Block roads, rails, ships, whatever: Indian farmers can’t be held to slavery anymore

26th September 2020

26th September 2020

Illustration: Courtesy Times of India

(Veeresh Malik wraps up his series on Indian farmers—1st,2nd,3rd—with this 4th and final one. It’s a poignant piece which shames us—and those who held us in a matrix like our politicians and media. We can’t be seeking a new India and ignoring what Modi government is trying to do right for Indian farmers.)

What has been the hallmark of conflicts globally, but especially after the Second World War, when two major changes happened?

 Simple - grabbing natural resources so that the stronger prosper some more, failing which - the destruction of natural resources so that others do not prosper.

Salt, cotton, indigo, rubber, oil and as time moved on - opium. Prevent the colonised from consuming their own natural resources and instead steal or exchange them for beads and baubles - and booze.

One of the largest in terms of value and volume imports into India in the 19th Century were casks of an assortment of wines from England, did you know that? Whilst domestic brewing was - and still is - called illegal. Under the same excise and customs laws.

(Do you know that the restriction on making salt freely out of sea water still exists in India, Dandi March notwithstanding, as does the tax, with one salient exemption for one particular group? This story may help you dig some more.) 

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Quantity of food freely available as different from free, and quality therein - what do poor people in India do as soon as they can afford it, vis-a-vis the free or low-cost Public Distribution System or similar free or subsidised regime for food? They move out of it, preferring to look for better choices, especially for their children.

Where does the PDS supply go? Well, Arvind Kejriwal's Parivartan in pre-AAP days was born out of trying to sort out the PDS leakages, and see where Delhi and India are now with lack of progress on the One Ration Card One Nation scheme?

Making our own people beg for their basic rights, especially food, comes so easily to our own people once they come to power.

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Farming and ownership of the land on which farmers work do not go hand in hand. Especially in India, where "migratory labour" makes up almost 30% or more of our population, and payments are often by way of share of produce for both the owner and the tiller. The tiller is at a huge disadvantage here because they simply don't have a vote or a voice.

Forcing them to a State controlled Mandi by whatever name is like taking the signature and thumb-print of an illiterate person onto a blank stamp-paper. There are many scenes from this movie -  but this one dramatizes one part of the realities on title of land linked to farming.

This was made even more complex by the many amendments to the Enemy Property Act of 1968, wherein relatives and heirs and beneficiaries of people who had left India after 1947, could come back and claim their surrendered lands again from real Indians. Clear title suddenly became unclear, and worse. If the present Government had not further amended the Act after 2014, we would have had big problems which 80% of the country have not even been able to figure out till now.

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Decades ago, loading wheat under PL-480 aid from the US to India, the SATYA KAILASH was at that time the biggest bulk carrier flying the Indian flag. People onboard were justifiably proud of it and a small ceremony was held which was also attended by the American officials. One of them, an elderly Vietnam vet of native American origin who had also served with flying boats in Kakinada during World War 2, had become a mentor and explained things to me - your ship was built in England, repaired in Japan, and is now loading bad quality wheat for Indians which we would not feed even our horses. Why is India unable to grow enough good food to feed its own?

He then explained the wealth of the Krishna and Godavari deltas to me and gave me my first lesson on freedom of food movement in America - the Jones Act gave Americans the Right to free movement of their produce on American built, repaired and operated vessels including large ships and barges of all sorts. And then he explained how our own Governments, British and Indian, had done exactly the opposite in India.

I carried that in the back of my mind for decades and wrote this eventually.

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To wrap up this series, all one can say is that placing artificial State-controlled barriers on freedom of movement of people, farming, agri-produce and the rest of it creates a huge internal and external security issue - not just because of the way it wrecks the economy and places us back in the hands of the monopolies like STC and MMTC and FCI and similar, but because it also reduces the quality of the produce and foodgrain produced.

And if we continue to feed low-quality food to our own people, then we are in big trouble, and more on that in a separate series. For now, a salute to the Farm Bill 2020 is overdue, and that is from people who really know what farming is globally and in India.

The biggest benefit of the Farm Bills 2020 already being felt in many real farms and by real farmers is the freedom to grow, sell and move better agri-produce. And that nobody can deny the People of India anymore. Block roads, move by rail. Block rail, move by boats and ships. Block boats and ships, back to slavery.

Do we want to be slaves again?

Veeresh Malik was a seafarer. And a lot more besides. A decade in facial biometrics, which took him into the world of finance, gaming, preventive defence and money laundering before the subliminal mind management technology blew his brains out. His romance with the media endures since 1994, duly responded by Outlook, among others.

A survivor of two brain-strokes, triggered by a ship explosion in the 70s, Veeresh moved beyond fear decades ago. 

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