Thursday, December 31, 2020

THE FIRES BURN STRONG

2020 has been a horrible year and 2020 has been a wonderful year.

Corona trapped us, scared us, confined us. 19-20 ka antar! Well, that idiom might never get used again such was the difference between the two years.

There was one similarity though - winter of 19 brought a resistance to the streets of urban India. The winter of 20 brought a resistance from its villages. But, as 19 turned to 20 the resistance was turned into horror – on streets, on TV screens and inside police stations, courtrooms and jails.

A much stronger fire burns today – in their makeshift chulhas, in their roadside bonfires, in their hearts and in their resolve. And in salute to the million fires burning along the miles of various townships of resistance, the fire in the sky also burns bright. As 20 turns to 21, there is hope that the outcome will belong to the people, not the party.


Singhu Border

Tikri Border

Ghazipur Border


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Wednesday, December 30, 2020

FARMER’S MOVEMENT – SOURCE OF FUNDING

The sangat, pious gathering - for every gathering at a langar is pious, sits in rows. A young man serves roti. ‘Waheguru ji prashada.’ Those serving believe that they are serving food to God.

Elderly Baba brings his hands together as if in prayer and says, ‘Waheguru ji sawa lakh.’ Those partaking langar believe that it is God that serves.

Bebe, taking a break from sewa, looks at the langar and the sangat, and with folded hands says, ‘sade babe Nanak de veeh rupayie nahi mukde rehendi duniya tayin.’ ‘Our Nanak’s twenty rupees will last as long as the universe.’

***

At Ghazipur border as we walk towards a stall put up by a group of volunteers - Babe Nanak di hatti, ‘Nanak’s shop,’ I try to explain to a journalist the true source of funding of the farmers movement.

Young Nanak’s father gave him twenty rupees and sent him to learn trade. Nanak on his way to the market met a group of Sadhus. They were hungry, so Nanak fed them with the provisions bought with twenty rupees. When his father questioned him, he said I have learned the true trade, sacha sauda. These are the twenty rupees Sikhs carry forward the tradition of.

Before the harvest is packed at mandis to be weighed and sold, a portion is taken out for the gurudwara. When babaji from gurudwara comes in the morning and says ‘waheguru’ at the door - milk, vegetables, rotis rush to him with folded hands.

Guru Nanak in his travels encountered a village where residents were inconsiderate and harsh to others. He blessed them ‘May the village of Kanganpur prospers.’ In another village he encountered kind and gentle souls, who looked after each other and every passerby. Guru Nanak said to them, ‘May the village of Manakdede never prospers and stays small, may its residents scatter to other parts of the world.’ When his companion Mardana questioned him on these strange blessings Nanak said he hopes that the ill-will of Kanganpur stays where it is and the goodwill of Manakdede spreads to the whole world.

At Singhu border a speaker addresses the gathering. “It is as if we the followers of the Guru are blessed to be the residents of Manakdede.” Sikhs now call most of the world their home. And wherever they have gone they have taken ‘vand shakna’ ‘sharing with others’, and they have continued the tradition of those twenty rupees.

Khalsa Aid is but one of the many million offsprings of those twenty rupees.

‘Babe Nanak di Hatti’ has all kinds of supplies – from toothpaste, toothbrush, soaps, shampoos, hair-oil and detergent, to socks, warm cloths, blankets and even a large heap of desi waterheaters. I greet the volunteers and because I have to, I tell them I am from Sultanpur Lodhi. They all fold their hands and pause for a moment, not for me, they do it in respect for Nanak, in respect for where Nanak ran his hatti. ‘Tera tera.’ ‘Its all yours, I am yours, O Lord.’

Sultanpur Lodhi – Nanak’s town. Sikhs – his scattered residents of Manakdede. Twenty rupees – his funds for eternity.


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Tuesday, December 29, 2020

IN THE MIDDLE OF WINTER

Parkash Kaur mixes dry hay with cow dung and pats the cow dung cakes on the small plot opposite to her home. Two days later she turns these upside down, the flat side in the direction of afternoon sun. It is early summer and a few days later the cakes are dry. She carefully organizes these dry cakes in a circle in one corner of that little plot. She lays a second and a third layer above these. Then she gets busy with fresh cow dung and hay and fills her plot with cakes again. Two months later the circular pile has turned into a few feet high dome. Just in time before the monsoon arrives. She gets the cover she has prepared by stitching empty plastic bags of fertilizer and ties it over the pile. This should take care of her winter cooking.

Sukhdev Singh gets an axe and a saw. The overnight storm has broken some of the branches of few eucalyptus trees, and some of jamun and guava trees. He chops these down, brings them into the haveli. The wood will dry over the rest of the summer, just in time to feed the fire for Bebe to make saag in December.

And as Albert Camus walks these miles of resistance, in these townships of tractor-trolleys, he finds that summer once again. “In the middle of winter I at last discovered that there was in me an invincible summer.”

Parkash Kaur is here. Sukhdev Singh is here. In the middle of winter, they are here with thousands, carrying with them, carrying within them, their invincible summers.


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MUKHTIAR SINGH’S MANN KI BAAT

Flowing white beard, a kesari parna, in a simple kurta pyjama and a loyi, Mukhtiar Singh takes centerstage. Standing next to a large pile of local geysers donated for the use of farmers he adapts to a situation he has never encountered in his life before. Being interviewed by journalists.

‘Hum mar jayenge par waapis nahi jayenge.’ ‘We will die but won’t go back.’

‘Aapko maut se dar nahi lagta?’ ‘Are you not afraid of death?’ the journalist asks.

