Lachhman Sewewala: ‘Under the farm laws, the farmer will lose his land and we will lose the PDS’

Despite the plain class and caste contradictions, 1000’s of landless agricultural employees have thrown their weight behind the farmers protest towards the three contentious farm legal guidelines. The presence of agricultural employees has added a new dimension to the faulty discourse that the protest was singularly led by the wealthy land-owing farmers of Punjab, Haryana and western Uttar Pradesh. The purpose agricultural employees have joined the protest is that the new farm legal guidelines will not solely have an effect on farmers instantly but in addition impression the general public distribution system that each day wage employees depend upon.

In an interview to Frontline, Lacchman Sewewala, common secretary of the Punjab Khet Mazdoor Union, a number one agricultural employees union, defined why agricultural employees joined the protests and the impression the farm legal guidelines would have on agricultural employees. Excerpts:

The legal guidelines will positively have an impression on landowners however it will have an effect on landless agricultural employees much more. It is essential to see the three legal guidelines collectively. These legal guidelines symbolize the second part of the Green Revolution. It is a matter for giant land-owing farmers they usually will undoubtedly profit from it, whether or not or not it’s contract farming or storage. They will nonetheless have an alternate. The most impression will be on us and small and medium farmers. As it’s, the Green Revolution affected us badly. There are 7.5 lakh households in Punjab, and 5 – 6 individuals in every household are engaged in agricultural labour.

When the Green Revolution launched mechanisation, comparable to harvester combines and chaff making machines, livelihoods have been misplaced. Even non-farm work comparable to livestock rearing was affected due to the usage of a excessive diploma of pesticides in crops. The use of weedicides displaced handbook rooting out of weeds. The wheat chaff machines changed the work of girls employees engaged in gleaning the fallen ears of wheat. The total harvesting season was decreased to a couple months. In the Malwa area, which is understood for cotton cultivation, ladies and kids used to get work for 2 to 3 months.

Mechanisation decreased their interval of labor additional and because of this affected other facets, too. Shatee, the leaf residue left over from a harvest, was collected by employees to be used as gas in cooking. Now they purchase cooking gas from exterior. The government stopped offering kerosene in ration depots. So, people should both have a fuel connection and buy fuel cylinders or purchase fuelwood.
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There are three decisive facets in agriculture—cultivation, storage and sale on the mandi [market]. All these three operations have been handed over to non-public entities. If contract farming occurs, the contractor will resolve what will be sown, whether or not to sow paddy, cotton, gram or soyabean, and even develop flowers to make a revenue. This will pose a direct menace to meals safety. There will be larger use of machines in such work and extra use of pesticides. Once this occurs, and as farmers start to lose their land, they will be part of the ranks of the growing variety of unemployed job seekers, affecting the prospects of agricultural employees who’re already within the queue for work. In Moga district, there’s a huge storage silo owned by the Adani group. We are advised that it’s a Food Corporation of India storage facility, however it’s a correct ‘anaaj mandi’ [grain market].

Computerised high quality checks are accomplished and the grains are cleaned by machines. Compared to the government mandi, where cleansing, loading, weighing and stitching work is completed manually, this silo is modernised, requiring virtually no handbook labour. The government mandis generate lots of employment of their neighborhood. Tea sellers and other casual sector employees profit from being within the proximity of the government Agricultural Produce Marketing Committee amenities.

When the government ceases to obtain for the general public distribution system [PDS], which is what will occur as soon as non-public mandis come up, agricultural employees will endure the utmost. The Essential Commodities (Amendment) Act, 2020, will create a scenario in which black advertising will enhance and costs will go up, and we, agricultural employees, will develop into the last word losers. The Dalit inhabitants is already in a nasty form. There is a United Nations report which says that the life expectancy of Dalit ladies is decrease than that of other ladies.

Survey on debt and facilities

We did two surveys in 2017, one on the extent of debt amongst agricultural employees and the other on facilities. Whenever there may be discuss debt and mortgage waivers, it’s only within the context of the land-owner and farmer. But even of their case, it’s politics that decides whether or not waiver ought to be given or not. Our survey concerned greater than 1,618 households unfold over 12 villages in six districts of the Malwa area; 10 villages in Bhatinda, Sri Muktsar Sahib, Faridkot, Moga and Sangrur districts, and two villages within the Doaba area of Nakodar tehsil in Jalandhar district. It was a random survey. We discovered 84 per cent, or 1,364 households, have been beneath heavy debt while 234 have been “debt free”. On a median, every household owed Rs.91,000. The remaining 16 per cent was debt free not as a result of they didn’t want cash however as a result of nobody was ready to lend cash to them.
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We submitted the report back to the Punjab government. A committee was shaped to check the prevalence of suicides. Our survey revealed that agricultural employees owed the utmost to micro-finance corporations and the least quantity to government banks. Among banks, it was non-public banks that had lent extra at increased charges of curiosity, virtually similar to that charged by non-public moneylenders. Interest charges have been as excessive as 50 per cent in loans from micro-finance corporations. The whole mortgage given by these corporations accounts for practically 23.16 per cent of the overall debt, which is nearly the identical as that lent by moneylenders. Loans by farmers proudly owning greater than 10 acres [one acre equals 0.4 hectare] of land account for 15.46 per cent of the overall debt, while loans given by the small peasantry [five acres and less] to agricultural employees accounted for six.88 per cent of the overall debt. So, basically the agricultural employee is indebted to everybody.

