Monday, February 1, 2021

They Came (Being Part 1 of the Farmers Protest in India - 2021)



जब ज़ुल्म-ओ-सितम के कोह-ए-गरां
रुई की तरह उड़ जाएँगे
हम महकूमों के पाँव तले
ये धरती धड़-धड़ धड़केगी
और अहल-ए-हकम के सर ऊपर
जब 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 [1]. 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.[2] 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.[3] 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.[4]

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 :
  1. 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. 
  2. 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
  3. 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.[5]

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. [6] 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. [7] 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. [8]

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.[9] 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. [10]

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.[11] 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,” [12]
The mainstream media portrayed them at various times as terrorists, naxalities, maoists and a favorite refrain - Khalistanis. [13]

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. [14] [15] [16]
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.

Friday, November 20, 2015

Blurred Lines

In 1960's, the genius Belgian economist, Robert Triffin presented a paper that outlined the existential paradox in having a single currency as a global reserve currency. This has since been famously referred to as the Triffin Dilemma. Simple in its logic but complex in practice, it essentially lays out that it is impossible for the host country to maintain an effective balance between its national financial policy and the global financial policy. For the US Dollar to be an attractive reserve currency, the US has to consistently run a current account deficit so that there are enough dollars in the market. However, this might be against its national financial policy as no country would prefer to run a deficit perpetually. On the other hand, if the US decides to limit the circulation of its currency to reduce current account deficit then there wont be enough supply of dollars which would lead to a liquidity crisis. It is impossible to maintain a rational balance between these two priorities.

Today, the powers that be face the same perplexity in trying to solve the problem of terror. Just take a look at the below infographic:

And the one below:

And the infographic below from

The red ones show countries with terrorism problems. The Middle-east & Africa dominate by a fair degree.

Few connections are as obvious as the one between the above 3 infographics. The US, Russia, UK, France and Germany account for 72% of the world's export of major weapons betwen 2009-14. The middle-east and Africa account for 31% of these imports. According to the SIPRI Arms Transfers Database, Saudi Arabia was the 2nd largest arms importer for the period 2010-2014, accounting for 5% of world deliveries. The top 3 'customer' countries for the US between 2009-14 have been;

Do you see the obvious paradox? How do you maintain your commitment to fight terrorism when the same terrorism is netting you billions of dollars in revenue each year? Even though the issue of fighting global terrorism is more black and white than balancing your current account deficit, the conflict of interest is there for everyone to see. Do the powers that be focus on their national objective of maximizing GDP (which is easier to measure by the way) or the rather lofty objective of maintaining world peace? If you ask the concerned people, they'd say if we don't sell then somebody else will. It is better that we do. But that logic does not hold true at all in a globalized world.

Every year the world creates its own Frankenstein monsters which keep getting nastier and less remorseful.

In comparison the Triffin Dilemma looks like childs play. Apparently it is much more complex to solve the dilemma of choice between death and prosperity.

Friday, May 29, 2015

The Motivation Conundrum

 My 4 year old niece gets up every morning looking forward to the fun she is going to have that day. From the moment she gets up right to the moment she calls it a day, approximately 14 hours later, she is a tornado of energy. She flits from one place to the other being wildly creative in her mischief. There is no place which does not hold wonder for her. Wide eyes and a naughty smile are reserved for everyone. Many times she needs a partner in crime, but not having one is certainly no impediment.
 I look at her and think about the rest of us. There are times when we have problems getting out of the bed. The common reason all of us have is that we are not 'motivated' to go to work each day. There is a chain of thought which will suggest that if you're snoozing your alarm each day, you probably are not doing what you are meant to do. But honestly, can there be any one thing which can sustain our 'motivation' throughout the 4 decades of our working life? As we grow up, we get caught up in the ideology of the segregation of work from personal life. That ideology suggests that work and fun are indirectly related to each other. We never stop to question and are institutionalized as a result.
However, work can really be fun if you can find enjoyment in the little things. We can have fun in our work if we enjoy a part of it and a part of it is something we are really good at. We can take a lesson from my niece. Her wide eyed wonderment finds little things to enjoy in each of the mischief she decides to do. She keeps doing different stuff each day but always reverts to two things. One where she enjoyed the most and the one where she wins all the time.
 We are all motivated by success which is a result of doing something we are good at. We will be good at something if we enjoy the little things that are a part of it. If we accept that, work can be fun. Maybe its time to unlearn some of the baggage beat into us by society and go back to being a 4 year old again. 

Sunday, January 4, 2015

A part of my soul in every place I go

Moving out involves a lot of work. You have to ensure that all the bills are settled, all accounts are closed and all things are properly packed. But what do you do with all the emotions which build up as you near the date of moving? The things you did, the things you almost did and the things you wish you did.
When you're busy taking life for granted, these things do not matter. You pass by the river with a bored glance at the ferries plying by. As the D-Day gets nearer, you stop and notice the waves created by the ferry. You notice the people inside desperately trying to capture all the sights they can into their cameras. As you stand there, leaning against the railing a cool breeze caresses your face and you count your blessings to have experienced this wonderful moment.
As you start counting the number of days backward, you start noticing these smaller things better. It is as if all of your senses are heightened and you want to capture everything before its too late. Just like the people on the ferry.
As I move out, I leave a part of my soul behind. I can never have that piece back, but I feel thankful to the city for taking that slice. Farewell I say and hope to come back soon. And when I do, I will be whole again.