‘Humko maut ki parwah nahi. Wo Sikh hi kya jo maut se darr gaya.’ ‘I am not worried about death. He is not a Sikh who is afraid of death.’

From a village in Pilibhit UP, he owns four acres of land. He has two sons – one drives a combine harvester and other drives a truck. He has two grandchildren – a granddaughter and a grandson.

‘Ye Modi Yogi ka koi parivar hota to unhe dukh hota!’ ‘If Modi Yogi had any family, they might have felt our pain.’

‘Hum yogi ko apna mukhmantri nahi maante. Hamara mukhmantri to VM Singh ji hain. Hamare dukh sukh mein wahi hamare sath hain.’ ‘I don’t consider Yogi to be my chief minister. My chief minister is VM Singh ji (referring to his union leader). He is there for us in sadness and in joy.’

Looking at his clothes the journalists asks him ‘Aapko thand nahi lagti?’ ‘Don’t you feel cold?’

‘Bilkul nahi. Hamare liye yahan badaam aate hain. Pinni aati hai. Jab se aandolan shuru huya hai, hamein ek bhi rupya kharach karne ki zaroorat nahi padi. Sab sangat de rahi hai.’ ‘Absolutely not. We get almonds to eat. We get pinni. Since the start of the movement, I have not had the need to spend anything from my pocket. Everything is being provided by the community.’

‘Kab tak rahenge aap?’ ‘How long will you stay?’

‘Jab tak hum jeet nahi jate.’ ‘Till the time we don’t succeed.’

Pointing towards the Meerut-Delhi expressway – ‘Achchi jagah hai ye. Humne to ab yahan makaan banane ki tayari karni hai. Agar jaldi Modi nahi manta to bas makan banayenge pehle yahan. Fir bhainse bhi le aayenge.’ ‘This is a good space. Now we are going to start constructing homes here. If Modi doesn’t agree fast, we will make homes first. Then we will bring our buffaloes.’

And grabbing the arm of a young boy standing next to him he tells him – ‘pehle gurudwara banayenge yahan. Matha tekne ko.’ ‘First we will make a Gurudwara. To pay our respects.’

It is dark, nearly 7pm on this late December evening. All around Mukhtiar Singh there is a beehive of activity. Food is being cooked and served for thousands at many langars. Mattresses and blankets are being dusted and spread, in preparation for what the met department says are extremely cold nights. The journalists leave after a while. Mukhtiar Singh now sits with a group inside his tent. His mann ki baat and his vigil continues.


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MODI AANA KABHI HAWELI PE

The divider on the road, with overhead metro line, was made to plant hedges or flowers or something green. The two sides of the divider have metal grills – possibly to discourage pedestrians from crossing (and trampling whatever was planted) and possibly to save the future flowers/trees/greenery from the stray Gayu Matas. Only some sections thus protected with grills have greenery, others were gathering dust, waste and the apathy of the population passing by. Till the marching farmers decided to make home.

The soil beds have been cleaned and levelled, straw (they don’t burn all the praali, some they keep for future comforts), durries and mattresses make a reasonably comfortable bedding. Tarpaulin sheets cover the top and the side metal grills and a cosy shelter is ready – a place where the farmers and their belongings (primarily ration) is protected from the cold and the elements.

Outside, on the road, ropes tied between the ends of trolleys define their courtyard. The other half of the road carries the local traffic (the farmers haven’t stopped any traffic, wherever it has been stopped, it is by the administration and their barricades). In this courtyard by the passing traffic (somewhat shaken-out-of-the-deep-slumber-of-their-indifference), clotheslines carry the daily washing, little kitchens have come-up (the big langars that make the news don’t go all the way of the tens of miles this township extends to). Someone is busy cooking, someone rests inside, a few play cards, many sit and chit chat.

Many came with the trolleys prepared as shelters, some have put up hiking tents and few mini tent cities have sprung up, some are using the pedestrian walkways and the wall next to it to put up their tents, few larger tents have come up where space allowed. Everywhere the mood is upbeat in these dwellings. And everyone is welcome. Including Modi.

As their spirits and their union flags fly high, they speak their Mann ki Baat and send out an open invite. ‘Modi, aana kabhi haweli pe.’

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Monday, December 28, 2020

NO MAN’S LAND

It is not that these barriers are too strong to stop their march, like they proved on 26th and 27th of November, it is just that they have decided to camp here – for now. But the administration, the state, the powers that be can’t help but think that they can ford this flood. So, they create these illusions - concrete blocks and metal barriers and a no man’s land in between.

On one side the guards stand in silence, on the other the rebels are a sea of celebration of human spirit.

On one side there are ranks – juniors standing attention to seniors who in turn stand attention to more seniors. On the other side they all are equal - their honor and words their chain of command.

On one side they all line for inspection at roll call and to salute their officers. On the other, there are no officers, but plenty of salutes to each other.

On one side they have thrown old containers, trailers with deflated tyres to block a potential forward march. On the other side they have converted such trailers and containers into homes.

On one side sun rises to another difficult day of duty for the watchmen of the powers that be. On the other side the sun rises on another welcome day of duty for the watchmen of people and their rights.

On one side the bodies are dressed in one color. The other side is a rainbow of colors.

On one side it is a colony with bated breath, a look of death. The other side a city teeming with life.

In between, the no man’s land stands witness.

And in the gathering of rebels, a few rebels jump into the no man’s land for a selfie.


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NECTAR IN A SIEVE

Living in the pollution capital of the world rain is always a welcome relief, irrespective of the time of the year. It cleans our air and offers us NCR-Delhiwallas relatively clearer skies and somewhat cleaner air to breath.

