On November 29 and 30, farmers, labourers, and even people from the middle classes from across the country gathered in Delhi and marched towards the Parliament to demand a special three-week Joint Session on India’s ongoing agrarian crisis. They protested with dances, songs, sloganeering and a peaceful walk to get the government’s attention. The march was organised by the All India Kisan Sangharsh Coordination Committee (AIKSCC), an alliance of over 200 farmers’ organisations. The support from the student fraternity for this march, though, has gone relatively unnoticed and speaks to how agrarian issues are increasingly taking centerstage, even in the conversations in universities.
Sometimes, we do criticise public universities and colleges for substandard infrastructure and slow administrative machinery. But ultimately, these are places which enable us to connect with the larger social reality. This is possible because the public education set-up provides affordable quality education which can stimulate social conscience and action in students from diverse backgrounds.
Student political groups played a pivotal role in campaigning and generating awareness and the student media helped create and deepen conversations around the issue. Nation for Farmers was formed to support the farmers’ march. Youth for Swaraj launched a campaign called “DU for farmers”. They organised events that took place in various colleges of Delhi University to sensitise the students about the agrarian crisis. There is clearly a growing engagement of students with agrarian issues.
Noted agrarian expert, P Sainath, visited the Delhi University campus and delivered an address on agrarian distress, and pointed out how we, the students, are affected by the crisis in rural India. For example, there is a high drop-out rate amongst students from rural farming communities because they are unable to pay their fees as their parents have been bankrupted by this agrarian crisis.
I hail from a rural background and have seen the plight of farmers. I view the current situation as not just an agrarian crisis but also a humanitarian concern. Participating in the march helped my friends and me to understand the magnitude of crisis our annadaataas are facing. This march is the first step, hopefully, towards a long-term engagement between students and farmers. There were a number of students at the march who came from urban backgrounds. For them, this march was the window to a social reality they were disconnected from. They were able to witness the plight of the farmers, interact with them and understand their concerns.
Despite having semester exams, we all volunteered. The idea behind solidarity is a simple one: Society is an inter-connected whole and there is more to our engagement with the world than self-interest. Students who can afford to pay the fee and attend institutions of higher learning recognised their privilege and stood with those who don’t have the same advantages.
What was special about the march was that it was not constrained by ideological categories. Leaders from diverse political parties such as Farooq Abdullah, Sharad Yadav, Rahul Gandhi and Arvind Kejriwal addressed the farmers. This march demonstrates that citizens recognise the rising social inequality.
Sainath, while speaking about apathy to agrarian distress said, “It is not invisible India; it is blind India”. The fact that students in a megapolis like Delhi have farmer issues as a major point of deliberation and debate on campus is hopefully a sign of the blindness ending; the veil being lifted. Of course, there is always a danger that this solidarity was brought on by a crisis, that it is a temporary interest over a particular event — in this case, the march on November 29 and 30. We, as students, must work to ensure that this is not the case.