11
May

Farmers Protest: Accountability

   Posted by: aman   in Other

Day 166

Toll 450+

#FarmersProtest

Accountability

The matter is under investigation by police. That is why barring two names – of main accused – let us keep other individuals out from this post.

Though my heart breaks, I wish I could say survivor of assault, but 26 year old activist woman passed away from lung infection and COVID-19 complications. Main accused of assault are Anil Malik and Anoop Singh Chanot from an informal outfit called Kisan Social Army which in turn is linked to a political party.

During the call to campaign against BJP in recent elections, many farmer unions and organisations, formally and informally, reached Bengal. The accused named above also went to Bengal with other team mates and befriended the woman. The woman was inspired by the farmer protests and upon the accused’s invitation she decided to come to Delhi with them on April 12th.

The first incident of assault took place on the train enroute Delhi. When the woman reached Tikri border, since she knew no one and had no choice, she was forced to stay at the Kisan Social Army tent. In the next few days, the assaults continued. When she made new friends at the protest, and mentioned the assaults, her tent was changed by 15th or 16th.

By 19th, the woman fell ill, got medication. As her health kept worsening, she went to a hospital at the protest site on the 24th. Meanwhile, on 25th some local leaders asked Anil and Anoop to take her back home to Bengal. When they were taking her in their car, a Samyukt Kisan Morcha leader (part of the 9 member committee) got in touch with her. While Anil and Anoop lied about their location, the woman sent her WhatsApp location and the leader realised she was near Hansi in Haryana. He asked Anil and Anoop to take her back to the Tikri protest site.

Next day, a well known activist ran pillar to post with the woman to get a hospital bed, to get her RT-PCR test. Finally, they found a bed, the woman tested positive with COVID-19. The woman’s parents arrived April 29th. By 30th the woman passed away. She gave her statement to her father.

The activist is now recovering from COVID-19. She is safe. No one is sure about Anil, but Anoop too tested positive for COVID-19. The woman was cremated at Bahadurgarh cemetery.

Initially, the assaults and their extent, were hidden from news. Over the last week they have come to light. On May 8th, the woman’s father lodged a formal complaint with the police. The police is now investigating the matter. The media is going into an overdrive.

SKM conducted its first meeting on May 3rd at Tikri and took a stance that it stands for justice to the woman. Yesterday, 24 women organisations wrote an open letter demanding safety for women in such social movement spaces. The letter asks SKM:

- to issue a public statement expressing their resolve to undertake zero tolerance policy towards sexual harassment.

- set up a helpline and a committee within the movement space so women can reach out when they need help, so as to prevent such cases from happening again.

- resolve to deepen the political will in fighting patriarchal violence and oppression so as to enhance women’s active political participation in peasant movements, trade unions and mass organizations.

The SKM press note on May 9th addressed the issue. Yesterday, along with the woman’s father, SKM conducted an open press conference and expressed condolences on the woman’s demise, condemned the series of incidents and resolved to ensure justice.

SKM must take up the other two demands as well. However, since we have been discussing the farmers protests for over 5 months here, I want to place a personal observation. I say this because we know SKM never imagined they would stay on protest sites for close to 6 months and would almost form a world within a world. We know they did not imagine they will need to develop many other parallel systems besides struggling against farm laws. Yet, while they are at it and the protests have extended without end in sight, this mandate has fallen on SKM and they must carry it out.

I emphasise on it because we know women are the movement’s greatest strength and if they feel unsafe and unaddressed, then the movement itself stands compromised. The issues women bring up can not be brushed under the carpet. While the woman’s incident is unfortunately an extreme case and complicated with COVID-19, this is not the first time women have raised their voice against sexual harassment in the farmers protests.

My issue with SKM’s stance as the woman’s case was developing is whether it was the woman asking for tent change or when some local leaders decided to send the woman back to Bengal, I believe the local leadership was highly irresponsible. The least to be done when the woman reported harassment/assault was to raise the matter towards the main 9-member SKM. It was not done. Bengal is not Haryana and Panjab, it is far away. The decision to send the woman away with Anil and Anoop with whom she had issues reeks of insensitivity. This is illiteracy among men about being able to believe women, about women rights. This is belief that men will solve every issue.

I also see this non-acknowledgement of women’s issues as similar to SKM’s stance after January 26th incidents. Remember how SKM condemned the youth. Even now, SKM distanced itself from the Kisan Social Army in their statement and the press meet. To me, SKM washing off their hands is the core issue.

SKM’s whole stance against the government on Farm Laws is based on the idea of accountability. SKM’s whole strength is based on lakhs of individuals and hundreds of groups coming to support them. SKM itself cannot project itself holier than thou when it encounters cases such as the woman’s or what happened on January 26th. If SKM is based on people mobilization, it cannot discard people.

Yes, as the protests extend, the ask from SKM increases but that is also what this joint struggle is about. We are all learning but alas the woman will not return.

Utterly, unforgivingly sad!

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