Last night, sitting in my comfortable chair, as I heard the sound of falling rain, the feeling wasn’t of relief. The clouds have been overhead for a while, and had drizzled briefly for a few seconds already, but it hadn’t poured. But this was the sound of them coming down with vigour. 5-10 minutes of rain, not too long to make much impact in the life of the city dwellers, but long enough to put the life of farmers camping at borders difficult, put it out of what little order they have managed to provide themselves in these camps of resistance.

It was my third semester at college, and I was doing Indian Writing in English as part of humanities courses. For the final evaluation we were required to read, review and present a book of our choice. Browsing through the shelves of hostel library I found a few books by Indian authors. Even with a very limited knowledge and understanding of literature at the time, after reading Kamala Markandaya’s ‘Nectar in a Sieve,’ I knew that both the author and the book were special. The smile on the course instructor’s face as I put the title slide on the glass projector was an affirmation of the same.

Nectar in a Sieve is a story of an Indian peasant and her struggles. It is the story of Rukmini and her family, living from one challenge to another, their life a daily struggle as they till the land to make ends meet. Natural disasters, floods one year, drought a few years later test them, death of children, theft of what little possessions they have, eviction from land, a long journey to city, back breaking work at a brick factory, death of her husband, a long lonely march back to the village hut she had left behind, Rukmini faces each new adversity with high spirits and hope.

As the presentation came to a close and I had answered the few questions that came my way from the class the instructor asked one last question. ‘Explain the title of the book, why is it called nectar in a sieve?’

‘Nectar is the drink of gods. Nectar in a sieve – an attempt to purify what is the purest of the pure. The story highlights how nature puts hardships on those whose lives are the hardest of all to start with. It is like nature testing these humans who are the most tested in the society.’

As the rain came down, the tractor-trolley camps came to mind, the images of them trying to keep themselves and their goods dry from the rain a few weeks back came to mind and Kamala Markandaya’s immortal title came to mind. Nectar in a Sieve.


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Sunday, December 27, 2020

A COILED SNAKE

A few days back, while looking for the meaning of a verse, I scrolled through Navtej Sarna’s English translation of Guru Gobind Singh’s Zafarnama. Zafarnama, the ‘Epistle of Victory’, was written in Persian by Guru Gobind Singh to Aurangzeb, sometime in 1705.

In its introduction he writes – “An understanding of the Zafarnama presupposes some familiarity with the immediate historical events it refers to—the battles between the Sikhs and the Mughal army along with the supporting hill rajas, the evacuation of Anandpur by the Sikhs on the basis of false oaths sworn on the Quran by the Mughals, the historic battle of Chamkaur, the martyrdom of the Guru’s four sons, and so on. To grasp the full philosophical message of the Zafarnama it is necessary to delve deeper and to trace, even if briefly, the emergence of the Sikh faith as an independent religion as well as its development as a political movement that ultimately challenged Mughal rule in northern India. In short, one has to go back to the time when Guru Nanak (1469–1539) began the moral and spiritual renaissance of a populace steeped in ignorance and superstition. This renaissance was to become, under the guidance of the tenth Guru two centuries later, a miraculous transformation of the human spirit that would see an oppressed people fight bigotry and religious persecution with scarcely imaginable courage.”

On this cold dark late December evening at Singhu Border, thousands sit facing the little stage where speaker after speaker come and speak/sing from Gurbani, in remembrance of the sacrifice of the two younger sons of Guru Gobind Singh. One of them highlights the same point that Navtej Sarna makes in the last line above – The Gurus fight wasn’t against another religion, they fought persecution and bigotry. They fought a tyrant and the tyrannical policies of a throne.

The verse whose meaning I was looking for –

Chiya shod ki chu bachgan kushteh char

Ki baqi bimand ast pechideh mar.

You killed my four sons:

What difference does that make,

When after their deaths there still Remains behind a coiled snake?

Walking along the tractor-trolley township, under the metro line at Tikri, I encountered a coiled snake. Pasted on a poster, held aloft by a group of youngsters the words read -

“56 inch di chati waleya, Pauna tera gaah.

112 inch de sappan naal nitt painda sada vaah”

“Oh you with 56inch chest, we will burst your bubble.

Taking care of 112inch snakes, is our daily struggle.”

The farmers have protested for many months now – first on roads and railways tracks without any relief and now for over a month at the borders of Delhi, under elements in biting cold. It will be prudent for the Delhi throne to wake up, before the coiled snake wakes up and listens to the most often remembered verses of Guru Gobind’s Zafarnama.

Chun kar az hameh heelate dar guzasht

Halal ast burdan bi-shamsher dast

When all has been tried, yet

Justice is not in sight,

It is then right to pick up the sword,

It is then right to fight.

 

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#StandWithFarmers

#SpeakUpForFarmers



Saturday, December 26, 2020

NIGHTS AT SIRHIND

Last week of December every year, a three day Saheedi Jor Mela is organized at Fatehgarh Saheb Punjab, to remember the martyrdom of the two younger sons of Guru Gobind Singh, Chhote Sahibzade Baba Zorawar Singh (9yrs) and Baba Fateh Singh (6yrs). They were imprisoned by the governor of Sirhind and upon their refusal of all temptations to convert, were bricked alive in December 1705. Gurudwara Fatehgarh Sahib marks the site of their entombment. Before they died, they spent nights atop a cold tower in the harshest of North India winters along with their grandmother Mata Gujri.

When the news of the death of his sons reached Guru, he said – ‘char muye to kya hua jeevat kai hazar’ ‘So what if four are dead, many thousands more are alive.’

