Farmers in India have been protesting for a year: Friday they won

After a year of protests by farmers in India, Prime Minister Narendra Modi has announced that he would repeal the infamous agricultural laws, which had sparked the protests last November.

Most of the farmers in the demonstrations hailed from the northern Punjab and Haryana states-two of the biggest agricultural producers in the country. The farmers raised major concerns that the law-which was signed September of 2021, introduced market reforms to the farming sector, a move that the smallholder farmers argued would favor large corporate farms, devastate the earnings of many of the poorer farmers, and leave those who, “hold small plots of land behind as big corporations win out.”

The fear is that the new legislation will leave the farmers poorer, at a time where Modi had attempted to reinvent India as a “hub for global corporations.” The bill is also not clear on whether the government will continue to guarantee prices for certain essential crops, which would leave small farmers open to large agrobusiness competition; farmers had already voiced concerns as the government attempted to liberalize the farming markets and move away from a system of farmers selling only to a government-sanctioned marketplace, which would have left them at the mercy of corporations without any legal obligation to pay them the guaranteed price. Clauses in the legislation almost guaranteed that the farmers were on their own-including one that would have prevented them from taking contract disputes to court, thus having no means of redress apart from bureaucrats.

The subsequent protest had been the biggest since Modi claimed power in 2014 and erupted at a time of economy and social insecurity, with laws that were deemed discriminatory and a botched COVID-19 response. Dozens of farmers have died during the process, one from the police during a demonstration in January when protestors stormed the Red Fort in the capital’s center, and others from either suicide, bad weather from the demonstrations, or COVID-19.

While Modi has promised a repeal of the law, farmers and their unions are not backing down. Samyukt Kisan Morcha, the group of farm unions organizing the protests, said, “It welcomed the government’s announcement but that the protests would continue until the government recommits to the system of guaranteed prices. The protesters had long rejected a government offer to suspend the laws for 18 months.”

The announcement came on the day of the Guru Purab festival, where Sikhs celebrate their founder Guru Nanak’s birthday. The laws have been particularly alienating to the Sikh community and come after Modi attempted to discredit the protesters as being motivated by religious nationalism. The move to repeal the law on Guru Purab, amidst an important election cycle, while most definitely Modi’s government attempting to do damage control, is nonetheless a decisive win for poor farmers whose annual income is 20,000 rupees or $271.

 

(By Nichole Smith)

(Photo Credit: Altaf Qadri / AP)

Mitochondrial DNA

Mitochondrial DNA

Mama told me a story

She said:
You are an ocean and I am a river that feeds you and makes you grow.

If I’m an ocean now; then what will I be when I grow up, I asked?
That’s easy, she said, you’ll be a river that will feed an ocean just as I do.

Choose those that choose you.
Not every eye can see your coat of many colors
Nor can every ear hear your plaintive cries desiring belonging

Not all fingers can touch the wounded places and the scars
Nor offer the healing touch of consolation.
Not all skin folks are kin folks
And strong enemies contribute to ones growth, too.
Rivers lose their identities once they reach oceans.

Lose their identities 
And their contradictions.

Who is my mother and father asks the ocean?
Child of many streams
And many rainstorms
Where is your home 
And where will you lay your head?

What floodgates open because of intrepid questioning?
And, what Jerichonian walls crumble because of courageously blown conch shell horns?

Funeral Pyres blaze in India
Telling two stories
One ancient
And one new
Tell me who I am as I inhale deeply
As the dust of the dead mingles and enters my nostrils 
reminding me that I am a sleeping god.

Pandora’s curiosity brought forth both plague and hope.

Who is my family in all of this?
Like calls to like; but, can that call be answered?
All of this is mission; but, can it be accomplished?

My brothers and sisters have many names.
They ask questions as I do
And are not afraid of the answers that they receive.
By their curiosity my Family of Choice is known.

In Tibet they are called Vidyādhara because they want to know
And knowledge is their seat.

Among the Lakota they are called Heyoka — contrarians for whom night is day and day is night
And, Reality is only just when and if it can be questioned.