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Violence is Banal

"Remember, remember the 5th of November, the gunpowder treason and plot. I know of no reason why the gunpowder treason should ever be forgot."
And so begins one of the most intellectually/emotionally moving movies I have ever seen. In the movie the protagonist is the lone dissenting voice in a country of suppressed people. People are afraid of protesting and are too involved in their everyday activities to concentrate on the task of supervising the executive. The protagonist devises an elaborate and shocking way to express the collective frustration of the society. He decides to establish a symbol so potent and explicit that it doesn't die easily. 
His romantic interest who plays the calming force to his rebellion tells him, "if anybody does show up you can be bloody sure that Creedy will blackbag every one of them" 
The protagonist pauses for a moment and replies, "People should not be afraid of their governments. Governments should be afraid of their people."
This is by far the most powerful message portrayed in the film. It forces you to sit up and ask yourself, is this really true? Is this is what being practised in my country? Is my goverment really afraid of its people? If there is an iota of doubt in answering the above question then the correct answer is NO.

What is happening in India is a watered down version of the events shown in the movie. Even though the present might not be as extreme as in the movie, who is to say anything about the future? We live in a country where blood, honour, respect, sacrifice are just words to be uttered to hide the obvious impotency within. Anywhere you look on the television, whatever you decide to read on the newspaper the vivid display of desperate craving is abundant. The pain of the suffering has become so banal that it has ceased to shock anymore. It takes the depravity of the brutal rape of a young woman with rusted iron rods to make the nation sit up and take notice. Like drug addicts numbed by the daily dose of barbiturates,  it takes a really big dose of insanity to deliver that kick. What has happened to a nation brought up on a unrelenting diet of values and culture that needs a hyperbole to grab it's attention? 
The real reason might be that nothing has really changed. In a society used to being ruled over, freedom meant it had to think for itself. And where does a society sculpted by borrowed ideology find the wherewithal to think for itself? If only we knew.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

The dogma of Doing what you Love

'Doing what you love' has almost become an ideology. That there are so many articles and books published on this subject alone shows that people think about this more than actually practicing it.
Why is that? Why is it so difficult for people to realize on their own that what they're doing right now might not be the activity which they're best suited to do? Why do so many of us need an external force to make us realize the truth which is there at the forefront of our mind all the time? The reason might be the way of phrasing the thought itself.
"DOING" what you "LOVE"
When you force a verb to interact with an abstract noun it would more often than not lead to the irresistible force paradox.
Let us break down this simple phrase into parts to understand its meaning and finally attempt to solve it.

Understanding what you Love
How do you define Love? Is it a feeling, an emotion, a state of mind, perception or thought process?
It might be a process of filling the blanks. It might be also coveting what you don't have.
Human beings are perpetually unsatisfied. For every quality that one has, there are more than one which he would like to have. And they vary greatly among people. Human beings are complex, calculating creatures who instinctively know what they want. But the culture of suppression is such that they don't allow themselves to bring their wants to the surface. All of us are on an eternal quest to complete ourselves. We understand instinctively that this quest is not a solo ride and can be successful only if we are somehow able to find the element that is missing from within. It might be that we are all binary creatures and what doesn't exist within us can never be developed. We need that other person who has the missing element to join us for the ride.
When two people fall in Love, what happens exactly?
We meet so many people everyday and while we are going through our daily motions, internally an insane algorithm runs in the background plotting checks and crosses. When the number of checks is higher than the crosses, something clicks. The greasy old machine shakes itself and comes alive;  the clogs crash clumsily against each other trying to understand each others' rhythm and once they're all in sync, the magic unfolds. People who say Love happens at first sight are ignorant. You're forever searching for Love but understand you've got it only when you see the result. But if there were no process, there wont be any result to speak of. The process is what ensures that you fall in Love. The forever searching for Love is what culminates in the bliss you experience. Simple mathematics suggests that the more arrows you shoot, the probability of hitting the target increases. But the focus should be on shooting the arrows itself rather than hitting the target. The result will take care of itself.
People spend so much of their time in trying to decide what they want to do in their life. It would be fair to say that a big factor in their coming to a conclusion is satisfying their Ego. People decide they want to be an Actor as they love putting on a show. Putting on a show is the result, do they actually enjoy the preparation that goes into each role? The understanding the role, doing the necessary research, the attempt to know so much about the character that when they're on stage, they're not "acting" instead they're doing what comes to them naturally when they think of the character. If they do this activity well, being an actor would be a cake walk. The result would be they put on a good show each time and this brings in more opportunities. Not only doing it once but having the inclination to do the preparation again and again and again irrespective of how good you are defines if you actually Love what you do. You should Love the process of becoming an Actor to be a successful Actor. If you dont Love the process, its fair to say the probability of success will be very low. Success is a great motivation as it targets the most basic of a human being's instincts.
If you think you want to be a Writer, you need to enjoy the almost chronic aspect of researching, reading and learning.
Same goes for jobs. If you think you Love sales, you need to enjoy the process of selling. Meeting new people, travelling to new places, understanding their cultures, understand the one thing that motivates the decision maker, adapting your communication each and every time. If you enjoy the process, you find ways of constantly doing it better and the result would be great sales each time and great success each time. Great Success ensures that you love what you're doing and motivates you to do even better.