Lacs of devotees visit the gurudwara during the three-day remembrance. Bhai Maninder Singh writes (a poem where Guru Gobind is speaking to his many thousand sons) -

Je chale hon sirhind nu mere pyareo

Mere laalaan de naal rehke raat gujareyo.

If you are visiting Sirhind my dear,

Stay with my little ones and spend the night.

People from far away villages prepare their tractors and trolleys and head to Sirhind - Fatehgarh Saheb every year. This year Jor Mela, the gathering, has reached another sirhind – border.

There is a history of courage and sacrifice in this annual pilgrimage. This year the thousands of living sons of Guru look for courage from the 6 year and 9 year olds as they stand up to another Sooba Sirhind, another autocratic governor.

This year Bhai Maninder Singh’s words also say – if you are visiting these sons of Guru sitting on borders, stay with them, spend a night.


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Thursday, December 24, 2020

MSP – Minimum Support Price or Maximum Sales Price? What profit does farmer makes?

Government defines Minimum Support Price, MSP, as a tool which gives guarantee to the farmers, prior to the sowing season, that a fair amount of price is fixed to their upcoming crop to encourage higher investment and production of agricultural commodities. The MSP is in the nature of an assured market at a minimum guaranteed price offered by the Government.

MSP is declared by central government for 23 crops on the advice of the Commission for Agricultural Costs and Prices (CACP). CACP calculates three different costs of production for each crop in the list.

1.       A2 (actual paid out cost) = spend on seeds, fertilisers, pesticides, and hired labour and machinery

2.       A2+FL = A2 + the economic value of the efforts of family members working on the farm

3.       C2 (comprehensive cost) = A2+FL+ imputed rent and interest on owned land, other assets and capital

Swaminathan report recommends that MSP should be at least 50% higher than total cost, C2. During the election campaign for the 2014 Lok Sabha elections, Narendra Modi had campaigned that his government would implement the recommendations made by the Swaminathan commission on farmers. Even though the PM and his party continues to claim that they have implemented 50% profits for the farmers, the truth was revealed in response to an RTI by PP Kapoor in April of 2016. Agriculture Ministry in response to his RTI said – “The recommendation of the Swaminathan commission regarding the minimum support price (MSP) was rejected by the government because the MSP is decided by the Commission for Agricultural Costs and Prices after taking into consideration all the varieties. Therefore, deciding a minimum 50% hike over the cost could lead to distortions in the market.”

Currently, the MSP is calculated using A2 + FL. Even though UPA government also announced MSP at 50% profit over A2+FL, the PR of current regime is unmatched and hence the world is told that Modi is the PM to provide farmers with 50% profits over their costs.

As per a study by thewire.in in February 2020, considering MSPs for Kharif crops announced in 2019-20 – “if all crops falling in the purview of MSP are included, the margin of total profit is only 14% over cost C2.”

Still, if MSP is indeed the minimum price a farmer gets for his/her produce we are sure that farmer gets atleast 14% profits. That would still be something to take home. However, this 14% number will be true if we assume-

1.       The calculations of costs involved which form the basis of the MSP (A2+FL and C2) are accurate and reflect ground reality; and

2.       Every farmer is able to sell his/her produce at least at MSP.

Let us look at question 2 first.

Shanta Kumar report (2015) indicates that at present only 6% of farmers in India have access to MSP and that too for about 35% of their produce. So, in a way only 2% produce gets MSP.  If one adds all agricultural households having sold paddy and wheat to any procurement agency, during July2012-June2013, the number of households comes to just 5.21. This figure of 5.21 million households as a percentage of total number of agricultural households (90.2 million) comes to just 5.8 percent. But if one adjusts this with common households that sell both paddy and wheat, and/or by the percent of quantity sold by each household at MSP, the figure of direct beneficiaries comes even lower. For staples other than wheat and paddy, the situation is far worse.”

A report published by factly.in in Feb 2019 shows the relation between declared MSP and average selling price of the crop for month of Oct 2018.

Note – that barring one exception, the national average selling price is significantly lower than MSP. In many cases the selling price is lower than C2. So even if our answer to question 1 is yes, that we can 100% rely on production cost numbers A2+FL and C2, the farmers don’t have access to selling prices which are in excess of MSP and only 6% farmers have access to MSP for about 30-35% produce. This means that profits for farmers are much less than 14% (against C2), many a times they make losses.

Let us look at question 1. How reliable are C2 & A2+FL numbers?

As per a report by thewire.in (February 2020), where they accessed communications from various state governments to the central government in regard to MSP for Kharif crops for 2019-20, atleast nine states, including BJP ruled states, have disagreed with CACP advised costs. Some of the observations of state governments are -

Haryana (BJP Khattar Government) – After examining the CACP report, the state agriculture department said in its letter, sent on May 18, 2019, “It is pertinent to mention that the price of diesel, pesticide, fertiliser, machines and other inputs has increased this year as compared to the previous year. Lower availability of labour is also a major contributor in increasing the cost of cultivation.”

For Bajra they said - “Department of Agriculture and Farmers Welfare has estimated the input cost for the crop as Rs 2,170, but the CACP has recommended Rs 2,000 per quintal as the MSP.”

“The state government is making strong efforts for diversification of Paddy to Maize crop, therefore, we need strong support for increasing the MSP of this crop for adoption by the farmers…. CACP has recommended Rs 1,760 per quintal which is very less and does not even cover the cost of cultivation. The MSP of Maize should be fixed at Rs 2,350 per quintal.”

Uttar Pradesh (BJP Yogi Government) – The state assessed the Cultivation Cost (C2) of paddy to be Rs 1,679 per quintal and recommended the MSP to be Rs 2,520 per quintal. However, the Centre fixed the MSP at Rs 1,815 per quintal.

