Written by Anita Tagore
The farmers’ protest at the Singhu border has become the signpost for reclaiming democratic spaces in India. Multiple day-long visits to Singhu by this writer revealed the emotive tenor at the protest site and its substantial influence on the public mood of the nation. The new non-porous borders for citizens might have restricted mobility but they also illustrate the emancipatory potential of social solidarities among citizens. Such social solidarities promoted functionality of basic institutions. The democratic dilemmas of a nation-state are out in the open for introspection.
The farmers protest against the contentious farm laws is a watershed in the political history of India. By defying the majoritarian consent on legislation, the farmers’ have bared the inherent fallacies of the authoritarian spin. What lies behind the trajectory of their opposition are the states of powerlessness, practices of disempowerment, and processes by which people and communities struggle for control over their lives and environments. The corollary narrative is of robust interdependencies and collective action surpassing parochial group aspirations. The support extended to the farmers’ protest by citizens’ groups has expanded the limits of the movement. It has reinforced the logic of delegitimising majoritarian egoism and arrogance that underlines the state intent to discipline and punish dissenters.
The continuing challenge of the farmers has dented the claims in favour of the laws and showcased how democratic recoiling can restructure agitational politics. The escalation in everyday numbers of farmers joining the protest from various corners of the country shows clarity about the farm laws and their possible impact on the lives of farmers. The agreement between 30-odd farmer leaders of different organisations to collectively march forward with their singular demand of repealing the act and no less has enthused ordinary farmers to stay put at the Delhi borders, even braving state-induced violence and the bone-chilling winter cold. The death of 60 farmers at the protest site has eroded claims of humane governance that the incumbent government so eagerly portrays for global honour.
The intersectional axes of solidarities cutting across gender, class and caste is reshaping the transactional dynamics of the movement. Communal eating through networks of community kitchens and langars has overshadowed caste boundaries. Langars, an integral part of Sikh tradition, have not only seen international camaraderie with generous contribution from NRIs but also support from across India. The pizza langar organised by some Samaritans saw the outpouring of love and gratitude to annadatas who feed the nation. The free makeshift gym, availability of nutritional supplements, tattoo parlours have emerged as arenas of non-institutional civic engagement for the youth at the protest sites. Hookah smoking at various places have been zones of unfettered debates and communication that sharpen the sense of belongingness among the old and the young farmers. The stage at the centre of the protest site has been witness to both political and cultural exposition of ideas about farmers’ history as it was in the past and as it unfolds itself in the present.
Revolutionary poetry, radical posters, uninterrupted announcements via mikes and evocation of religious sentiments by Sikh gurus have boosted the morale of the farmers. Remarkable is the zeal among farmers camping in their tractor-trolleys to abide by the concerted decision by their leaders. There is an exceptional consciousness that binds each one of them to their collective goal for welfare and outright rejection of capitalist intervention in farming. A general will of the masses is being manufactured routinely to consolidate public opinion among farmers. Regular press conferences by farmer leaders have acted as a conduit for dissemination of broader strategies for mediation. Young Turks among them use social media platforms to popularise their ideas about the laws that in the long run will precipitate an agrarian crisis.
The expansion of the public sphere to include the marginalised is the flagship signifier of this movement. The march of thousands of farmers in their trolleys with adequate rations for sustaining themselves, the organisational dynamics of rotational participation from each farming village and the plan for collective action for negotiations with the government have confirmed that an indomitable subaltern voice that cannot be stifled.
The writer is assistant professor, Kalindi College, University of Delhi