Finding what you Love
Once you understand what you Love, finding what you Love is a bit easier. In a day you go through maybe a 100 activities. The first step is to maintain a log book. Jot down the time you spend in doing each activity. Ensure that these activities are self originated. Don't note down the things which you are being asked to do. Maintain the log book for a week. At the end of the week, you will have a rough idea of where you spent the maximum time. The next week, spend more time on doing the top three activities identified. A new log will help you to shortlist the activity which you enjoy doing the most. People are rarely honest with themselves. To eliminate any false bias, ask a person who knows you closely to maintain such a log about you and share their thoughts. You'll be surprised at how accurate this might be.

The key is to keep trying. Some people spend their entire lives trying to find the person that they love. But they never stop trying. The more you try, the more the chances of success. Trying out different things helps you to narrow down your area of interest better. Once you find the thing that really keeps you on your feet, don't be disappointed if you wont be able to take that up as a career. Many of us would realize that we Love Cricket and anything associated with it. Many more would agree that it is not possible to take up a career in Cricket now. But it is not necessary to be a player to be involved. There are many more avenues open which keeps you close to sport. And getting involved in most of them will be better than hitting the keyboards at an IT Sweatshop for 9 hours a day/ 5 days a week,

Introspect and Never lose hope. Dont get lost in the dogma of hopelessness and compromise for being a clog in the wheel. At the same time, being unorthodox just for the sake of it might not be the wisest thing to do.
Society would like you to lose all originality but you're an individual.
What you Love can only be identified by you.
Its not easy but its worth it.

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Of Jain Pizzas and Love-cum-Arranged Marriage - I

Mahatma Gandhi undertook the Dandhi march to protest the tax on Salt, an essential commodity. He did manage to make the British sit up and notice that there is a threat to their monarchy in the form of a scantily clad monk. What the British couldn't understand was his unique idea of protesting without violence. For them it was a strange way to protest. Saying that I don't agree to your tax without being vocal about it was akin to protesting without actually protesting. For Indians however, this was a very natural way of reacting to circumstances. "We don't agree to you boss, but we do not really want you to know that we do not agree." The wholesome acceptance of the masses of the idea of protest without violence and that in an age without any distributed medium of communication, showed that everyone was completely tuned in to the idea. Gandhi spoke to the basest of our instincts. An instinct that had evolved over time. An instinct that was so widely present that it made all of us united in our action. Or inaction as the case here. This was the instinct born over a period of time. A period of subjugation to the ruling monarchs without wanting to be so. It was the instinct of hypocrisy. Gandhi knew that there were only 2 ways to generate the loyalty of the masses. You either crack the whip or you give them the consent to express their discontent without actually seeming to do so. For the masses receiving the consent was very important. In their subconscious a war waged between the need to revolt against the subjugation and the need to suppress the former need. For them receiving the consent was very important. 'I did what you wanted me to, it was not really my original idea' was what they were saying to Gandhi. 'I didn't really revolt and you can't punish me for something I didn't do.' was what they were saying to the British. This was ultimately the downfall of our colonial masters. Unused to the idea that one+one can be more/less than two depending upon the circumstances, they tried all the wrong means to enforce order and failed each time. We are Indians boss, we don't like you ruling over us. But its not that we don't want you to rule over us, we are not saying that. Its just that we don't want you to be ruling us.
Being able to "appear" to do something without actually doing it is an art mastered by us over timeless age. Hindu mythology sings praises of Gandhari who covered her eyes and refused to see the things which couldn't be seen by her blind husband. She could see but she couldn't really see. Kunti couldn't accept Karna as he was a bastard child. She couldn't see him suffering but she can't do anything. I mean come on dude what with you being an illegal child and all I can't really admit to be your mother. But I also can't see you suffering with indignities so why don't you just go away. Drona wouldn't accept Eklavya as his pupil as he was a shudra. But when he finally managed to be a better archer than Arjuna, Drona asked him to sacrifice his thumb. And Eklavya being the true Indian that he was, gladly gave the sacrifice. So what if I can't shoot which has been my life long passion, I will gladly cut off my thumb and give it you as you totally rock Mr Drona!
Closer to earth, Gandhi didn't want Shaheed Bhagat Singh to be hanged but he kept quiet as he couldn't really do anything. See oh Angrez sahib I am being a good Indian. Remember it the next time I go on a hypocritical strike against your tyrannical rule! But it won't really be a strike as I am not doing anything to stop you from doing what you are doing. I am just appealing to your nature of being a good human being!

Quit India! But leave your western ideologies behind.