28
Apr

Farmers Protest: Interview on COVID-19 Crises

   Posted by: aman   in Other

Day 154

Toll 411

#FarmersProtest

Dear friends,

looks like for a few days we had a burst of human concern in the mainstream media and now the discourse is fast slipping under the cover. That is why it is important we state the reality of our times.

Sonali Kolhatkar runs an independent radio station in Los Angles. She had interviewed me mid December when the farmers protests started and again yesterday on the coronavirus calamity that has befallen our nation. Picking up from our earlier talk, we also spoke about the farmers protest.

18.30 minutes. Please listen here …

Polish journalist Adrian Bak spoke to me about the Covid-19 resurgence in India. This report might sound a bit familiar to an India audience but I believe it is important such news reaches the world. Yet, here is an attempt to amplify the news. Thank you Adrian.

Tip: Turn on translation to read in English. Ignore machine translation issues, choice of words. I am sure the article sounds much more exact in Polish.

Please see here …

28
Apr

Farmers Protest: Cover

   Posted by: aman   in Other

April 27, 2021

Day 153

Toll 408

#FarmersProtest

Cover

I have no idea why I want to share this picture. It is from the farmers protest. It is from the Kisan Ekta Morcha page.

To me it seems cover, protection, a sense of safety. Is it because I see us as a nation as too exposed, too naked, too vulnerable these days? I feel those and I feel the picture is saying it is possible to protect us provided we unite, we come together and re-build our cover, our roof.

Honestly, I do not know but this picture speaks to me.

26
Apr

Farmers Protest: False Equivalence

   Posted by: aman   in Other, Punjab

Day 152

Toll 405

#FarmersProtest

False Equivalence

My grandparents saw Partition; my parents saw Operation Blue Star and anti-Sikh pogrom; and now we are seeing the COVID-19 pandemic and a government unwilling to relent on Farm Laws.

Each generation in my family has faced seminal tragic events. Here I am cognisant of my caste, class, and gender privileges; yet such tragedies! Tragedies that have been watershed moments in our lives. Imagine the tragedies that people much less privileged than me have faced.

Yet, history is witness, these are not tragedies for the rest of the nation. The rest of the nation has had other kinds of tragedies. I am sure each one of us can count our tragedies, elaborate on them.

That is why those calling for farmers to abandon their protests need to take a break. The call is based on a false equivalence. Those comparing the farmers protests with the Kumbh Mela and the Bengal election rallies are making a false equivalence. While it is true that the virus does not discriminate between one and another, we need to look at the genesis of the crowds.

The Kumbh Mela was devotion, but the bringing forward the year of the Mela, instead of 12 years in 2022 to 11 years in 2021 was at worst chicanery for whatever reasons. The Bengal elections, stretched to 8 phases was a design to use central forces to win elections. Elections in Tamil Nadu with 2.5 crore population were conducted in one phase, Bengal with 3 crore population could have been conducted in maximum three phases. Those huge rallies were absolute banality and totally unnecessary.

In the farmers protest, no protestor has gathered out of choice. The Farm Laws have forced protesters to the sites. The protests have been going on for five months in Delhi, seven months if we start counting from Panjab. For three months now there have been no talks even.

Who is responsible? The government or the protestors?

That is why neither the right-wing propaganda nor the liberal chorus urging the farmers to withdraw their agitation makes sense. Simply because the right wing propaganda has vested interests; and the liberals are so busy making brownie points that they want to move on to the next issue, abandoning the previous one.

While we know the right-wing. They actually do not care for public health. They only care for their power which they do not know how to use and are quite useless.

My urge is to those who genuinely care for farmers. Please target the government, not the farmers. Just because farmers respect you, do not misuse your position. Even before the Laws are implemented, the government has made wheat procurement so much tougher in Panjab and Haryana and west UP. MSP has not been maintained even in Karnataka and Bihar. Do you see the danger of abandoning the protests? Once protests are lifted and Laws are implemented like government has not gone back on CAA, just like we have oxygen shortage now, we will soon have food shortages.

