A month has passed since the ghastly police firing on agitating farmers in Piplya Mandi in the Mandsaur district of Madhya Pradesh. Five men, one of them only 17 years old, were killed by police bullets. A sixth died a few hours later.
Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan's response consisted of several somersaults. At first he said that the police were not responsible for the firing which was the work of "anti-social elements" among the protesters. Then he admitted that the police were responsible, but the farmers had resorted to violence and were certainly not entitled to any compensation. Then he went on a fast in an air-conditioned pandal
and from there, he announced a compensation of one crore each to the six affected families. This was finally paid after some bureaucratic glitches.
Mandsaur is a fertile district where industrious farmers grow garlic, onions, pulses and other crops. They have been badly hit by drought in the last two years and crop insurance has given them no relief. This year, good weather ensured bumper crops but did nothing to end their misery: prices of all crops crashed.
Responding to the farmers' agitation, the government promised to procure their produce. But nothing has been done to implement this. Garlic that was selling for Rs 6,000 a quintal last year is not fetching even the Rs 2,000 promised by the government. The price has crashed below Rs 1,000. Onions are selling for Rs 2 a kilo when the government had promised to buy them at Rs 8. The vexed question of debt relief has also not been addressed. As a result, 48 farmers have committed suicide in the state in the last two weeks.
Yesterday marked a month of tragic deaths and broken promises. The government has started resorting to repressive measures. It is accusing the protesting farmers of acting at the behest of 'opium smugglers'. It has started drawing up lists of such smugglers and action against many who were part of the protests is expected. In addition, 600 farmers have been named in police reports as having committed various crimes. About 100 were arrested yesterday and there are reports of young villagers being beaten by the police. In a bizarre development, one of those killed, Kanhaiyya Patidar, whose family received the compensation, has now been declared an opium smuggler and a reward has been placed on his being apprehended. And he is dead. Is a government that is guilty of such extraordinary behaviour fit to rule the largest state in the country?
Surinder Singh received bullet wounds on June 6 in Piplya Mandi
To commemorate the sacrifices of those killed a month ago, and to demand justice for the farmers of the state by implementing the Swaminadhan Commission recommendations and debt relief, leaders and members of farmers' organisations from many parts of the country gathered in Budha village and prepared to march to Piplya Mandi last morning.
Large numbers of policemen were stationed around Budha and on the road to Piplya Mandi. Many villages from where people were collecting to join the rally were cordoned off and no one was allowed to move out.
Despite all this, thousands gathered in Budha. Women and young men were present in large numbers. Prominent leaders like Hannan Mullah of the All India Kisan Sabha
, Medha Patkar of Narmada Bachao
, Yogendra Yadav of Jai Kisan
, Raju Shetty of Shetkari Sangathana
were present. Sunilam of Kisan Sangharsh Samiti
had been arrested on Wednesday. Hundreds of young men on motorcycles led the way. All along the way, village men and women stood on both sides of the road, shouting slogans and welcoming the rally. 6 large photographs of those killed were carried at the head of the rally.
About 5 kilometres before Piplya Mandi, a large police force stopped us from reaching the spot where the firing had occurred and where all of us wanted to pay homage to those who had been killed fighting for their lives and livelihoods. All the participants were arrested; we were released several hours later.
A government that does not allow a condolence meeting to be held at the spot where atrocities were committed on its orders cannot be expected to address the genuine demands of farmers who have been pushed to desperation.
On the contrary, it is very likely that it will increase its efforts to crush the farmers' struggle by using the police, by foisting false cases and by attempts to divide the movement in the name of caste. All this will be vigorously resisted. The farmers and those in solidarity with them will not be cowed down.(Subhashini Ali is former MP, former Member of the National Commission for Women and Vice President of the All India Democratic Women's Association.)Disclaimer: The opinions expressed within this article are the personal opinions of the author. The facts and opinions appearing in the article do not reflect the views of NDTV and NDTV does not assume any responsibility or liability for the same.twi