In India they are called Brahmins because they seek the truth.
This cannot be achieved merely through bloodlines and birth within a family.

Among Yoruba Orishas, my family calls on Shango
And the Wise Women in my family venerate Yemaya.

American Griots,
Fearlessly tell your stories and sing your songs
And teach the children to sing, too.

Sing the songs that Grandma sang in the kitchen
Or as she danced on the laundry with her blessed feet.

Sing work songs and war songs
That helped men survive chain gangs 
And oppressive assembly lines.

Sing bawdy songs and love songs 
That foment perilous rendezvous.

Sing new songs of Hope and learn to call on The Mothers once again.

How many more Mothers of Exiles can be named 
In this melting pot called America?
That hasn’t yet finished melting

Not even close.

But the Gods came here to these shores with the people who brought them
Listen for the answers that they whisper
Even though we vaguely call upon them 
With dimly remembered prayers.

Let your peace fall upon all of those who will listen to you and receive you
But if they shun you
Shake off the dust of your sandal on their threshhold
As a testament against them and their house
Then walk on.

All it takes to make stone soup is
A pot
A stone
a story
And the willingness of Families of Choice to bring the rest of the ingredients.
All seasonings and flavors blend in a stew.

And all oceans eventually become rivers that feed other oceans
Losing both their identity and their contradictions

I am just a ghost driving a mitochondrial DNA machine made of:
Blood
Fat
Bone
Marrow 
Tissue
Ovum
And Sperm

Why am I even afraid?

(By Heidi Lindemann and Michael Perry)

(Image Credit: Metropolitan Museum)

Farmers’ Protest in India Is An Intersectional Feminist Issue

It is important for the Indian farmers’ protest movement currently unfolding in New Delhi, India, to be seen as intersectional feminist issue. 

Farmers from the Punjab are protesting the latest laws of the Indian government designed to now hand over to the billionaires—who already hold this poor country’s wealth since the so-called liberalization of the 1990s.The farmers are calling attention to the government’s colonizing of the agrarian sector.  Among networks covering news about the farmers’ protest in New Delhi, we see only male farmers and male protesters and male speakers. Where are the women, especially since the state of Punjab is rife with violence against women, a warped sex ratio, and the wide economic gap between the genders? The reality is that women farmers all over India are underrepresented in the news. They do the same work as men and use machines that are easier for men to use than for women. In the spate of suicides among farmers that we have seen in the past decade, women farmers are part of this statistic, but did not make the news. According to Surbhi, “out of total 8007 farmers suicide in 2014, 441 were female farmers.” Additionally, the women are affected by the farmers who commit suicide, since now they become the sole supporters of their families and receive no welfare form the government. Undervalued, women farmers are the building blocks of the country’s economy. 

What is the reality on the ground during the current farmers’ protest in New Delhi? Women from across villages and towns in Punjab have traveled to Delhi to speak. When a women protests, she is speaking for her whole family and for her whole village of farmers. Women protestors are enlightening the public about the bias against female farmers who are called agricultural laborers and are paid less and given poorer implements and are exposed to toxic chemicals. In fact, the women farmers work hard for long hours and do the same kinds of work as their male counterparts, from sowing and harvesting, to threshing and winnowing. 

The farmers are protesting not just the lack of control over the prices of their products but the corporate pressure to use GMO seeds. In a recent Twitter post, Vandana Shiva states, “In 1984 Punjab farmers were protesting against the #GreenRevolution model saying if you cannot choose what you grow or how you will grow it , these are conditions of slavery . They have already paid a very high price with debt , suicides & a #CancerTrain”. Shiva’s ecological activism is based on understanding that the exploitation of the earth and our ecology is both intersectional and transnational. She traces back the exploitation of the most vulnerable, earth, women, and the poor to colonialism and capitalism. In the same Twitter feed, Shiva argues, “No one was dying of famine in India in 1965 when the World Bank & US govt imposed the #GreenRevolution on Punjab to sell left over war chemicals. Chemical Monocultures of dwarf rice & wheat forced on farmers use 10 times more water.” Here is an example of economic colonialism at play, which in another 60 years has not subsided but increased in power. 

