[News] My Wish Is That You Win This Fight for Truth

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Thu Jan 21 12:19:08 EST 2021

https://www.thetricontinental.org/newsletterissue/3-farmers-strike-india/ My
Wish Is That You Win This Fight for Truth: The Third Newsletter (2021)
Vijay Prashad - January 21, 2021

[image: Diego Rivera (Mexico), The Uprising, 1931.]

Diego Rivera (Mexico), *The Uprising*, 1931.

Dear friends,

Greetings from the desk of the Tricontinental: Institute for Social Research

On 26 January, India’s Republic Day, thousands of farmers and agricultural
workers will drive their tractors and walk into the heart of the capital,
New Delhi, to bring their fight to the doors of the government. For two
months, these farmers and agricultural workers have been part of a
nation-wide revolt against a government policy that seeks to deliver all
the gains of their labour to the large corporate houses, whose profits have
ballooned during this pandemic. Despite the cold weather and the pandemic,
the farmers and agricultural workers have created a socialistic culture
in their encampments with community kitchens and laundries, distribution
points providing free essentials, recreational activities and places for
discussion. They are quite clear that they want three laws repealed and are
demanding their right to a greater share of their harvest be established.

The three laws that the Indian government led by Prime Minister Narendra
Modi pushed would – the farmers say – eviscerate their bargaining power
over the national and global commodity (food) chain. Without any state
protection – including price supports and a public distribution system for
food – the farmers and agricultural workers would be forced to pay prices
set by the large corporate houses. The government’s laws ask farmers and
agricultural workers to surrender to the power of the corporations, a
maximalist position being imposed on them that makes negotiation impossible.

[image: farmers’ revolt.]

The Indian Supreme Court entered the impasse with an order to create a
committee to evaluate the situation, while the Chief Justice made a remark
that the farmers – particularly women and the elderly – should vacate their
protest sites. The farmers and agricultural workers rightly felt outraged
by the disrespectful remarks of the Chief Justice (Satarupa Chakraborty, a
researcher at Tricontinental: Institute for Social Research, has refuted
those statements). Women are equally farmers and agricultural workers, and
drivers of the farmer’s revolt – a fact demonstrated by the mass attendance
on Mahila Kisan Diwas (Women Farmers’ Day) celebrated on 18 January at all
the encampment sites. ‘When women farmers will speak’, their banner
declared, ‘the borders of Delhi will shake’. ‘Women are going to be the
worst sufferers of the new farm laws. Though very much involved in
agriculture, they do not have decision-making powers. The changes in the
Essential Commodities Act [for example] will create a lack of food and
women will face the brunt of it’, says
Mariam Dhawale, general secretary of the All-India Democratic Women’s
Association (AIDWA).

Furthermore, the committee created by the courts is made up of well-known
people who have taken a public position in support of the government’s
laws. None of the leaders of the farmers and the agricultural workers
organisations are on this committee, which means – once more – that laws
and orders will be made for them rather than by them or with their

[image: Soly Cissé (Senegal), Men and Lives V, 2018.]

Soly Cissé (Senegal), *Men and Lives V*, 2018.

This recent attack on Indian farmers and agricultural workers is part of a
longer series
of assaults. On 10 January, P. Sainath, the founder of the People’s Archive
for Rural India and a senior fellow at Tricontinental: Institute for Social
Research, addressed
a meeting in Chandigarh at which he talked about the broader context. ‘It
is not only about the laws, which they have to take back’, Sainath said.
‘This struggle is not only about Punjab and Haryana; it has gone beyond
this. What do we want, community or corporate-led agriculture? The farmers
are directly confronting the corporate model. India now is a corporate-led
state, with socio-religious fundamentalism and market fundamentalism ruling
our lives. This protest is in defense of democracy; we are reclaiming the

The protests come at a time when there is great international concern about
the situation of hunger and food production from multilateral agencies.
Ismahane Elouafi, the chief scientist at the UN Food and Agriculture
Organisation (FAO), recently told
Reuters that farmers and poor urban residents have taken the burden of this
pandemic. ‘Cut off from markets and with a plunge in customer demand,
farmers struggled to sell their produce while informal workers in urban
areas, living hand to mouth, found themselves jobless as lockdowns were
imposed’, she said. Elouafi could very well have been talking about India,
where the farmers and the urban poor are equally struggling to make ends
meet in just this manner. Elouafi points to a general crisis in the
international food system that requires serious consideration at the global
level, but also within countries. One of every five calories that people
eat has crossed
an international border, an increase of 50% over the past four decades.
This means that international food trade has dramatically increased,
although four out of five calories are still eaten within national
boundaries. Proper international and national policies for food production
are necessary at both the global and domestic scales. But, over the past
several decades, there has been no real international debate over these
issues, largely because of the domination of a set of large food
corporations in setting the terms of policy.

