जब ज़ुल्म-ओ-सितम के कोह-ए-गरांरुई की तरह उड़ जाएँगेहम महकूमों के पाँव तलेये धरती धड़-धड़ धड़केगीऔर अहल-ए-हकम के सर ऊपरजब बिजली कड़-कड़ कड़केगी
(wa-yabqa-wajh-o-rabbik (hum dekhenge) by FAIZ AHMAD FAIZ)
They Came. Their faces covered in the ravages of time. Each wrinkle, a testament to the injustice that nature wrought on their soul as payback for their chosen vocation. All they knew and all they wanted to do was to feed the world. Beseech the elements for pity, break their backs every day and pray that when the time to reap came, they get the worth of their efforts. They could do without any new challenges that could take whatever limited means they had out of their hands. So they rose.
In late 2020, the Indian government led by Narendra Modis nationalist party BJP, passed 3 Bills aimed at reforming the agriculture sector in the parliament without any discussion and using its brute majority . No discussions were held with farm leaders on these bills nor were these sent to a standing committee for recommendations. These were passed by a voice vote in the Rajya Sabha over the din of protesting opposition leaders with the speaker barely even lifting his head to count votes.
Photo: RSTV screengrab via PTI
While there is no questioning that the agriculture sector is badly in need of reforms, there is a feeling among farmers that their point of view was not considered while drafting these laws. The food sufficiency situation in India is a study in paradox. While the buffer stock that needs to be held is around 21M tonnes, the government held more than 40M tonnes of grains in stock - India has an excess of cereals. At the same time, the number of destitute in India has gone up sharply. India ranked 94 out of 107 countries in the Global Hunger Index 2020 and behind Pakistan, Bangladesh and Nepal and just above North Korea. There is a case to be made that the farmers will gain if they diversify from grains to vegetables, fodder, flowers or animal husbandry. While MSP and open-ended procurement ensure that farmers do not want to move away from their current farming patterns, there has to be proper infrastructure in place to aid such diversification. Absence of proper roads from villages to markets, inconsistent electricity supply and unavailability of temperature controlled warehouses are actual ground realities today.
There is also a real situation of Punjab running out of water due to depleted water tables caused by an over dependence on paddy farming.
However, these 3 farm laws do not target the said issues nor the issue of improving distribution to ensure that the surplus stock mentioned above reaches the poor & hungry.
Broadly, the farmers are worried about the below points in the bills :
- MSP (Minimum Support Price) will become irrelevant with the supposed intention of improving price discovery. Farmers could decide to sell outside their state borders and not be constrained by the nearest APMC market.
- Contract farming will be promoted. Farmers will have no recourse to approaching the courts for justice in case of any breach of contract. There are stringent norms for quality in contract farming and the nature of farming, means that it is difficult to control exigencies
- Foodstuff such as cereals, pulses, potato, onions, edible oilseeds, and oils will be removed from the list of essential commodities under the Essential Commodities Act,1955. This would remove limits on stock hoarding and can lead to artificial scarcity which will push up prices. The stockist can also negotiate hard due to excess stock but refuse to release the same stock in the market with the intention of pushing up prices. This is not only a farmers issue but also something which would affect the entire middle class. Take the case of the humble Onion as a prime example
Agriculture is also, constitutionally, a state issue. There is a genuine concern that the interference of central government will do away with state federalism in Agriculture.
Due to the said apprehensions, farmers are demanding a complete repeal of these farm laws as they stand.
While on paper and in sermon, the government is pushing the idea that farmers will have the ultimate authority over where to sell their produce, there is a stark ignorance of the ground reality. For one, a significant majority of the farmers hold less than 2 acres of land.  It is delusional to think they will go to other states to try and sell their produce. The transport cost itself will kill them. Initially, they would be happy to sell to the private players leading to the weakening of the APMC markets in a few years' time. Eventually, the APMC will be closed as they will be deemed to have outlived their purpose. Similar to what has happened in the Education & Healthcare sectors post privatization. We all know about the quality of govt education/ hospitals today and the mind numbing costs of enrolling in private schools/ hospitals which puts them beyond the reach of most Indian citizens.