As Shiva and other feminist activists see, a stitching together of agricultural activism across borders can impact governments subservient to corporate interests. In the current farmers’ protest, Sikh women in the U.S., Canada, Amsterdam, are taking to the streets, bringing attention to their farming families spread over the diaspora. As Ramanpreet Kaur, one of the Sikh activists in Queens, New York says, “Even if you don’t feel a personal connection to India or the farmers out there like many of us do, as a human being who lives on earth you should be concerned about exploitation of the people who feed you everyday.”

Women activists who are part of the long arc of farmer activism in Indian history are not only protesting the Indian state with its development model but also patriarchy and capitalism. Currently organizations such as Mahila Kisan Adhikaar Manch (MAKAAM) are on the ground offering the strong voices of women farmers. 

In other parts of India, there are grassroots movements such as Fatima Burnad’s Society for Rural Education and Development (SRED), which lists support of women farmers as part of the intersectional model. SRED challenges the oppression of Dalit and women laborers. These movements are intersectional and bring religious, caste, communal, and gender perspectives into the fight for farmers’ rights. 

What is interesting about the Sikh farmers is that Sikhism as a religion is critical of caste discrimination and religious divisions. Men and women were equally active during partition. They are admired for their warrior spirit and their generosity. At the height of the protest, the farmers offered langaar, or food donation, to all protesters—a sign of their good will despite the draconian measures they are battling. The farmers are careful not to let the news media misconstrue their protest into a religious protest or the 1980s disastrous “Khalistan” protest. They do not want to be labeled anti-national. In fact, the stories about women farmers can become the linchpin for any success that can be seen in this latest farmers’ protest movement. In addition, feminist protests across the globe can show solidarity with the farmers and increase pressure on the Indian government and point to the danger to food, earth, and human and animal health.

Pramila Venkateswaran

(Photo Credit: Reuters / Anushree Fadnavis)

Why many Indians believe Muslims spread COVID-19

Wazukhaana in front of Fatehpuri Masjid, a Sufi mosque in northern Delhi, in 2015.

Here’s an analogy. If people are standing in line, and a brown person shoves a white person, it would be incorrect of the white person to conclude that brown people have no manners. I think most Indians understand this. So when we Indians stand in line and a Muslim person shoves a Hindu person, it would be incorrect of the Hindu to conclude that Muslim people have no manners (especially when all of us have seen how our fellow Indians cut lines, everywhere, even when there’s assigned and assured seating, as when boarding a flight).

What prompted this was a conversation I had recently with an old friend, in which Muslims as a whole were being held responsible for one Hindu (said friend) getting shoved while waiting in line at a store, at a time when everyone is supposed to stay 6 feet apart. The friend started to say something about “these people”, so I felt compelled to point out to them that just the previous day, I had to tell a Hindu fellow shopper blocking a narrow aisle in the grocery store to cover her nose and mouth with her mask. Her mask was hanging around her neck like a necklace, and she made no attempt to put it on or to give way when I indicated that I needed to pass her. She had already breathed over who knows how many products, leaving germs all over the place. I told my friend that the definitely-Hindu cashier had no mask either. Everyone knows that this sort of behavior is currently punishable.

A word about Hindus, Muslims, and cleanliness. People who have researched sanitation in South Asia have found that in general, personal hygiene levels in predominantly Hindu India are lower than in the predominantly Muslim neighboring countries of Bangladesh and Pakistan. They surmise that this may be directly related to the fact that Islam has clear prescriptions pertaining to personal hygiene, which are daily rituals. In contrast, they note, Hinduism has none (or no clear and effective ones that are widely taught and practised, at any rate).

And yet our fascist government/media/social circles have brainwashed us into racist thinking by repeatedly portraying Muslims in particular as vectors of Covid-19 (for example, see thisthisthis, and after the Delhi government’s own complicity, this). And sadly, even those of us who sincerely believe we are good, smart, sensible, righteous, reasonable, and not-evil take up such racist thinking and let ourselves become pawns in the politics of hate. We slip into believing greater lies like “Muslims are destroying this country”. Many of us vote for leaders based on the racist belief that we have chosen to embrace, instead of voting in the interest of ourselves and our fellow citizens.