The need for the hour is empathy. The need is to avert a tragedy unfolding now. The need is to prevail upon the government to repeal the laws immediately. If we cannot do that, then as a nation we are all complicit in what is happening at the protests.

25
Apr

Farmers Protest: Opening Roads

   Posted by: aman   in Other, Punjab

Day 151

Toll 399

#FarmersProtest

Opening Roads

Every protest site now has one side of the road open. This is to allow any medical emergency vehicle – oxygen trucks, ambulances, any other – to pass through. While Tikri and Ghaziabad already had roads open, last night one road at Singhu was also opened.

Yet, the police has not removed barricades. Even from the roads the farmers have vacated. Concrete slabs stolen from road dividers are hard to move. Concertina wire does not yield easy. Still the COVID-19 farmer volunteers are facilitating incoming vehicles around the police barricades.

The farmers march to Parliament, scheduled for May, has been postponed for now. Though thousands of farmers have reached the protest sites – but for standing tall at sites of protests – the farmers do not want to hamper the nation fighting COVID-19 or distract the police from its job is helping with COVID-19 relief.

These are farmers we accuse of stubble burning, smoke pollution without considering that along with our food, they also grow oxygen for months twice or thrice every year in their fields. The same oxygen that in concentrated form the government has failed to provide to critical patients at this time.

It is beyond sad that the government remains unmoved. Even stones have been known to melt.

23
Apr

Farmers Protest: Path

   Posted by: aman   in Other, Punjab

Day 149

Toll 395

#FarmersProtest

Path

In the last few days there has been some blame shifting on the farmers over oxygen supplies to Delhi hospitals. There have also been reports countering and debunking this propaganda. These reports clearly point fingers at UP and Haryana governments. A farmers investigation shows police directing oxygen trucks over longer routes through protests sites hoping they will be stopped and farmers can be blamed.

While it is well established as a practice that farmers never hinder essential services, the Samyukt Kisan Morcha has decided to vacate one side of the road on Singhu border. Personally, this does not make sense to me because there is always a service road kept open.

Yet, uppermost on farmer leaders minds is to not give the government any reason to crack down on them and never cause blockade of essential supplies to people. With the rise again of the pandemic, this pressure has increased many times not only in terms of continuing the protests but also saving their own people – the protesters.

The right-wing and the government is building a huge narrative that given the pandemic situation the farmers should back off. Many of those who support the protests and are in sympathy with the protesters are also joining in the chorus.

This narrative assumes that farmers do not know the risks involved. At its most charitable, this narrative says that there could be a time, when the pandemic clears, the farmers can resume their struggle.

Both are mistakes.

Of course, there are many views on the pandemic in the protests – from non-acceptance of pandemic, questioning of numbers, to willingness to wear masks, maintain physical distancing, get tests done. Yet, I believe pontification is the easiest and laziest thing that supporters can do. The hard thing is to actually go down to protest sites and try working with the farmers to maintain COVID-19 protocols.

As we know from the Citizenship protests, it is virtually impossible to mount such a protest again. It did not happen with Citizenship protests; it won’t happen with these ones. In any case, given how wheat is being procured in this season, the government in anyway covertly pushing its agenda.

Then there is the aspect of third mutant, whether vaccines work, and so on. There is huge data being generated on those. So what are the supporters really asking the protesters to do? Put your hand on your heart and tell me merely masking up will save farmers. Given the protests sites, physical distancing is impossible.

I maintain these protests are the last stand to save the nation. The very term ‘last stand’ is borrowed from military parlance. This is a war, the weapons are propaganda and narratives. The farmers have resilience and resolve. The danger is death.

But you know what? The even greater danger is civil society shrugging off the farmers struggle and possible deaths with ‘I told you so: you should have masked up’.

