The BJP-RSS is trying to break the agrarian Shudra unity, but this unity is consolidating as a result of the ongoing protests against the farm laws. Harinder Happy argues how these pro-corporate farm laws are an attack on the agrarian Shudra identity and explains the efforts of the BJP-RSS to break this unity in the ongoing protests.
The ongoing farmers’ protest has emerged as an insurmountable wall to the rapid and continued attack on the marginalised communities and rampant violation of human rights by the BJP (Bhartiya Janata Party) & RSS (Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh). While the protesting farmers have also raised non-agricultural issues, they have got tremendous support solely on their basic demands of repealing the three draconian farm laws and the demand for enacting a law on Minimum Support Prices (MSP). The Indian State and the BJP led union government have failed to end the protests. Whether it is through direct dialogue via the central government or through pressure exerted by the judiciary or through propaganda campaigns launched to vilify the protests by various media channels and social media IT cells, this movement has negated the BJP-RSS game plan of divide and rule.
Sociologist Kancha Illiah says, through the new farm laws, the BJP-RSS is trying to break the agrarian Shudra unity, but this unity is consolidating as a result of the protests against the laws. This article takes Illiah’s point as its premise and is divided into two parts: the initial part presents arguments on how these farm laws are an attack on the agrarian Shudra identity; the next part explains the efforts of BJP-RSS to break the agrarian Shudra unity in the ongoing protests.
Shudras are the non-dwijas caste groups who are mostly engaged in agricultural occupations. While many of the higher shudra ( Jaats, Jatts, Yadavas, Kurmis, Patels, Marathas, Kappus, Reddys, Kapus, Velamas mainly) owns agricultural land in many states, lower shudras (primarily Dalits) are mostly farm laborers in every agrarian societies. While it is true that some agrarian Shudras have struggled to integrate themselves in many non-agrarian fields and state-sanctioned opportunities have helped, it is also true that Shudras have been struggling in the neo-liberal market where they are directly competing with Dwijas and where the nexus of Brahmanism, feudalism and capitalism have deprived the Shudra of the power to exert control over the economy as well as society and polity.
Trends of Agrarian Shudra Unity
¨Kisan Mazdoor Ekta Zindabad (Long Live The Unity Of Farmers and Labourers), is one of the main slogans of the farmers’ protest. Over a period of time, since the modes of production are changing, the social relations among the agrarian societies are also changing. The landless Dalits have been on the margins of the agrarian societies as they are losing the opportunity in both the agricultural sector as well as non-agricultural sectors. They face extreme oppression and spend their life in anxiety. Dalits have also faced oppression at the hands of the ‘Dominant Castes’ (According to MN Srinivas it might not necessarily be an Upper Caste) which controls and dominates the economy, politics and society in rural areas. These dominant caste groups are not always upper castes but they have acquired socio-economic and political capital. With their strongholds and power, they are able to influence and even make public policies to serve their interest. The rise of Shudra political leadership and implementation of the Mandal Commission report was also the result of the Shudra power. It was the Shudra leaders who worked in their respective regions and mobilized the peoples against the one party monopoly rule of the Indian National Congress. Leaders like Lalu Yadav, Nitish Kumar, Ramvilas Paswan, Mulayam Yadav, Mayawati, Chuadhary Charan Singh, Devi Lal Chautala, Prakash Singh Badal and many more were claiming their space in society through electorate politics as well as social movements which inherently contributed to decline of one party rule of Congress. These leaders had organized people through formation of the regional parties and that is why India witnessed an unprecedented role of regional parties in national politics. This higher participation of shudra leaders in the national politics was a big reason behind implementation of the recommendations of the Mandal Commission.
Agriculture is the biggest occupation where the Shudras have control over the mode and the means of production. The upper Shudra, as in Jatts and Jaats in Punjab and Haryana, holds most of the agricultural land. It is the same occupation where most of the lower shudras are performing human labour. The agrarian society is divided, based on castes, landholding, regions, ethnicities and other fault lines. In the Agricultural Produce Market Committee (APMC), it is the Shudras who exercise the power, not the Banias, as Banias cannot purchase the product of farmers below the minimum support prices. Although there are loops in the process, a study conducted by University of Pennsylvania concluded that farmers of Punjab got 30% higher crop prices that Bihar, where the APMCs were abolished in 2006. In Bihar and elsewhere, where APMCs are dysfunctional, commission agents exercise their powers in the absence of state managed mechanisms. Parallelly, the land ownership gives full rights and entitlements to the farmers, regarding taking decisions on producing the crop and its trade. Till now, there had been a stringent check on hoarding of perishable and non-perishable products. The process of Public Procurement System (PPS) and Public Distribution System (PDS) was extremely helpful to the SCs and STs which are now under threat due to the implementation of these laws.