(Photo credit: Uma Asher / Medium)

The pandemic of desperate poverty: A Third-World view of the Covid-19 lockdown

The other day I saw a beggar who did not know how to beg. I was in my local market in an unfashionable middle-class Delhi neighborhood. As I was loading my grocery purchases in my car near a tiny supermarket, I heard a tentative “Madamji”. That’s when I noticed the man sitting on the curb in the desolate street. 

He asked softly if I could give him some food. He sounded so hesitant and tentative that I got the sense that he was new at this. I asked him whether he wanted food to cook or food that was ready to eat. My mind was racing and I thought that if he had nowhere to cook, I would give him bread and cheese, although that would certainly not be a traditional meal for him. He said he could cook. I asked where he lived, and he said in a shanty nearby. Was his family here or back in his village? He said they were all here.

I went back into the store and bought him two kilos of rice and a packet of soy nuggets. I explained how to cook the soy. He broke down, thanking me profusely and wishing me a lifetime of blessings. He broke down because I had bought Rs 300 (about $4) worth of food for his family.

On my previous grocery-shopping round too, a disabled boy in ragged clothes had approached me, begging for flour and rice. I bought him a couple of oranges, which he accepted, but he repeated his entreaty for flour and rice. I enquired how he would cook them, and he eagerly assured me he had a home. I asked where, and he named a nearby neighborhood that people like me politely describe as “low-income”. 

The reality is that such neighborhoods are home to people who are oppressed because of their caste, faith or gender. Many of these people are dirt-poor and earn precarious livelihoods. I bought the child two kilos each of flour and rice. I thought maybe people in his family have lost their livelihoods in the lockdown. 

My friends say they are glad I was there for these starving people. The fact is: I was there that day. A week or two weeks later, I cannot be sure they are okay. I cannot imagine the terror of the ongoing lockdown – is it a colonial hangover that we’re using the word “curfew” interchangeably? – for people who used to earn a living, no matter how humble, and who now have to beg.

Often, we hear middle-class Indians urging others not to give anything to beggars, because they’re part of a “begging racket”, implying that begging is organized crime. And yet, nobody has ever come across evidence of such a racket. Even people who have studied the lives of beggars say they have heard of no such thing. So why do we choose to believe that begging rackets exist, and that what is right in front of our eyes is not actual desperation?

In India’s version of the Covid-19 pandemic, hunger is as much of a tragedy as the disease itself, even in a relatively well-administered city like Delhi. Among the hardest hit are migrant daily wage earners, unemployed people, and the homeless. This video, shot on April 18 in Delhi, shows people waiting for food in a two-kilometer-long queue in the scorching sun:

State and local governments, faith groups, volunteer groups, and non-profits are trying to provide food to such people. But 26 days into India’s lockdown, it is obvious that many are still falling through the cracks. Stories about attacks on, and deaths of, the poor are surfacing with increasing frequency.

For example, 29-year-old Gangamma, a migrant construction worker, was forced to leave Bangalore when work came to a halt. After walking 300 kilometers, she died of hunger on her way home to Raichur. Mukesh, a house painter in his early thirties, in Gurgaon, near Delhi, sold his cellphone for Rs 2,500 ($33) to buy flour, sugar, rice, and a fan for his four children so that they could sleep comfortably in the rising heat – and then ended his life. His neighbors pitched in for his last rites, because his family had no money. Sudarshan Rasal, a 49-year-old taxi driver in Mumbai, died of acute respiratory distress after being turned away by eight hospitals. Despite coming from a locality officially declared a Covid-19 hotspot, Rasal remained undiagnosed, because doctors cannot take a swab from a dead man. 

