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Wednesday, January 20, 2021

Listen to each farmer

Given the heterogeneity of farmers’ groups, everyone must be given a voice and chance to express his worries

Updated: December 16, 2020 6:54:00 pm
Farmer's protest against the new farm laws at Singhu Border, New Delhi.

Written by Smriti Walia 

Theoretically, India has seen a structural transformation from being a predominantly agrarian economy to becoming an industrial power and a service-hub. But intuitively, the transformation has been quite ironic. For, the agricultural sector, that was supposed to strengthen, to hold the other sectors firm, has been reduced to be a residual sector. An activity that produces to literally feed the nation, has remained neglected, given the Indian paradigm of growth. As per the Economic Survey 2019-20, the annual growth (real terms) of the agricultural sector in India has stagnated at an abysmal rate of 2.8 per cent for over a half decade now. Whereas the significance that agriculture holds for ensuring food on each one’s plate daily is tremendous.

Behind each meal that we eat, lies the turmoil of countless farmers. Their struggles span across production of crops, to their movement, stocking and finally trade. But fortunately (or unfortunately) these struggles have remained veiled and the “farmers” who literally are an inseparable part of our daily lives, have regrettably never occurred to us. But today, India is witnessing a mass protest, and to our surprise, it is by millions of farmers who have by far remained absolutely silent and non-circumstantial. The context of the protests is the three new agricultural laws, passed in September this year. Their purpose, as per government officials, is to deregulate the agricultural sector from the clutches of middlemen, making agriculture relatively more market-oriented.

These laws have not been taken well by the farmers and have raised anxiety and apprehensions amongst a substantial section of them. They fear the new laws will make them vulnerable to market uncertainties and take a toll on their already low returns. Hence, insisting repeal of all the three laws, the farmers of Punjab and Haryana broke out in a protest, camping around Delhi’s borders in the chilling cold, never mind the tear gas and water cannons. There have been a series of talks and discussions with the government, but failing to get their apprehensions adequately addressed, the protest has continued, gaining support from farmers from all across the country.

For the last few days, the media has been flooded with opinions — from politicians, to academicians, all taking sides. The blame-game is getting fierce, each trying to play around the rights and wrongs that agriculture laws may bestow upon farmers. But is this discussion indeed relevant? Is this the right form of public-policing? When a section of population, that forms the basis for balancing the socio-economic fabric of the country, feels that they are being ripped off the politico-economic space that they command, it is time to have a relook at the nature of public-policing. I propose that state intervention be given its long-time due transformation under a behavioural approach. In the specific context of farmers’ protests, irrespective of who is right or wrong, behavioural public policy exercises the use of “dialogue” for conflict-management. An open and extensive dialogue shall be instrumental in creating a bridge between government and the farmers, through the following.

Engender confidence building — a dialogue, instead of a monological approach, will ensure that famers express their concerns and worries freely to the government. It will create a sense of confidence among the farmers, who otherwise are embittered as their voices are suppressed and agriculture laws are being imposed on them, without their consent.

Foster Inclusive Growth — farmers are a heterogenous group. They have numerous consternations related to agricultural laws, depending upon their land-holding size, crop grown and income background. An extensive dialogue would ensure creating room for all stakeholders to express themselves and the government to address each of them. This will help make these laws more representative by entailing learning, not just talking.

Foster empathy — a dialogue will help farmers as well government to understand each-other well, inclusive of their aims, aspirations, differences and challenges. This will help them work “together” towards a mutually acceptable change, in a more respectful and empathetic way.

The nature of dialogue is equally important. Given the heterogeneity of farmers’ groups, each farmer must be given a voice and chance to express his worries. The queries have to be responded to in a customised way, and a one-size-fits-all approach should be avoided. Specific issues should be dealt with, till the last question is answered. This requires a mass dialogue at national level.

It is not about who is right and who is wrong. Let each speak, discuss and argue. This will kick-start a new era of behavioural state policing which will truly be democratic and constitutional — for the people, of the people and by the people.

The writer is assistant professor, department of economics, Lakshmibai College, University of Delhi

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