How farm laws breaks this Unity
By implementing these farm laws, RSS-BJP is attempting to hand over India’s biggest occupation to the Big Corporate Houses belonging mostly to the Upper Caste Bania Community. Since there are no competitors from the lower castes against the giant corporate sharks like Reliance group and Adani group in the Indian agri-business scenario, it would be very easy for these houses to take over the agriculture sector, operate and monopolize the sector. With the abolition of the APMCs in Punjab, Haryana, western Uttar Pradesh and northern Rajasthan, the economic and social powers of the Jatts and Jaats (which are backward castes but also dominant caste groups) will be gradually transferred to the Corporates Banias. Recent studies have shown that the biggest reason behind the suicide of farmers and agricultural labourers is the huge amount of unpaid loans. It is noteworthy that the biggest proportion of the loan of creditors are to the non-agrarian moneylenders. Studies have also shown that rich farmers of the region are becoming Arhitiyas and are replacing the historical position of small Banias. Even the non-shudra small moneylenders will lose this job after the enactment of new farm laws as there will be the dominance of only a few corporate houses, due to monopolistic policies that will be furthered by the new farm laws.
With the introduction of private markets, the private players will create a situation to engage farmers in contract farming. The provisions of the act reduce the powers of the tiller as the concerned party will be taking the core decisions. The essence of a private market and private procurement via contract farming law clearly states that the Public Procurement System (PPS) will become dysfunctional. A recent example of Haryana explains this lucidly. Private markets offered higher Minimum Support Prices (MSP) than the Government APMCs and farmers sold their product to these private players. Due to lack of stock of mustard seeds, the Haryana government stopped the distribution of mustard oil to the PDS beneficiaries. They were offered direct transfer of money, again which is an oppressive step for the market price of mustard rose rapidly. MSP on mustard oil was Rs 4625 per quintal but private traders offered Rs 4900 to Rs 5400 per quintal. Because the private companies purchased the mustard at a higher price, the market prices of mustard oil went up from Rs 105-110 per kg in February to Rs 160 per kg in April 2021. If Haryana government had directly provided mustard oil to the PDS beneficiaries, it would have been a relief for the poor. It will be better understood if these dots are connected to provisions of Essential Commodities Act’s amendments. According to the act, the state will not interfere with the price management of commodities up to a 100% increase in case of perishable products and up to a 50% increase in non-perishable products. If the PDS system is stopped, the poor will have to purchase them from the open market. These crony capitalists will sell the same product at much higher prices because the new law permits an increase of prices up to 99% in perishable goods and up to 49% in non-perishable goods.
Disturbing the protest when Shudra asserts
Now when the farmers’ movement is going on and gaining widespread support and solidarity, and the BJP government is failing to end this protest, it has adopted methods to break the Shudra unity. As theorized by Kancha Illah, this protest has emerged as a platform to unite the farmers, who are mostly shudras and the farm labourers, who are mostly Dalits. This unity is taking place, both out of the natural reasons as well as the conscious efforts put in by the Samyukta Kisan Morcha — a joint body of farmer unions leading the protest. Both the agrarian Dalits and landed farmers are victim of state policies and social discrimination taking place under BJP regime. The BJP government is bringing oppressive new labour codes, abolishing all the existing labour laws. Even with these farm laws, wage labourers are equally going to suffer as land owning farmers. So farm labourers have realised that the fight initiated by the farmers’ protest is a way for their liberation as well. Samyukta Kisan Morcha, in regular coordination with Farmers’ Unions and Agricultural Labourers Unions, have been organising several programmes where both these sections assert their voice together. Farm leader Gurnam Singh Chaduni’s humble request to protesters, which became a popular sentiment. He said, “farmers should put a photo of Dr Ambedkar in their house and Dalits should put a photo of Sir Chhoturam in their house”. The Sarv Jatiya Khap Panchayats (All castes Khap Meetings) also witnessed this unity where people across the caste groups joined this platform against state repression on the protesters overriding social barriers. Wherever the farm labour organizations staged a sit-in, the farmers’ organizations have strongly supported them. In a recent program of agricultural labourers in Patiala, farmer unions’ members washed the utensils used by farm labourers during the event. Dalit Labour leader Nodeep Kaur and Bhim Army Chief Chandra Shekhar Ravan are actively participating in this farmers protest. The BJP is trying to widen the existing contradiction between landowning OBC farmers and landless Dalit labourers, not only on an economic basis but also through instigating social rifts. With the politics of appeasement and hatred, the regional and local leaders and cadres of BJP-RSS are desperate to break the farmer-labour unity.