The image below, of a starving man, was taken near the Yamuna river in North Delhi on April 15, by Sunil Kumar Aledia, whose Facebook profile identifies him as convenor of the National Forum for Homeless Housing Rights:

There are two parallel Indias at the best of times, but the Covid-19 pandemic is making it harder and harder to avoid what we pretend not to see most of the time. One India is missing its maids and drivers, virtue-signaling about paying them through the lockdown, rediscovering the kitchen, and cheerfully taking on the challenge of trying to recreate from its limited pantry the taste of that amazing crepe they had that one time at that tiny creperie in Paris. The other India is trying desperately not to die.

Tomorrow I plan to go out to buy essentials. I don’t expect to find the coffee filters or vanilla extract that I “need”. But I think I’ll be okay. 

New Delhi, April 20, 2020

(Video credit: YouTube/ Scroll) (Photo Credit: Facebook / Sunil Kumar Aledia)

Attack on Democracy: CAA and NCR expose the hypocrisy of Modi and the BJP Government

The BJP and Narendra Modi have been feeding the message to the Indian public that Modi is the “God” saving the persecuted Hindus in Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Bangladesh. Since December 19, 2019, Twitter feeds have been filled with responses to Citizenship Amendment Act protests, some calling CAA a lease on life for Hindu and other minorities in Pakistan, while others decrying it as a giant paw trampling India’s secular democratic constitution. The Modi government’s cunning launch of CAA with the National Citizenship Registry needs to be seen within the larger picture of heartless right wing governments wielding heartless policies that deny justice to minorities, migrants, refugees and asylum seekers, as well as promote policies that don’t mitigate climate change and global warming. 

Why is the CAA undemocratic? The BJP government argues that CAA secures India from Islamists. In selecting who is the “good’ foreigner and who is not, the BJP is creating a false dichotomy, and selectively eliminating citizens on account of their religion. Is it any wonder that Muslim citizens feel targeted and unsafe? Moreover, the lack of serious accountability by Modi after the Gujarat pogrom has deeply scarred not just Muslims as it has left many Indians questioning the policies of the Modi government that is driven by its Hindutva ideology equating Hindu and India. One need not watch videos of the protests to know that Muslims are bracing under the crosshairs of right wing groups. The echoes of Nazi Germany’s “Aryan nation” are loud and clear in the current context. 

A common theme of all the heartless right wing leaders: Elimination. The Modi government’s National Citizenship Registry came at the heels of the CAA. These together with the speeches made by different BJP politicians spread a climate of fear. Upon seeing anti-CAA protests, Amit Shah, Minister of Home Affairs, came on mainstream radio and announced that drones will surveil every protest site. After the protest at Aligarh Muslim University, Modi said the videos clearly show who the protesters are, since they were wearing Muslim caps. These statements instigate fear and retaliation which result in protests, police brutality and loss of life. Witness the police brutality against students and professors at Jawaharlal Nehru University and Jamia Millia Islamia University. As Mukul Kesavan writes, “The Delhi police made an example of Jamia as a warning to India’s Muslims. When that didn’t go according to plan, the same police travelled several miles across the city to help make an example of a university that the BJP sees as the institutional incarnation of the secularism that might yet thwart its dreams of a Hindu nation”.

The Assam Accord signed in 1966 and amended in 1971 after the Bangladesh war, states that the refugees, both Hindu and Muslim, from the war who came into Assam between 1966 and 1971 should go back to Bangladesh. The Modi government extended the cut-off date to 2014 in order to increase its vote bank. According to the Assam Accord, a sizable number who were illegal Hindu who did not go back to Bangladesh after 1971 (since they did not feel secure in Bangladesh) would be considered illegal. Since the BJP ideology equates Hindu with Hindu nation, they devised CAA to provide a point of entry for these Hindus. Obviously, the Modi government could not have a policy for just Assam; so when CAA was applied to the whole country it showed the BJP government’s hypocrisy. The National Citizenship Registry and CAA together expose major flaws:

  1. India became a secular republic after 1947. The British mandate of partition based on religious separation of India into India and Pakistan resulted in tremendous bloodshed. The current CAA is following this old historic British thinking and is creating fear among Muslims about their security. 
  2. How can a secular democracy declare selective rescue of the persecuted and not include Muslims? This pits Muslims against other groups.
  3. If the BJP bleeding hearts feel for the persecuted minorities in Muslim countries, why aren’t they including persecuted Muslims across the world to come into the country and claim citizenship? Why is the BJP engaging in a double speak where they are welcoming persecuted Hindus and at the same time saying the country cannot carry a large influx of migrants?
  4. Both CAA and NCR show BJP’s brand of “cultural nationalism.” As Sadanand Menon writes, “Its cunning agenda is to evacuate all ideas of political rights from the idea of a nation state and transplant in its place ideas of cultural rights.”

