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Mainstream, VOL 61 No 1-2, December 24, December 31, 2022 (Double issue)

Dispersion and Regional Dynamics of Farmers’ Agitation (2020-2021) in Haryana | Mahabir S. Jaglan & Rajeshwari

Saturday 24 December 2022


by Mahabir S. Jaglan & Rajeshwari *

One year has lapsed since the Government of India repealed three farm laws that were fiercely contested by the farmers of India under the leadership of Sanyukt Kisan Morcha (SKM). The historical agitation of farmers (2020-2021) had its genesis in the state of Punjab; but the real battle was fought on the soil of Haryana. It would be interesting to reflect upon the evolution of protest-landscape of the movement and the factors in its geographical spread and intensity in Haryana.

The seeds of the mighty agitation were sown when farmers across the states in India took to the streets at the call of All India Kisan Sanghash Coordination Committee (AIKSCC) on September 25, 2020. It also gave the call of ‘Delhi Chalo’ on November 26, 2020. The strongest response to this call came from Punjab where 32 farmer unions of the state had already carried out mass awareness campaign against the new farm laws since the promulgation of the ordinances in June 2020. They carried out about two month long agitation from September to November 2020 and prepared the farmers for a long stretched agitation against the mighty Union Government of India.

The agitation spread across Haryana as the cavalcades of Punjab farmers passed through north and central parts of the state on September 25-26, 2020 to reach Delhi. The passage routes of the farmers turned into the corridors of interaction between the farmers of two states and arteries of spatial diffusion of agitation. But the spread of farmers’ movement in Haryana was not purely spontaneous and inspired by the march of Punjab farmers alone. Bhartiya Kisan Union (Charuni) group in northeastern region, AIKS and some other BKU factions in western and central parts and Jai Kisan Aandolan in southern parts of the state responded to ‘Delhi Chalo’ call of AIKSCC and led the farmers’ protest march towards Delhi independently. When the marching columns of farmers were denied entry in Delhi, the protesters settled for dharna at Singhu border on NH 44 and Tikri border on NH 9. These were not the only protest sites of farmers’ movement in Haryana. Dhansa border, Palwal and Shahjahanpur and Sunhera borders on Rajasthan side were other smaller dharna sites. But the protest-landscape of the agitation in Haryana was not merely constituted by the border dharna sites. It was broadly defined by the action space (protest sites), the areas protesters belonged to, and the intensity of their participation. As agitation intensified, almost all the road toll plazas in northern, central, and western parts of Haryana were converted into the picketing spots by the local farmers, signifying the spatial diffusion and decentralization of agitation in the interior parts of the state. Meanwhile, as the boycott and protests against the ruling party leaders swept across the state, the epicentre of the agitation shifted from northeastern region to central (Jind district) and western parts (Hisar district).

Map of Agitation Sites | map provided by authors: Mahabir S. Jaglan & Rajeshwari

There were multiple and overlapping factors that contributed in shaping the geographical dissemination of farmers’ movement and its intensity in Haryana. The areas where farmers initially responded to AIKSCC call ‘Delhi Chalo’ had the experience of farmers’ protests on various issues during recent past. Through their campaign the farmer unions had raised the political awareness of farmers about the new farm laws. BKU (Charuni) group had led many agitations on local issues of the farmers in northeastern districts of the state and carried out sustained campaign against the new farm laws. Similarly led by AIKS and some other farm unions, the farmers of northwestern and western Haryana also had the recent experience of protests for compensation of damaged crops and had the idea about the adverse effects of new farm laws. The discontent among the peasantry against the JJP leadership for joining BJP government in the state and supporting the new farm laws of central government led to intensification of farmers’ agitation in central and western parts of the state. However, the Jai Kisan movement for procurement of crops did not much help the diffusion of the agitation in south Haryana due to overarching political influence of BJP in Ahirwal region.

The north-south gap in the participation of agitation and distribution of protest sites of farmers’ movement is explained by the difference in the level of agricultural productivity, marketable crop produce, cropping pattern and agricultural marketing system. The cropping pattern of north Haryana has the dominance of paddy and wheat with much higher agricultural productivity than the mixed crop areas of south Haryana except Palwal district. Furthermore, having greater surplus quantity of tradable agricultural commodities and beneficiaries of paddy and wheat procurement on MSP, the thought of dismantling the APMC mandis and procurement system was more scary and risky for the farmers of north Haryana than the fellow farmers in the south.

The social factors — the support of khaps and participation of women farmers also played a crucial role in shaping the geography of farmers’ agitation in Haryana. The khap panchayats in the state having a good following in the peasantry (particularly Jats) initially showed no concern with the new farm laws. Having a history of overlooking the economic interests of peasantry and bitter experience of participation in Jat reservation agitation in 2016, the leadership of the khaps was initially skeptical about the farmers’ agitation. But as the farmers from the khap areas were spontaneously drawn to border dharnas and toll plazas in large number, they came forward in unconditional support of the SKM led movement. They gave a big boost to the farmers’ agitation after the attack on farmers and SKM leader Rakesh Tikait by goons at Gazipur border on January 28, 2021. They ensured large participation and logistic support to the movement in the khap dominated areas in east-central, central, and western parts of the state.

The biggest takeaway of the farmers’ movement was the sizeable participation of women farmers in agitation in central and western parts of Haryana. It was particularly triggered by the passing cavalcades of women farmers belonging to BKU (Ugrahan) group through Haryana. In a state where unequal gender relations render women’s contribution in social sphere invisible, women only claimed their identities as ‘farmers’, but also played a pivotal role in organization, participation and sustenance of the mass movement. In contrast to this scenario in central parts, the presence of women was bleak at the protest sites of northeastern districts of the state which may be attributed to their low labour share in the agricultural work compared to other parts of Haryana. Another take away of the farmers’ movement was the enormous amount of social capital generated in the process of cooperation and mutual support systems developed among the farmers of Haryana, between the farmers of Punjab and Haryana, and among the farmers, workers, agricultural labourers, middlemen, and the civil society. It signified the collective and democratic nature of the farmers’ movement 2020-2021.

(Authors: Mahabir S. Jaglan, Former Professor of Geography, Kurukshetra University; Rajeshwari, Professor of Geography, Kurukshetra University)

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