On 30 July 2021, the local BJP unit called a protest demonstration in front of the collector office of Sriganganagar in Rajasthan. Although BJP flagged some local issues like canal water, electricity and corruption, the protest was called because BJP is losing its following among the farmers. Since Samyukta Kisan Morcha has given a call to socially boycott the leaders of BJP and its allies, the local leaderships of the SKM decided to oppose this BJP organised event as well. Predicting a chance of conflict, the District Magistrate had assigned different protest sites for both the opposing groups. Even the entry and exit for both groups of protesters were from different roads. When the program was going on at two different stages, one Dalit BJP leader was sent towards SKM’s protest site. Farmers started opposing him while he allegedly provoked the farmers. Some of the farmers physically assaulted the Dalit BJP leader and his clothes were torn off. Subsequently, BJP started sharing images of the incident and presented it as an attack on Dalits by the SKM. In the next couple of days, several meetings were organised by the BJP’s SC morcha to vilify the farmers’ protest.
On 14 April 2021, Haryana Chief Minister Manohar Lal Khattar was to unveil a statue of Dr BR Ambedkar in Badoli village of Sonepat. This village is just 10km away from the protest site at the Singhu border. Farm unions and local farmers decided that they will not let the event happen successfully and they will oppose it. BJP started showing it as the farmers were against Ambedkar and the Dalits. However, farmers got the support of local Dalits and they clearly stated that they are not against Dr Ambedkar and Dalits, they are against BJP CM Khattar. Farmers even offered that any other leader, other than CM Khattar and Deputy CM Chautala, could inaugurate the event. Seeing the huge opposition from farmers unions, Khap panchayats and Dalit organizations, this event later was cancelled by CM Khattar himself.
In Punjab, BJP started this game long ago, when farmers’ protests initially started. BJP in Punjab had scheduled a Yatra from Jalandhar to Chandigarh, in protest against an alleged scam of the Punjab Government on the Ambedkar Scholarship for SC students. BJP prepared for this Yatra in full swing, but the people of Punjab forced them to stop this yatra in Jalandhar itself. On 14 April, 2021, Punjab BJP leader Tarun Chugh said, “a Dalit will become chief minister if BJP comes to power in Punjab.” With these Jumlas, the BJP is trying to win the trust of the Dalit population of the state and even outside the state. But, people know how many CM are Dalits in the BJP ruled states.
On 2 August, 2021, the Adani silo at Mullanpur was shut down. This site was blocked by farmers from September 2020. Adani management even tried to manage the situation by multiple efforts including legal methods, management tactics, and dialogues with the farmers, but all of these failed. The ultimate shutting down of the Adani silos was celebrated as a victory by protesting farmers, especially in Punjab, but there was another explanation of it given by the Godi Media, which was again contributing to Sangh’s agenda of breaking the Kisan-Majdoor Ekta. A TV show called this decision forced by the farmers’ blockade as anti-poor and anti-labourers. According to this show, 800 to 1000 workers lost their job. Similarly, when another silo of Adani was shut down in Ferozepur, a national newspaper, Dainik Jagran, reported ‘hundreds of workers became jobless’. All blame was put on farmers, and there was a conscious effort to create a rift between farmers vs labourers. On 2 April 2021, the Ministry of Home Affairs of India issued a notice highlighting alleged humiliation of migrant labourers in Punjab. The notice stated that rich farmers are using drugs to exploit the farm labourers.
Farmers’ Protest building socio-political solidarities between Shudras-Dalits
The relationship between farmer and farm labourers is of unity and struggle. Labour struggles with farmers over wages and social status but at the same time – when it comes to fighting against imperialism-capitalism, Brahmanism and feudalism, both the farmers and labourers unitedly fight against these common enemies. There are issues with farmers-labour unity which need to be addressed immediately and effectively. The history of the nation and world shows that farmers and labourers have fought the struggle together and the ongoing movement is also setting an example in this regard. A three-day protest was organised by agricultural labourers unions in Punjab, on 9-10-11 August 2021, where farmers from BKU Ekta Ugrahan, a farmers union, served food and washed the utensils used by the labourers. There have been at least 5 national level meetings organised by SKM with the central trade unions.