We can find some reprieve in the protest marches across the country. Although Amit Shah is insisting that CAA and National Citizenship Registry are not related, we know that both these policies worked contiguously in Assam to “select” the Muslims who immigrated there post 1971 and put them in detention centers since they could not prove that they are Indian citizens. People are highly alert that this template will be used for the rest of India. Hindus who are in the detention centers will obviously hope for the CAA to rescue them, so they can go back to their lives. This selectivity clearly shows the chaos created by the Modi government as a result of its harmful ideology. Not only is it undermining the values of Hinduism but it is showing the worst kind of human rights abuses that can happen when ideology and country are equated.

(Photo Credit: Anushree Fadnavis / Reuters / The Wire)

Where is the global outrage: #FreeKashmir #StandWithKashmir

(Photo Credit: Times of India)

Where is the global outrage: #StandWithJNU

JNU Students Union President Aishe Ghosh after being assaulted by masked assailants

(Image Credit: Satracomics / Facebook) (Photo Credit: Vipin Kumar / Hindustan Times)

We will resist: India rejects CAA

(Credit: Feminism in India / Instagram: Creatives Against CAA)

Sunday’s factory fire in New Delhi was a planned massacre of workers: We know

A factory fire broke out Sunday, December 8, 2019, in a factory that produced school bags, purses, and toys, in the Anaj Mandi neighborhood, in New Delhi. At least 43 workers were killedA factory fire broke out Saturday, July 13, 2019, in a hardware factory in the Jhilmil industrial area, in New Delhi. “Only” three workers were killed.  A factory fire broke out Saturday, January 20, 2018, in a gunpowder factory in the Bawana Industrial area, in New Delhi. Seventeen workers were killed. Every time, government officials proclaim their sadness. Every time, the media describes the “tragedy”, interviews relatives weeping at the morgue and the hospital. Every time, explanations, alibis, “explain” what happened. Narrow streets. Inaccessible spaces. Every time … That fire was a planned massacre. The building was a death trap waiting to explode, the workers, mostly migrant Muslim from Bihar, were slated for the sacrificial burning. As one witness explained, speaking of the workers, “Their only fault was they were poor.” He paused and then concluded that the workers’ lives were “a bigger tragedy than their death.” What is tragedy in this world?

We know what happened Sunday: the factory was illegal; the building far exceeded height limitations of the area; of 18 rooms in the building, 15 are rented out to different entities running illegal factories, and, of course, there are no leases or any other documents; there was never any police verification of anything, as there should have been; the building was packed, in violation of city rules, with hazardous and inflammable items; goods blocked one emergency exit, which was locked from the outside; the other exit was impassible thanks to packages piled up in front of it; other exits were locked from the outside; windows were barred and could not be opened; firefighters had to break down the outer gate and then the doors to get in. We know.

We know that the workers lived and slept in the factory itself, because their wages were so low that that’s what they could afford; that almost all the workers asleep on the third floor died, slowly and painfully, of suffocation, many of them on their phones, calling loved ones, friends, pleading for help, saying farewell. We know.

We know that now people will be investigated, arrested, even convicted; that the workers in the other illegal factories in other illegal buildings in the Anaj Mandi neighborhood are afraid that they will lose their jobs. Anaj Mandi has become “interesting”. We know this. This is modern urban and national political economic development. We know.

We do not know if we will remember this particular fire a week from now, a month or year from now. Maybe. Maybe not. But we know another factory is waiting to explode, and when it does, the Great Men will intone tragedy this and sorrow that. Tell them to stop. Tell them, we know. We know. 

(Photo Credit: New York Times / AP / Dinesh Joshi)