Karnatka - “The MSP fixed for the 2019-20 season is inadequate compared to the state’s cultivation cost. Because of this, the profit margin of the farmers is either little or negative.”

So, we can’t even trust the production cost numbers which are being used to calculate MSP numbers.

Which essentially means the farmers lose out on all sides of the equation. Neither are the costs as per Swaminathan recommendations (C2), nor are the calculated costs as per ground reality, and nor are the selling prices at or higher than MSP.

If you run a business, you know how a profit and loss analysis is done. Any big corporation before bidding for any work spend days planning to come with best possible profits to win the work. They consider all sorts of costs - Compensation to workers (starting from the top management, to the assistants and clerks to print and office boys who serve coffee), Rent of offices and factories they use, Depreciation of their assets, Cost of raw materials, Design and engineering costs, costs of testing and validations, costs for travel of team members, costs of entertainment (team and clients), logistics costs (Transportation, handling of equipment), Cost of internet, Phones, Car fuel, Taxi bills, legal fees, Insurance, electricity bill, customs, octroi and all possible other costs – before they come to a price on which they will sell their products ad services so that they can make reasonable profits.

How do governments and public institutes prepare their financial statements? – with as much detail as corporates.

So, why is it that when a farmer’s profitability has to be calculated, suddenly all the costs to be considered seem like a burden?

The truth is - agriculture in general is a loss-making proposition.

Swaminathan reports in an urgent wake up call (this was 2005-2006) state “The acute agricultural distress now witnessed in the country, occasionally taking the form of suicides by farmers, is the symptom of a deep seated malady arising from inadequate public investment and insufficient public action in recent years. The precise causes of the agrarian crisis are many and varied, but there are five basic factors which are central to the present crises. These are: unfinished agenda in land reform, quantity and quality of water, technology fatigue, access, adequacy and timeliness of institutional credit, and opportunities for assured and remunerative marketing.”

The farmers are fighting for the last - assured and remunerative marketing.

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(first published on 08 Dec 20 @ MSP – Minimum Support Price or Maximum Sales Price? What profit does farmer makes? (punjabtodaytv.com)

Wednesday, December 23, 2020

FARMERS, CROWS & BLACK KITES

Through the maze of electrical wires, through the cloud of crows and black kites (cheel), through a very thin layer of smoke that the city makes on its roads, one sees a beautiful sunset. The sun is setting behind a small hill. The hill, if one gets closer, is decades of unsegregated waste produced by dilwalon-ki-dilli. A problem away from their eyes, a problem away from their noses, a problem away from their homes and colonies. Akhon pare, te jag mare, or as they say it a little politely in English – out of sight out of mind.

The farmers have been out of their sight for decades. Occasionally they have seen them on TV dumping their produce on the highways, sometimes they have heard of their suicides, but then they have plenty of their own to worry, plus the primetimes are so informative – they get to know about important suicides there, sometimes for months on one particular most important suicide.

But every now and then there is a storm, a strong wind blows, the stench from the landfill reaches far inside the city, the city that has expanded anyways to encircle the landfill which was once far enough. Every once in a while, the crows and black kites wander farther into the city skies and drop unwanted items onto the city’s roofs and gardens. Every now and then there is a fire at the landfill and smoke rises like a cloud and engulfs the city’s limited imagination. Every now and then, what was out of sight, becomes visible.

On 25th November one such fire broke out. First at the landfill. And then in the countryside. The fire at the landfill engulfed Delhi momentarily before the fire tenders got it under control. But the fire that broke in the countryside created a storm that is still enraging. Farmer – long out of sight, sits at their doorsteps. Like the crows and black kites, like the height of the landfill – an eyesore to Dilwalon-ki-Dilli and Delhi throne.

Google map shows a rather easy route to the protest site. Straight to sector 62, get on the expressway and in 6 km at the Ghazipur border. But google doesn’t account for UP police’s arrangements. All entrances to the Meerut-Delhi side of the expressway are sealed and even the road itself is barricaded at multiple places. As I take the service lane and turn into a narrow lane leading in the general direction of Ghazipur I see a group of 50 odd BKU flag holding youngsters having a confrontation with the police at that barricade. They make it to the protest site much faster than I will. There is strength in numbers.

The largest meat mandi (fish/murga/bakra) in the region and a qutub minar high hill of waste offer enough opportunities for the sky to be full of crows and black kites. These birds, surviving on refuse of the city and the refuse of the meat mandi, have something new to behold from the exclusive view in the skies. A mini township of tents and trolleys.

I sit on the edge of the expressway and listen as speaker after speaker address the gathering (sitting on mats on the expressway). Rakesh Tikait of BKU (Tikait) addresses the gathering. Brijendar (who apparently is from another union) doesn’t allow me to listen to any word Tikait has to say. He has lots to say himself, but with the background sound from speakers I barely understand one of every five words he has to say. What I understand is that he doesn’t like Tikait. He thinks he will sell out – that he is just waiting for the right offer.

A little while later I understand his grudge. Behind the stage where Tikait addressed the crowd, there is another stage. Set up by two unions. Till a few days back they were sharing the same stage till Tikait spoke against the leaders of these two unions, especially against VM Singh of Rashtriya Kisan Majdoor Sanghathan. Although both the stages speak of the same demands – repeal of the three farm laws, for the time being they speak from different stages. A little while later I find another small stage of another union, with the same demands.

