Ramlila Maidan in New Delhi was the scene of a farmers’ reunion after one year. They were there to march again to Parliament Street. They gathered here in November last year to press pending demands for the execution of the Swaminathan Commission’s report and a waiver of bank loans. A lot has changed since then but not their hopes. This time they demanded a three-week special session of Parliament to discuss farmers’ issues. The protesters found that almost all of the leaders in the opposition promised to address their demands and showed sympathy for their plight. This was the time when Minister of Agriculture and Farmers Welfare Radha Mohan Singh inaugurated the Global Agriculture & Food Summit in Raipur, apparently to bring big changes to the annadata’s life.
The agrarian crisis, the root cause of this protest march, is the result of prolonged neglect of their problems by the government. The thousands of farmers who reached New Delhi from distant villages may be suffering because of different geographies, geologies and climate conditions, but what unites them is the poor prices for their produce—be it cotton, soya bean, maize, sugarcane, onion or apple, grape, plum or paddy. Rising costs of production, bad quality of seeds, natural calamities, demonetisation and the unbearable burden of loans has affected all, which includes farmers with good land holdings, marginal farmers, rental or share croppers and landless labourers.
One can feel the anger, pain and anxiety at being neglected and their determination to fight for survival—not just of farmers and agriculture but of society and country as a whole.

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KANSHIRAM |Sirohi, Rajasthan
‘Yes, we grow fennel but that’s not enough to survive. We need other grains, lentils, vegetables to grow, our cattle require food and water and that is one of the biggest crisis we face.’

Rajasthan is the third largest producer of seed spices, and Sirohi is known for its fennel production. This is a cash crop for small and marginal farmers but inadequate marketing facilities make them suffer.

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OM PRAKASH | Baheri, Bareilly, UP

‘As sugarcane growers we have to fight for a price and also for payments from sugar mills. In Baheri, the sugar mill has still to pay outstanding from last year and in the current season 20 days have passed but we have not been paid. Once we stop growing for others, maybe they will realise our importance.’

He was part of the national farmers’ protest held in Delhi on November 30, 2018.

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Eliyas Hemram | Jamui, Bihar

‘I’m from Jamui district in Bihar which is hit by drought and is also on the list of most backward districts of the country. Scarcity of drinking water and small size of farms is our major problem. We believe the leaders sitting in Delhi are powerful enough to solve our problems. The bow and arrows are for animals that try to destroy our crops and for intruders in our territory.’

He was at the national farmers’ protest in Delhi on November 30, 2018.

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GURDEEP SINGH | Guladiya Sukkhi, Bareilly UP

‘Ask anybody to compare the price hike for diesel, electricity, seeds, fertilisers, pesticides and labour cost since 2014 with the prices of agricultural produce, and you will find the reasons for our anxiety. Input costs have almost doubled and farmers have to fight even for MSP. Frankly speaking, we are being treated like fools.’ He was at the national farmers’ protest in Delhi on November 30, 2018.

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VENKATESULU | Kurnool, Andhra Pradesh.

‘The maximum support price for maize is ₹1,750 per quintal but growers are paid ₹1,000 in the market. No one understands our plight. Farmers are selling onion for ₹100 per quintal. That’s not even the cost of the time a farmer puts in, think of the costs of preparing the field, seed, irrigation and taking it from farm to market. It is this anger that makes people throw onion on the roads instead of taking it to the market.’ He had brought cobs of corn to the protest in Delhi.

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SHRAVAN | Akkalkua, Nandurbar, Maharashtra

Has the the government reduced the prices of seed, fertilizer or pesticide? If not, then how they can reduce price for our produce?’

He is a tribal farmer who uses indigenous cotton seeds compared to Bt Cotton which he finds expensive.

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FARMERS | Akkalkua, Nandurbar, Maharashtra

The women from various parts of Akkalkua in Nandurbar, rode a truck to go back home after a meeting of farmers in Dhule. Their sole motivation was that the fight was for their land rights. ‘Out of 55,000 pending cases of land rights in Nandurbar, only 40 per cent could be settled since 1993. They are not eligible for agriculture loans as they don’t have land in their names and have to rely on money lenders,’ said Prathibha Shinde, an activist working for tribes in Madhya Pradesh, Gujrat and Maharashtra.