That is the direction in which this narrative will go.

Personally, I believe the decision to follow COVID-19 protocols should be the farmers choice and we must believe in their agency. It is the same agency which has revealed all the gaps in the Farm Laws, all the issues with neo-liberal frameworks which the entire lot who supports the farmers has been unable to fight for decades. The result is in front of us through the broken health system of the nation. When farmers are fighting it, let us try not to dissuade them by injecting fear.

Fear kills any protest.

Notice the farmers are doing exactly what they set out to do. Even I have reported they are prepared to fight until government repeals laws, legalises MSP or 2024, even if they have to reconfigure strategies. They are also staying true to what they answered right at the beginning of the protests when asked if they are not scared of Coronavirus: both the Farm Laws and the virus will kill us; it is better to die fighting than hiding away in our villages.

They had said this is a ‘aar ya paar’ di ladai – a do or die war. Did you not hear that? Did you not believe that?

As far as public health is considered. For long the critique has been these are Haryana and Panjab farmers – unlike the Kumbh Mela where participants were from all over the nation. Heavens forbid, if the protests become super-spreaders it would only kill people from these two states.

Maybe some more but not you in the rest of India. Would the bodies piling up be difficult for you to watch? What would you rather do: not acknowledge farmer suicides? Around 4,00,000 in the last 25 years? Before COVID-19, before Farm Laws. Even more after COVID-19 and Farm Laws are implemented.

IMHO before pontificating, the question we need to ask ourselves is: why are farmers protesting even after 5 months? Why could this nation not rise up to support the farmers? Push the government to repeal the laws which have anyway been laid bare? If we could not do that, in spite of all the support the farmers generated, then do we – the rest of the nation – really have a moral ground to stand on and advise the farmers?

Yet, we will not ask ourselves that question. We will not go down to the sites to work with the farmers on COVID-19 protocols. We will pontificate and by doing that join the right-wing attack against the farmers. If the disaster happens we will say: we told you so.

That is our tragedy as a nation.

22
Apr

Farmers Protest: Vaccine

   Posted by: aman   in Other, Punjab

Day 148

Toll 394

#FarmersProtest

Vaccine

Two nights back we mocked the PM’s speech for its emptiness but yesterday its intent was clear: Serum Institute of India (SII) has fixed the price of CoviShield vaccine at Rs 600 per dose for private hospitals and Rs 400 per jab for state governments.

From May 1st the vaccine will be available in the open market. Of course, initially there would be a stampede. It will continue as long as there is shortage just like oxygen, beds, medicines now in the midst of this spell. Last night we crossed 3 lakh cases, 2 thousand deaths.

Remember a few months back we adored the young SII CEO when we learnt of his short exchange with his father and decision to make a bid to produce the vaccine. End of the day, he is a businessman. He has to make money. Yet, there is something called ethics which here means vaccine access to all irrespective of economic status.

The question really is of responsibility: why are we not even asking the government why it is not footing the bill? Isn’t public health a matter of the state? Why is the Central government saddling state governments with expenses?

It is because we are so deep the neo-liberal rabbit hole that we do not even remember that our own early vaccines – small pox, polio, TB so on – were all free by the state. It is also because what is Rs 600 or even Rs 1,000 for a dose? We, the middle class, can shell it out. This ease makes us complacent to questions of ethics and responsibility.

This is what the farmers are raising for the last almost 5 months. Not in terms of health but in terms of the next takeover: food security and sovereignty.

Yesterday, huge numbers of farmers from south and north of Panjab reached the borders at Tikri and Singhu. Why are they up in arms against a state in the midst of a pandemic? Why are they taking such huge risks with their lives? I hope it is clear now – unlike earlier alleged – these farmers are not paid by opposition parties, or are just rich farmers, or anti-nationals and terrorists, and so on.

The smallest and the poorest farmers are showing us our dystopian future. They ask, like medicines this time, if the Farm Laws are implemented, what will happen to the Public Distribution System – free food to poor by the state?