[image: Ayanda Mabulu (South Africa), Marikana Widows, 2011.]

Ayanda Mabulu (South Africa), *Marikana Widows*, 2011.

The logic of profit has driven the food system to privilege the production
of goods that can be relatively cheaply produced and easily transported.
The best example of this is in cereal production, where the industry drives
‘cheap calorie’ grains (such as rice, maize, and wheat) over nutritious
crops (such as African Bambara groundnuts, fonio, and quinoa) because the
former are easier to grow at a vast scale and are easier to transport. The
‘calories race’ that this process engenders enables a few countries to
dominate food production and make the rest of the world net food importers.

There are several downsides to this: the growth of these cheap calories
relies upon the vast use of freshwater, high greenhouse gas emissions due
to transportation (30% of all such emissions), clear-cutting of complex
ecosystems, and a state-subsidy
regime of $601 billion in Europe and North America (governments in the
Global South, meanwhile, are forced to cut their subsidies). This entire
food production system goes against both the labour of the farmers and the
agricultural workers but also against good health and sustainability
practices, since excess consumption of these simple carbohydrates creates
negative health effects.

[image: Li Fenglan (China), Pleasant Work, 2008.>]

Li Fenglan (China), *Pleasant Work*, 2008.

There is no lag
<https://www.thetricontinental.org/newsletterissue/20-2020-famine/> in food
production. There is enough food produced. But the food that is produced is
not necessarily the best kind of food with the nutritional diversity
required for a healthy diet; and even this food does not go to those who
simply do not have the income to eat. Hunger rates had risen dramatically
before the pandemic, and they are now skyrocketing; amongst those who are
hungry are the farmers and agricultural workers who grow the food but
cannot afford to eat it.

A recent study
published in *The Lancet* has shocking news about the levels of hunger
amongst young people. Researchers studied the height and weight of 65
million children and adolescents around the world before the pandemic and
found an average 20-centimetre height gap due to the lack of healthy
nutrition. The World Food Programme says
that, during the pandemic, 320 million children are missing out on food
that is normally provided at school. UNICEF notes
that, as a result of this, an additional 6.7 million children under the age
of five are at risk of wasting. The meagre income support provided in most
countries will not stem this tide. The reduction of food coming into homes
has a catastrophic impact along gender
lines, since mothers typically eat the least or forgo food to ensure that
everyone else in the family eats.

Innovations in public delivery of food are essential. In 1988, China’s
government set up the ‘vegetable basket programme’, in which mayors have to
account <https://money.163.com/19/1231/08/F1NBANB100258105.html> every two
years for the availability of affordable and safe non-grain foods (fresh
produce is key here). Hinterlands of cities and towns had to protect their
farmland so that non-grain foods could be grown nearby. For instance
<https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s12571-019-00961-8>, with a
population of eight million, Nanjing was 90% self-sufficient in green
vegetables in 2012. The existence of the ‘vegetable basket programme’
enabled China’s cities and towns to ensure that the population continued to
eat fresh produce during the COVID-19 lockdown. Such programmes need to be
developed in other countries, where the food industry is driven by profit
through the sale of cheap calories; these cheap calories have a very
expensive, negative impact on society.

The Bella Ciao of the Indian farmers at the edge of Delhi, December 2020

The Indian farmers’ revolt is certainly their fight to repeal the three
anti-farmer bills. But their fight is for much more than that. It is a
fight for the agricultural workers – one fourth of them around the world
are migrants – who have very little security of tenure and earn
extraordinarily low incomes. It is also the fight for humanity, a fight for
a rational food policy that would benefit both the farmers and those who
must eat.

The protest sites that ring Delhi – and from where the farmer and
agricultural workers will move into the city on 26 January – are filled
with joy and culture. Poets have come to recite their verse to the people.
One of Punjab’s most famous poets, Surjit Patar, wrote a lyrical poem
before he decided to return an award (Padma Shri) he received from the
government. His poem rings across the landscape, capturing the width of the
protest and its music:

This is a festival.
As far as I can see
Beyond what I can see
There are people gathered.
This is a festival,
Of people and land, trees, water, and air.
It includes our laughter, our tears, our songs.
And you don’t know who are part of it.

The poem describes the interaction of a young girl with farmers. The girl
says that when the farmers leave there will be no joy in the world. ‘What
shall we do then?’, she asks, and as the farmers weep, she says, ‘my wish
is that you win this fight for truth’.

It is our wish too.



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