People get simply entrapped by micro-finance corporations as loans are given on the premise of Aadhaar and claims of empowerment. When the land of the farmer is connected following a mortgage default, everybody comes collectively however when ladies default on loans taken from micro-finance corporations, ladies members of self-help teams would harass the defaulter by taking away gadgets from her family. In one occasion, a lady who was humiliated by brokers of a micro-finance firm, dedicated suicide. The proportion of suicides amongst agricultural employees is as excessive as that amongst farmers. But the unhappy half is that they aren’t reported. To certify a dying as suicide, paperwork displaying proof of loans have to be proven, which are seldom discovered with the employees. Of the 16,000 suicides in Punjab, as documented in a Punjab Agricultural University coordinated report, 7,000 have been that of agricultural employees.

Construction of houses and health care are the 2 main causes for taking loans. Farm wages are excessive however as a lot of the employees are indebted to farmers, the wages are by no means paid in full. Because of the rates of interest, ladies agricultural employees do lots of other work free of charge. Being landless is likely one of the main causes for indebtedness. Agricultural employees additionally incurred money owed for farming on hire. According to income information, 37,753 agricultural employees’ households owned 64,513 hectares of the overall landholdings in Punjab. This works out to a median of 4.27 acres. A handful of households [330] could possibly be referred to as affluent however that was as a result of they have been both politicians or bureaucrats. In three villages of Moga and Barnala districts, a survey by the Bharatiya Kisan Union (Ekta-Ugrahan) discovered that 17 per cent of the landed peasantry had develop into landless.

Our second survey was on the residing situations and facilities of agricultural employees. It was performed by the employees themselves. An enormous part of employees does not even have personal dwellings. They dwell on the land of the landowner. Of the 1,640 households surveyed, 440, or 27.5 per cent, didn’t have personal dwellings; 39.21 per cent, or 643 households, had solely a one-room dwelling. About 1,158 houses, or 70.62 per cent, had no separate kitchen space. The scenario has solely develop into worse. The survey discovered that 271 households lived in ‘kutchha’ houses; 493, or 30 per cent of the households, didn’t have any bathroom facility, and 457 households, or 27.8 per cent, had no amenities for bathing. When ladies needed to bathe, male members could be advised to step out or a cot could be propped up and coated to supply a display screen as the ladies bathed. The situation of agricultural employees is already dangerous. The farm legal guidelines will make it worse.

We felt that the legal guidelines would have an effect on our lives. The government wanted to be advised that farmers usually are not all by themselves; Dalits are additionally supporting them. Vested components related with the Bharatiya Janata Party [BJP] are propagating that the Narendra Modi government desires to take land from farmers and provides it to Dalits. Such concepts are being sown. But Dalits perceive that the BJP is a follower of the Manusmriti, a textual content that is basically towards Dalits. ‘Agar kisan ki zameen cheeni jayegi, hamara PDS cheena jayega.’ [If the farmer’s land is snatched from him, the PDS system will be snatched from us.] Many of us joined the protest on November 26, the day the Dilli Chalo marketing campaign started, then we went again to Punjab and commenced mobilising agricultural employees on this problem to counter the pro-farmers legislation propaganda. At Delhi’s borders, where the protests are on, we joined each the BKU (Ekta-Ugrahan) and the Kisan Mazdoor Sangharsh Committee protest websites at Bahadurgarh and Singhu respectively. There are round 9 agricultural employees’ unions in Punjab. We have determined to take part within the January 26 tractor parade farmer unions have organised within the State.

“Agricultural workers are not organised”

When farmers agitate, it’s towards the government; when the agricultural employees agitate, it’s principally towards the landed and caste pursuits within the village. When we agitate, it’s not preferred by the landed sections as they really feel we would elevate points comparable to land ceiling. In Punjab, agricultural employees’ unions have taken up the difficulty of farm legal guidelines. So, agricultural employees are taking part in protests however their numbers are decrease in contrast with that of farmers. The purpose is that agricultural employees are daily-wage employees and can’t afford to keep away from work. There are 15 lakh agricultural employees in Punjab who don’t even get six months of standard work in a 12 months. ‘Subeh kaam karenge to shaam ko khayenge.’ [If they work in the morning, they will be able to eat in the evening.] So agricultural employees usually are not organised the way in which farmers are. We got here on January 7, alongside with ladies and kids, and stayed till January 10 and went again. It was an costly proposition for us.
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The other purpose agricultural employees couldn’t go to Delhi in massive numbers is that when the ‘Dilli Chalo’ name was given, it was the paddy and cotton harvest season. Many employees have been engaged in cotton selecting in Rajasthan and Gujarat and have been working within the ‘anaaj mandis’. We really feel that to strengthen this agitation, the presence of the landless peasant and agricultural employee is required. We are additionally farmers, however landless. We additionally imagine that the protest does not finish with protesting towards the government in Delhi; these insurance policies have their origin in choices taken at world commerce and commerce fora such because the World Trade Organisation.

Bhagat Singh had noticed in his writings that it was hypocritical that nationalists have been demanding freedom from the British however unwilling to provide the identical freedom to Dalits inside the nation. So, the pondering has modified now. Farmer organisations such because the BKU (Ekta-Ugrahan) take up Dalit points from again and again. There was an incident of a gang rape of a Dalit minor, and it was Jat Sikh ladies who courted arrest to get the accused arrested. There was one other main incident in which landed farmers attacked Dalit houses as a result of they’d demanded their share of the widespread agricultural land. Again, the BKU (Ekta-Ugrahan) took up the difficulty for which it was criticised by other farmer teams. We additionally imagine that even when the legal guidelines are withdrawn, the issues confronted by farmers and agricultural employees will not finish. The Land Ceiling Act must be applied in true spirit and makes an attempt to compromise farmers’ lives with agribusiness should even be resisted.

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