If we still do not wake up, support the farmers, history will etch us as an ungrateful middle class who abandoned the poor in this nation.

21
Apr

Farmers Protest: Oxygen

   Posted by: aman   in Other, Punjab

Day 147

Toll 392

#FarmersProtest

Oxygen

A huge tragedy is unfolding – India faces an acute oxygen crises. A number of states have reported shortages of medical oxygen for a growing pool of patients.

But how did we get here?

In April 2020, the government decided to ease the licensing of medical oxygen manufacturers. Having decided, given the pandemic was raging, the government took six months to invite bids for more than 150 pressure swing absorption oxygen generation plants costing a mere Rs 200-crore.

Later, Centre added 12 more plants to the original 150, making for a total of 162. On 15 April 2021, the Centre added another 100, running the total up to 262. Yet, on 18 April 2021, the government tweeted about the 162 plants which were contracted out in 2020:

“Out of 162 PSA oxygen plants, 33 have been installed. By end of April 2021, 59 will be installed. By end of May 2021, 80 will be installed.”

As of now, out of total 262 plants, only 11 units have been installed and just five are operational. Now, in the midst of crises that could have been solved long back pro-actively, India is releasing industrial oxygen for medical use. It is importing 50K MT oxygen from abroad. Yet, just a few weeks back, it was exporting 10K MT oxygen for some paltry crores. Last night Delhi health minister screamed that oxygen for less then 12 hours was available. He asked quota to be increased.

A Central minister has the temerity to state: ‘State governments should keep demand (for medical oxygen) under control. Demand-side management is as important as supply-side management. Containing COVID spread is the responsibility of state governments and they should fulfil this responsibility.’

Basically the minister is telling the dying to not breathe more. The shamelessness of it all! On top of it, lapdog media has started blaming the farmers protest for lack of oxygen supplies to Delhi. There are news reports stating that oxygen trucks are delayed because of blockade of roads around Delhi by farmers.

The heartlessness of the accusation. It has been a principle that farmers always allow medical emergencies even during rasta roko or rail roko. The service lane at Singhu is open, so is the left lane at Tikri and two lanes on the highway at Ghazipur. This accusation of stopping the Cancer Train was made even during the White Fly protests in Panjab 2015.

The fact is we are not producing enough oxygen, we are unable to transport oxygen because we do not have the trucks, and most importantly we paid lip-service to developing capacity but did nothing on the ground for a whole precious year. Now we blame the farmers. The Centre blames the states. We eternally blame and not own responsibility.

What can be more sickening?

Day 146

Toll 389

#FarmersProtest

Dear Friends,

a few weeks back a US based media, an effort by the Arizona State University, contacted me for an overview on the farmers protests.

Most of what has appeared is known to us in India who have been following the protests but will hopefully educate the western world. Thank you Minal Hajratwala and Jackie Mansky for helping me finetune the piece.

‘As of now, the protests can have three likely outcomes: government agrees to repeal the laws; government uses armed action to evict the protesters; government continues to prolong the protests hoping they crack due to internal pressures, they turn violent giving the government an excuse to crack down on them, subside as they run out of steam, or the government manages to buy out union leaders. Much also depends on the ongoing elections in five states.’

Please read here …

19
Apr

Farmers Protest: Shameless

   Posted by: aman   in Other

Day 145

Toll 386

#FarmersProtest

Shameless

While the nation is burning up in coronavirus flames, I read news of cremation on footpaths, the government remains unrelenting in its arrogance.

Yesterday, in Hisar in Haryana, the police lathi charged and detained 8 farmers protesting peacefully against assembly deputy speaker Ranbir Gangwa and BJP leader Sonali Phogat.

Today, the farmers in Hisar broke barricades to show black flags and raise slogans against state agriculture minister JP Dalal.

This is how the government celebrates Ambedkar Jayanti.