The mood at Ghazipur, like at Singhu is festive. There are many langars, a medical camp, a bookstall, a group of young nihangs doing gatka, media, and plenty of police and security personal walking among the crowd, partaking the langar (and hopefully keeping watch). There are youngsters and there are elderly, though not many females. A city lady has her camera out and is walking through the crowd, clicking faces of the elderly from up close – as close as few inches sometimes, of farmers talking, of farmers eating, of farmers sitting – she is spoilt for choices – there are so many faces (what was always out of sight, is so close to it momentarily). Little children from nearby shanties are having their fill from langar. Many poor are standing on the edges with their collection of plastic waste – they seem to have abandoned the landfill for the day to collect the disposable plastics here.

Overhead the crows and black kites dot the sky. They have not ventured to sit on the expressway before. But with the speeding vehicles paused for the moment some of them alight on the sides and on the road. The gathered farmers pose no threat to them. The crows and black kites pose no threat to the gathered farmers.

There are some crows and black kites, who do pose a threat to the gathered farmers. As the sun sets behind the hill of waste, those crows and black kites sit in their gilded halls, in the heart of the city, scheming and planning.

#KisanEktaMorcha

#StandWithFarmers

#SpeakUpForFarmers






Tuesday, December 22, 2020

FARMERS MOVEMENT – A WHEEL OF DHARMA

Noida Gate or Gateway to Noida on the Noida Delhi carriageway at Chilla border, the metallic gate made of multiple inverted arches in blue and white, welcomes people to Noida, in the presence of Gautam Buddha. The white marble statue of Buddha sitting in padamasna with his hands in ‘Dharmachakra mudra’ is placed in the middle of the road, next to the gate.

This is also the site of the protest by farmers. They have been here since the beginning of December. One side traffic leading to Delhi has been blocked. When the chief of Bhartiya Kisan Union, BKU (Bhanu) met Rajnath Singh and declared that they will open the traffic his union saw open rebellion and nearly 400 members resigned. His son Yogesh refused to comply to his orders and went on an indefinite hunger strike. When I drove to the location the traffic on this side was open, the number of protestors having reduced significantly after the split in the union. Police outnumbered the protestors by 2 to 1.

Rajwinder Singh, a farmer from close to Lukhnow, said that they have more farmers on the way and they will block the road again the next day.  By next evening they had sufficient numbers to do that. The morning after that I visited again. The police barricading started nearly ten kilometers away on the expressway. Any vehicle which looked like carrying farmers was being stopped and checked. Traffic was diverted about a kilometer ahead of the Chilla border. Few police officers were considerate and let me go through at the mention of ‘langar.’

Yogesh, the UP unit chief of BKU Bhanu, in his fifth day of hunger strike looks cheerful as he stands amidst a group of fellow farmers. He greets me with a big smile. His health is fine for now (doctors have been checking on him regularly, ready to do their duty in case situation demands). He is positive that the farmer demands are genuine and that they will not leave till these laws are repealed. On why the number of farmers is so low here he says that UP administration has made it very difficult for farmers to reach here. Their tractor trolleys are being confiscated. All their village and block level leaders are literally under house arrests. One of the local leaders who reached says that the local police officer at his block has been suspended after he managed to evade their surveillance and reach the protests.

There is another union camping nearby at Dalit Prerna Sthal. For now, this group is holding onto one side of the road with whatever limited numbers they have. Unlike other protest sites there are no stages or speeches here. There are no big langars here either, they have a makeshift chulha on pedestrian walkway acting as their kitchen.

I check with the local gurudwara. They say that they supported the protestors initially, but since their leader joined the govt side even the gurudwara team felt a bit betrayed and stopped sending help. Now that these guys are showing some conviction again the team feels they will start their help again. Even the gurudwara management has been advised (unofficially of course) to not support the protestors but they do it without making it too obvious.

“Dharmachakra in Sanskrit means the 'Wheel of Dharma'. This mudra symbolizes one of the most important moments in the life of Buddha, the occasion when he preached to his companions the first sermon after his Enlightenment. It thus denotes the setting into motion of the Wheel of the teaching of the Dharma.”

As this paltry group of farmers, a part of a larger farmers movement, sit facing the Buddha and his Dharmachakra, they have set in motion their very own wheel of Dharma.

#KisanEktaMorcha

#StandWithFarmers

#SpeakUpForFarmers






Monday, December 21, 2020

MANTO AT SINGHU

It is a small poster, with a longish quote typed in a rather small font, carrying a face not too familiar to the thousands walking by. Thus, suspended on a bamboo, in front of a tractor, in the midst of this fair of solidarity, this celebration of resistance, one encounters Manto.


Here he in the company of Bhagat Singh and of Banda Singh Bahadur. Probably, unfamiliar territory for him, but not for his writings. His words, undivided by partition, speak for him.

‘Sahit taan tapman hai apne desh da, apni kaum da – Sahit apne desh, kaum te usdi sehat ate bimari di khabar dinda rehanda hai. Purani almari de kise khane vichon mitti-ghate naal bhari koi kitab chukko, beete hoye samein di nabaz tuhadiyan ungla heth dhadakdi lagegi.’

‘Literature is the pulse of one’s country, one’s community – Literature tells the news of health and illness of one’s country and community. From the shelves of an old almirah pick a dust laden book, you will feel the pulse of the past beat under your fingers.’

In his dedication ਇਹ ਮੇਲਾ ਹੈ ‘Eh mela hai’ ‘This is a carnival’ to the farmers movement, to those currently camping at Delhi Borders, Surjit Patar answers the state’s misleading question on who is participating in these protests.   