This movement is uniting the Shudra forces which were engaged primarily in internal conflicts. In the region of Karauli, Dausa, Bharatpur of Rajasthan, Meenas and Gurjars are forging unity in this struggle. They have been equally participating and mobilising in the farmers’ protest. In the same manner, Muslims, especially lower castes, those working as labourers, of western UP are strongly supporting the Jaat farmers of the region. In a meeting organised by Bhartiya Kisan Union, a speaker, reminding of the 2013 Muzaffarnagar riots, said, ‘We were taught that Muslims are the lone enemy of ours and therefore those incidents took place.’ He further stated, ‘Our identity was deliberately shifted to as a Hindu, straight away from a farmer’. Even BKU President Naresh Tikait apologized publicly about his role in the 2013 riots. For residents of Punjab and Haryana, since only Chandigarh (the common capital of both states) was the meeting point and since there is a historical rift between both the states over the control of this city, and there are other contentious issues, the sense of unity was missing in earlier mass movements in both states. This movement has built a sense of fraternity among the farmers of these two states. In the beginning of this movement, Haryana BJP was raking up the Satluj Yamuna Link (SYL) canal issue, a contentious interstate water dispute between Haryana and Punjab. Haryana BJP organised several protests across the state on the canal water sharing issue, but farmers of Haryana were well aware of these BJP tactics. A protester stated, “Break the border of Punjab and Haryana, we will settle the issues of the SYL canal and other issues as well”. Protesters Of both these states have developed a rhetoric of unity among them – “bada bhai Punjab – chota bhai Haryana” (since Haryana was part of Punjab till 1966, protesters termed it as a relationship between younger brother and elder brother). It did not stop here, in a Mahapanchayat organised in Sriganganagar of Rajasthan, one senior leader of SKM suggested Rajasthan as an elder relative of Punjab since Sriganganagar and Hanumangarh districts of Rajasthan have a large Sikh population, which shifted to this region from Punjab to ‘teach farming techniques to the people of Rajasthan’ as canals were being brought to the deserts of Rajasthan. Conclusively, it can be said that historical bonds of the Shudras have been revived with this movement.
Shudras breaking RSS’s dream
There is strong anger among farmers and labourers against the BJP as these groups are struggling against the oppression by its pro-corporate and anti-worker policies and practices. The unity of these two big forces of production as well as their large numbers is a strong threat to the BJP. It also affects the local RSS dynamics in villages. Farmers and labourers, in the form of Shudra Unity, are going to reclaim their space in society, the economy as well as in politics. It seems a great challenge to the ‘caste’ institution and politics of Hindutva. Therefore, the intentions of BJP-RSS are very clear, that the Shudras should not be entitled to any kind of access to political and social capital, hence the Agrarian Shudra Unity should be broken at the earliest.
Even in the latest incident at Singhu border, where a Dalit labourer was brutally murderer by Nihang Sikhs, BJP tried to show this as anti-Dalit nature of the protest. It was a perversely presented as that the victim Lakhbir was ‘an untouchable’ and since he tried to touch the sacred religious text, he was killed. Undoubtedly, caste oppression is deep rooted in Punjab as well, but this incident was neither a caste issue nor for the farmers’ cause. It was a fanatic religious and criminal case, and the subsequent revelations put the state’s role in the entire incident under question.
The relations of farmers and labourers are getting stronger as both these sections are unitedly fighting against the state oppression. In the Malwa region of Punjab, where small farmers are in deep crisis, the demands of these farmers are not much different from the labourers. The issues of indebtedness, health expenses, and compensations for crop loss and suicides are the same for both small farmers and labourers. At the end of the day, BJP-RSS completely sponsored by the state and the corporates, has not been able to break the Agrarian Shudra Unity so far, and the farmers protest is alive and kicking, gaining more support and solidarity across the country, as it completes one year of the farmers camping on the borders of Delhi, on 26 November on this month.
The author, Harinder is a PhD Scholar in Agrarian Studies and associated with Samyukta Kisan Morcha (email@example.com).
* The views and opinions expressed in the article are the author’s own.