Secondly, there is growing mistrust about the huge silos being constructed by the Adani group especially in rural Punjab & Haryana.  This combined with the bargaining power of the Jio Group on the back of its JioMart might ensure that the market will eventually turn into a duopoly. While prices will be negotiated hard at the time of purchase, these conglomerates may decide to hoard the essential food grains to make an even greater killing. Eventually without the protection of the APMC markets, the farmers will be defenseless sheep in front of a pack of wolves.
Thirdly, these reforms are nothing new. In 2006, Bihar passed a law junking the APMC to enable 'price discovery'. However, even after 15 years, there are no demonstrable benefits for the local farmers. The rates have in fact fallen since the act was passed and the farmers are even poorer than they were in 2006. 
In fact, land holding farmers in Bihar often travel to neighboring Punjab to work as laborers. In some cases, they own much larger tracts of land in Bihar than the ones they work on as laborers in Punjab. So why the haste to pass a law in the form of an ordinance in the middle of a pandemic, using brute majority and without discussions with farmer groups or recommendations of the standing committee?
Farmers sensed a ploy to privatize their vocation. As soon as the law was passed, protests erupted in Punjab which had the most to lose from this. The Shiromani Akali Dal, which was an ally of the ruling party at center, in fact was in open support of the farm laws. The Akalis eventually parted ways with BJP only when they saw the ground swell for the protests. Some commentators allege the Akalis of not having their ears to the ground but they did come out in full support of the farmers agitation. In October, the farmers camped on railway tracks and did a 'rail roko'. A rail-roko in Punjab is much more effective as it is a strategic point that affects all of North India.
To the west of Punjab is Pakistan and to the east, Himachal Pradesh. Entry and exit is only through a few strategically developed junctions that are the nerve centres of the entire railway connectivity in the state. These junctions are crucial to transporting both supplies and passengers. 
Even though this was successful in getting attention of the state government, the central government was unmoved. So was the rest of the country as the institutional media refuses to show anything that is not in favor of the ruling dispensation. This would become a major turning point later on in the protests.
The narrative being spun was that it was majorly a Punjab issue and farmers from none of the other states had an issue with the laws. More than 30 farm unions gathered under the umbrella of the Sanyukt Kisan Morcha (SKM) and announced in late November that they will march to Delhi and protest at the Ramlila Maidan which has seen historic protests like the JP Movement against the ruling dispensation.
And they marched in their thousands. The state governments of Uttar Pradesh and Haryana did their best to stop them. Tear gas was lobbed at the protestors, water cannons were used in the cold of night, barricades were put up, lathi charge was rained but nothing could stop them.
The protestors were mostly Sikh and came from Punjab, Haryana, Uttarakhand and Uttar Pradesh. It was mostly a non violent from their end. Most of them were frail physically, advanced in age but rock solid mentally. They were led, among others, by a 75 year old army veteran Joginder Singh Ugrahan. In an interview with thePrint, he described his worldview as such;
“I don’t have anything else to give now. I have my tongue, and I want to use it wisely, give respect and treat people kindly. Soon two-three years will pass by, and I will succumb to death. My legacy will be my words,” 
The mainstream media portrayed them at various times as terrorists, naxalities, maoists and a favorite refrain - Khalistanis. 
Eventually, the farmers were allowed to enter Delhi. They took up camp at Singhu border (Haryana - Delhi), Tikri border (Uttar Pradesh - Delhi) and Ghazipur border (Uttar Pradesh - Delhi). They setup camp under the open skies at the fag end of November, when the biting cold of Delhi keeps the bravest among us layered up inside. They were prepared to stay there till death or the farm laws were repealed. Many did die. More than 150 of them, all brave, determined family men & women of honor who knew if they didn't stand up today, tomorrows generation will look at them with shame.
As I write this today, its day 68 of the farmers protest in Delhi. The police has barricaded them with concrete walls and steel spikes on roads. Water supply has been cut off, electricity is intermittent and there is a blanket internet ban. Portable toilets have been moved to be inaccessible.   
In any other country, this would have led to a clarion call against human rights abuses. But this is India - home of the largest democracy in the world.
In the next post, I will discuss how the farmers lived & survived in their camps and will cover the stories till the Tractor Rally of 26-Jan. The third post will be about the aftermath of the Tractor Rally and cover stories till the barricading of protest sites. Subsequent posts will cover every week of the farmers protest as they happen.
I hope to make this a series of posts documenting the largest mass protests in history. Charhdi Kala.