ਇਹਦੇ ਵਿਚ ਧਰਤ ਸ਼ਾਮਲ, ਬਿਰਖ, ਪਾਣੀ, ਪੌਣ ਸ਼ਾਮਲ ਨੇ         

Soil is here, Trees, water, air are here,

ਇਹਦੇ ਵਿਚ ਸਾਡੇ ਹਾਸੇ, ਹੰਝੂ, ਸਾਡੇ ਗੌਣ ਸ਼ਾਮਲ ਨੇ                

Our laughter, our tears, our songs are here,

ਤੇ ਤੈਨੂੰ ਕੁਝ ਪਤਾ ਹੀ ਨਈਂ  ਇਹਦੇ ਵਿਚ ਕੌਣ ਸ਼ਾਮਲ ਨੇ            

And you don’t know, who is here?

ਇਹਦੇ ਵਿਚ ਪੁਰਖਿਆਂ ਦਾ ਰਾਂਗਲਾ ਇਤਿਹਾਸ ਸ਼ਾਮਲ ਹੈ           

Our forefather’s celebrated history is here,

ਇਹਦੇ ਵਿਚ ਸਿਦਕ ਸਾਡਾ, ਸਬਰ, ਸਾਡੀ ਆਸ ਸ਼ਾਮਲ ਹੈ          

Our faith, patience, our hope is here,

ਇਹਦੇ ਵਿਚ ਸ਼ਬਦ, ਸੁਰਤੀ, ਧੁਨ ਅਤੇ ਅਰਦਾਸ ਸ਼ਾਮਲ ਹੈ         

Our words, awareness, passion and prayer are here

ਤੇ ਤੈਨੂੰ ਕੁਝ ਪਤਾ ਹੀ ਨਈਂ                                        

And you don’t know?

ਇਹਦੇ ਵਿਚ ਵਰਤਮਾਨ, ਅਤੀਤ ਨਾਲ ਭਵਿੱਖ ਸ਼ਾਮਲ ਹੈ            

Present is here, past and future are here,

ਇਹਦੇ ਵਿਚ ਹਿੰਦੂ ਮੁਸਲਮ, ਬੁੱਧ, ਜੈਨ ਤੇ ਸਿੱਖ ਸ਼ਾਮਲ ਹੈ          

Hindu, Muslim, Budh, Jain and Sikh are here

ਬੜਾ ਕੁਝ ਦਿਸ ਰਿਹਾ ਤੇ ਕਿੰਨਾ ਹੋਰ ਅਦਿੱਖ ਸ਼ਾਮਿਲ ਹੈ            

Many things one sees, and much unseen is here

ਇਹ ਮੇਲਾ ਹੈ                                                     

This is a carnival.

 

Manto will be pleased that Patar sahab has recorded the pulse of today.

Manto will be pleased to know that over two hundred poems dedicated to the farmers movement have been written and are published as ‘dharat vangare takhat nu’ ‘soil challenges the crown’.

Manto will be pleased to know that from celebrated writers and singers to young ten year olds, all are penning stories and songs for the movement.

Manto will be pleased to glance at the first edition of TrolleyTimes.

And much more than that Manto will be pleased to take a walk through the tractor-trolley townships and see elderly and young holding books, learning from their glorious past, from those whose posters surround the one Manto finds himself on. Every few hundred meters there is a collection of books, some better organized, some just sitting in tokras (large baskets). 







Manto will be pleased to know that they are feeling the pulse of their past and keeping this pulse alive for their future. 

HOMAGE DAY

“All India Kisan Sabha (AIKS) Saturday claimed that 33 farmers participating in the ongoing protests have so far died since November 26 due to accidents, illness and cold weather conditions.

According to AIKS, ‘Homage Day’ will be observed in different parts of the country on Sunday to pay tributes to those farmers who lost their lives.” – The Tribune, 19 December 2020.


Walk with them, through the sea of tractor-trolleys, through the sea of humanity, through the sea of slogans. 

Walk with them in homage.

 

The poster in Punjabi says – ‘Inquilab udeekeyan nahi, keeteyan aunda hai‘ - ‘Revolution doesn’t happen by waiting, it happens by doing.’

Sir Choturam’s quote in Hindi – ‘Doosre log jab sarkar se naraaz hote hain, to kanoon todte hain. Par kisaan jab naraaz hoga to kanoon nahi todega, sarkar ki peeth bhi todega’  ‘Other people when upset with government break laws. But when farmers will be upset with government, they will not break laws, they will also break the government’s back.’

PS – Do the elderly look like they are in any hurry? There is a reason they have put Sir Choturam’s quote!

PS - There is a reason why inquilab is written in red.






FARMERS MOVEMENT – CONTROLLING THE NARRATIVE

Walking through the tractor-trolley township of the farmers movement gives one hope. No matter how deep you walk along the many miles of the township, the spirit, the josh never leaves. Amidst the speeches, the sloganeering, the cooking and consuming of langars, the cleaning of living and walking spaces, the men and women have made this place their homes. Groups sit playing cards and smoking hukkas like they are sitting at their village corners. And everyone here is looking after their corners and looking after one another.

Amidst fighting this battle at many fronts - on marches against the police and state machinery, on roads here with the elements of the North Indian winters, of managing the logistics of living on roads and keeping the josh alive, in meetings with govt – the farmers movement is also giving a lesson or two to others on two key fronts – fighting misinformation and controlling narrative - which essentially boils down to handling the lapdog mainstream media and the Joseph Goebbels of our times ‘the BJP IT Cell.’

And may be the future generations of this country will be thankful to this movement for ensuring that these vultures were dealt with properly.

These images from Singhu tell a tale of how far the mainstream media have fallen in the eyes of the common man.