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Chilly farmers | Bishangarh, Rajasthan

The family of Ramjilal Yadav plucking chillies from the field while he rested. He has been growing hybrid seeds for the past two decades but the Kranti variety he and others in village used is no longer safe from pests and diseases. ‘When we were using indigenous varieties, we thought hybrid seeds are better option but now we have realised that this is not true,’ says Ramjilal.

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RAMANNA | Uravakonda, Anantapur, AP.

‘We have three acres and had taken loans of ₹75,000 from the bank and ₹2.5 lakh from a moneylender. Moneylender charged interest of ₹2 per hundred per month. We were not able to repay bank loans because of drought and crop failure. The loan was in name of R. Venkatamma, my wife, who committed suicide on 15th February thinking that bank will waive the loan’.

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Kanta Bai | Pimpalgaon Basant, Nashik, Maharashtra

A roadside vendor, she was helpless when people bargained and paid her ₹100 for one kg of raisins.

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RAKESH SINGA | Kotgarh, Himachal Pradesh

‘Apple growers in Himachal Pradesh suffer the most after corporates entered marketing. They control the demand and supply chain and win because of distress sales by growers. Lack of research and development is another important reason. The varieties we grow takes 15 years to harvest whereas by tissue culture and cloning, European countries have edge in quality and taste. This is not just apple growers, but of other fruit and vegetable farmers as well.’

He was part of the national farmers’ protests in Delhi on November 30, 2018.

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DEVENDRA MAHADEV | Amravati, Maharashtra

‘Vidarbha has become infamous for farmer suicides but if governments really cared they would at least ensure the quality of cotton seed and fair prices for the crop. Farmers buy seeds approved by the government but feel cheated as quality is not good and yield is affected. When the Prime Minister appealed for us to grow more tuar dal, we believed him and did that, but that was not purchased by government agencies as promised and farmers sold it for less. Then what is left for us?”

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At his home in Budha village of Papalia Mandi in Mandsaur. Pointing towards garlic sacks he said farmers were being paid ₹30-35 per kg so many of them, who could afford to stock, were waiting for good times. Similarly, the rate for soya bean had dropped by half to ₹2,000-2,200 per quintal.

Opium growers of Mandsaur face the same problem—rates for poppy seeds (khuskhus) were not as expected and state government did not fulfill the promise to pay four times the prescribed rates if farmers would destroy the poppy husk (dodachura) which was their source of extra earning. This unrest was the reason for their protest in Pipalia Mandi, in which six farmers were killed in police firing on June 6, 2017.

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ORPHANS | Triambakeshwar, Maharasthra

The writing on their caps tells it all; in Marathi it reads, ‘My farmer father committed suicide’, ‘You don’t do such a grave mistake’, ‘God bless farmers’. They are the orphans from the families in Vidarbha, Marthwada and Konkan regions and now stay at ‘Adhartirth Adharashram’ in Triambakeshwar. A total of 310 children, including 142 girls live at Adharashram.

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KANHAIYA LAL | Chillaud Piaplia, Mandsaur, MP

He died in police firing during farmer's protest at Pipalia Mandi on June 6, 2017. His mother (in veil) and daughters are also seen in this picture.

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BABLU PATIDAR | Takarawad, Mandsaur, MP

Mother of Bablu Patidar hugged his bust and cried when it was unveiled in Takarawad. Bablu was one of the victims of police firing in Pipalia Mandi on June 6, 2017.

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ARJUN RAI | Samastipur, Bihar

The plight of farmers in Bihar is hardly realised by national media. Have you heard of farmers’ suicides in Bihar? Let me tell you about Sunita Devi of Vidyapati block, who consumed poison to kill herself as she couldn’t bear the dunning of the moneylender. That was in 2016. We have been victims of natural disasters and government apathy. Floods in the Ganga swept away farmland and our houses in 1984 and now we breed cattle and produce grain on sharing basis. They give us their land and we take loans from moneylenders to sow and grow. Fifty per cent of the profit is shared and it is the same with cattle. Don’t you think this injustice should come to an end?”