Pipad, Rajasthan, is usually a quiet place with fallow lands, parched salty soils and a blooming mining industry, which often operates in a legally grey zone.
In an hour’s drive from Jodhpur, one catches glimpses of both thorny bamboos and extraordinary human resilience.
Afroz Khan, now almost 35, was born in the area. He is among the generation of young men who either migrate to cities looking for livelihood and water or work tirelessly on the land. Luckily, Khan found work at a local educational institute as a caretaker but his family still has farms.
“Most farmers grow crops only in one season due to shortage of water and degraded soil,” he tells us. The area is known for growing bajra, jowar, til, and on wetter days, moong. Yet not even a few get the minimum support price (MSP). Bajra farmers got as little as Rs 1,000-Rs 1,100 for their produce when the MSP was above Rs 1,800 for a few years. Moong sold for not even Rs 2,500 in the area.
Agriculture in the Pipad area is barely supporting its farmers financially. How can people survive for centuries with growing thirst, one crop season and no MSP?
This is why March 12 was an important day. A few thousand young and old farmers and community leaders had congregated for a kisan mahapanchayat at the old bus stop. Blaring speakers set up for the occasion were busy announcing the arrival of farm leader Rakesh Tikait to their town. This was Tikait’s sixth rally in Rajasthan, and Marwar was answering the farmers’ revolution call.
In some ways, Rakesh Tikait is no outsider in these parts, Pokhraj Choudhary, a middle-aged man reminds us. “Thirty years ago, [Rakesh’s father] Mahendra Singh Tikait too addressed farmers of Pipad and asked us to wake up, but 30 years later, things are the same or perhaps even worse,” he said.
The kisan panchayat was the talk of the town, and perhaps the biggest event in a while. It attracted swarms of large jeans-wearing, selfie-clicking youths, dhoti-clad farmers and police personnel alike. The air was electrified with passionate slogans, “Kisan ekta zindabad; Tikait tum sangharsh karo, hum tumare saath hai“.
This area is a Jat bastion, with a large Bishnoi and Muslim population, and these desert lands, over time, have seen the rise of agriculture reformers like Sir Chotu Ram, Balwant Ram. Farmers in the area also participated in the first Marwar Kisan Sabha before 1947, demanding their rights.
“India was under the Britsh Raj, before 1947, and our farmers suffered. Today once again Modi government has made us angrezo ka gulam (colonised),” said Mansoor Ali Khan, an elderly farmer, clad in a Sherwani and Kural topi. Perhaps irked by right-wing propaganda, he questioned, “Why can’t farmers wear sherwani or jeans? Should only Ambani and Adani wear decent clothes while the rest of us are pushed into desperation?”
Madan Singh, another farmer in his late 50s, was dismayed about rising fuel costs, debt waiver promises and fencing issues.
“When the Modi government came to power, they promised us to waive our debt, but instead they have trapped the farmers in more debt,” he said. Later in the day Tikait also claimed that the Kisan Credit Card (KCC) is charging “300% interest from farmers”.
In his interaction with this author, Singh also questioned repeatedly the government’s response on resource allocation for infrastructure projects in the Jodhpur-Pipad-Pali area. “Where are our water projects, reservoirs that we had been promised? Why does the Modi government upset the dhartiputra (farmers) for the greed of a few?”
In a 30-minute speech, Tikait covered several aspects, from MSP to police reforms. “Farmers have to be prepared for marching to Delhi across the country, each village should send a 15 people team at the borders. It’s time to break the barricades that prevent the MSP from reaching farmers,” Tikait said, speaking to us. He saw little difference in the sufferings of police constables, farmers and government workers.
“All are being digested by the same people,” he remarked.
Tikait prophesied that if the andolan does not happen, in a matter of 20 years, corporate dominance of the land will be complete. In areas like “Pipad, corporations are going to buy land at above-market prices, but not for farming, but for the limestone buried 400 feet below”.
Corporations like “Walmart and Cargill”, he stressed, have a “fleet of 10,000 ships” that can dump agri-produce into India in a matter of days. If the laws are not repealed “India shall become an industrial sweat-shop with bad working conditions and no food”. All the food will be imported and the “roti will be locked up behind barricades and barbed wire, for the first time in India, even dogs will die of hunger.”
But will the government correct course? Tikait is optimistic. He believes that in three years, Modi will bend. “The government is already running scared. By the time UP elections are near, the government will feel the burn,” he remarked.
How will this be done though? Tikait has given a call for a hal kranti (plough revolution) against a new Company Raj at Pipad. He wants farmers of the country to get their agricultural tools out and ready for display. Each farmer now also needs to be revolutionary.
“The youth have a vital role to play. I call all young people to reconnect with the soil and land. Each young person should feel the soil of their fields daily and then start protesting at the local SDM and DM office. We must now break the chains that imprison the farmers,” he said.
Before we left him, he did say this, “Modi is allowing for the monetisation of India’s hunger for corporate profits, without realising the human costs. Till my dying breath, we shall resist the corporate takeover of our food system, with god on our side the kisan andolan shall win.”
Before the panchayat ended, Raja Ram Mil, a veteran Jat leader, pledged to participate in huge numbers at the Rewari-Haryana border.
Later this month, there is also a big event planned in Jaipur to mark the martyrdom of Bhagat Singh. Whether this movement will bear the fruit that India’s farmers hope for, it remains to be seen.
Indra Shekhar Singh writes on agriculture and the environment. He is also the former director of the National Seed Association of India.