We have seen videos where youngsters are escorting the reporters from these lapdog organisations out of the protest sites. Independent media, youtube channels, small media houses are welcomed by farmers with open arms and given full access with warmth and hospitality. And even with these smaller organisations the position of movement leaders is that if you want an official statement of the sanyukt morcha – attend the press conference (the only place for official statements).

What the BJP IT cell didn’t account for was that not only the sons and daughters of these farmers, many farmers themselves know how to handle smart phones and be present on social media. And boy-oh-boy did they forget about the diaspora and the farming community’s reach all over the world. #Tractor2Twitter trended with vigor.

And the movement has given a lesson or two to the mouthpiece celebrities as well. Photos of Kangna with a blackened face are pasted everywhere. She is used to getting a free pass from most other celebrities in Bollywood for fear of troll onslaught, but celebrities from Panjab answered her punch to punch.

Someone has put a message for her on a poster pasted on a drum. The photo and message explain how after having spent their days in Mir Manu’s prison grinding fifty kg wheat every day, surviving on one bread and water and having heads of little children garlanded around their necks, the women prayed to the almighty for the welfare of all - even their oppressors. The message tells Kangna that the women in this movement are the daughters of these women.


As the movement completes three weeks, more and more citizens (of our country and of the world) are joining it. Hundreds of independent voices join everyday to help, support and build the narrative and spread correct information.

A group of volunteers have started TrolleyTimes – a biweekly in Punjabi and Hindi covering news, statements, stories, images and poetry related to the movement.

And in an organized effort to counter the BJP IT cell, the volunteers have now launched an all out social media force under the banner KisanEktaMorcha. Search for it on Facebook, Youtube, Twitter, Instagram and other platforms and join the movement.

Remember – this is not only for the farmers, this one is for the ages. Come join the movement.

सिर्फ हंगामा खड़ा करना मेरा मकसद नहीं,

सारी कोशिश है कि ये सूरत बदलनी चाहिए।

मेरे सीने में नहीं तो तेरे सीने में सही,

हो कहीं भी आग, लेकिन आग जलनी चाहिए।


PS - Please follow, subscribe, like KisanEktaMorcha pages on all social media platforms. Do double check the official pages before subscribing. Many unofficial pages are using the logo and similar names.

Subscribe to youtube channel  -  https://www.youtube.com/channel/UC4mGFTV86AR8VeJmusu1QWQ

Follow and like the facebook page - https://www.facebook.com/kisanektamorcha

Follow on Instagram - https://www.instagram.com/kisanektamorcha/

Follow on twitter - https://twitter.com/Kisanektamorcha


Saturday, December 19, 2020

A MEMORIAL AT SINGHU BORDER

Today, 19 December 2020, Sikhs all over the world commemorate the sacrifice of the ninth Guru, Guru Teg Bahadur Saheb. Hind-di-chadar Shri Guru Teg Bahadur sacrificed himself standing with and for the weak, standing against a tyrant.

As is the fashion these days, politicians appropriating historical and religious figures, in January 2020 Congress government in Punjab announced a year long celebration of Guru’s 400th birth anniversary (April 2020 to April 2021). Not to be left behind, Akali dal (then a part of NDA govt at center) got the Govt of India to announce a nationwide celebration of 400th birth anniversary – with the President making the proclamation in his address to a joint sitting of the Parliament. In November 2020, Delhi team of Akali Dal (who was by then out of NDA govt) started six-month long celebrations. As we approach April 2021, every politician will line up with big words proclaiming Guru’s legacy – with a turban wearing Modi leading the pack.

According to Delhi tourism website – “With a view to beautify all the entry points of Delhi, Government of NCT of Delhi has set up Guru Tegh Bahadur Memorial near Singhu Boarder (G.T.Karnal Road) National Highway-1.”

The police barricades which indicate the start of the tractor trolley township of the farmer movement, are placed where the memorial starts. As one walks to join the lacs gathered, one first crosses the Guru’s memorial. If one steps inside a tall khanda rising from the ground comes in view. “A 24 meter high central pylon with petals at the base represents the Guru & his strength and the three “C” arches denote his three followers and the monoliths represent the 10 Sikh Gurus’ with their sayings inscribed on them.” The words of Gurbani on these ten pillars give messages like Sarbhat da bhala (welfare of all), kirat karna (hard work and honest living), naam japna (remembering God), vand chakna (sharing with others), istri samanta (equality of women), etc.

As part of six-month celebrations Delhi Akali Dal team has planned a nagar kirtan (a procession of devotees) from birthplace of Guru (Amritsar) to place of his death (Delhi) in February 2021.

Sons and daughters of Guru in their lacs have marched upon Delhi much ahead of the schedule. The 400th year celebration hadn’t anticipated such gathering in celebration of the spirit of Guru. Standing up to a tyrant. Standing with the weak. Other communities have joined these sons and daughters of the Guru in the people’s movement they started.

One of the ten pillars inside the memorial say tenth Guru’s words under the heading ‘Deedar Khalse ka’ – ‘Behold the pure.” ‘Khalsa mero roop hai khas, Khalse mehi ho karo nivas’ ‘Khalsa is my true form Within the Khalsa, I abide.’

May those who speak on stages appropriating the Guru’s legacy – take a moment to understand the significance of the gathering next to Guru Teg Bahadur Memorial at Singhu border. May they go and bow to the Guru awaiting at their doorsteps. May they go and bow to the real memorial to the Guru gathered at their doorsteps.

And may the people of the land continue to remember what the Guru stood and sacrificed for.


#StandWithFarmers

#SpeakUpForFarmers

#KisanEktaMorcha



SIX MONTHS IS A LONG TIME

Ravi Choudhary of PTI was nearby as the lathis of the security personnel swung. Of the many images he clicked one will acquire a life of its...