a couple of times.

Following the Republic Day violence, the number of women protesters is swelling at the Tikri and Singhu borders as well. Having first come to the protest site to partake in the tractor rally on Republic Day, Ompati from Haryana’s Hisar says she decided to stay back at the Tikri border after things went awry on January 26. “We are from the Rakhigarhi village, 50 of us have come; almost everyone except a handful [of women] who need to tend to the fields are left in the village while the rest are here,” she says.

Ompati says they would have returned if they had not seen how the government wanted to give the movement a bad name by orchestrating violence. But now they have decided to stay and not leave their boys alone.

Mini buses, too, have been arranged for women protesters to travel to and from the protest site. From helping the men with daily chores, the women and young children at the Tikri border also take out foot marches and raise slogans aboard tractors with tents erected by various khaps including the Poonia, Rathi, Hooda, Guliya, Malik and Dalal on both sides of the road.

But these mahapanchayats also have political overtones. Though the political leaders are not allowed to share the dias at the Tikri and Singhu borders, Meham Independent MLA Balraj Kundu was present at Charkhi Dadri meeting and three Congress MLAs from Haryana’s Nuh attended the Bharatpur mahapanchayat. Mr. Tekram, however, denies the charge. “The political leaders may be present on the dais at mahapanchayats, but they are not allowed to address. We welcome the political support, but it remains a farmers’ movement.”

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Printable version | Oct 16, 2021 9:46:43 AM |

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