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Farmers come with their worries to Delhi but demonetisation overtakes them

The cash economy in tatters, farmers say there is no way out for the landless labourer whose subsistence has been severely impacted by demonetisation

There is an Italian connection to demonetisation and its ill-effects on farmers in India. And no, it has nothing to do with Sonia Gandhi.

India’s farmers are now putting up with what was documented in the Italian novel Fontamara, which narrated how Italian peasants were eliminated systematically by the Mussolini administration. In Fontamara, one assault against peasants would be closely followed by another assault. In all stages of assault, the fascist administration would ensure rural poor that they are being assaulted in the “national interest”. They would use religion, intellectuals and the administration to convince the poor that all “compromises”, “harsh actions” and administrative actions are for the betterment of the poor. So when a wealthy contractor, also the mayor of an Italian town, diverts the river, a settlement is reached where the contractor is given three-fourths of the total water and peasants are given remaining three-fourths of the water. And the peasants are told that justice has been done to them.

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Now cut to Delhi’s Jantar Mantar, where marginal farmers  and agricultural workers from all over India gathered to attend the Kisan Rally. Most of them are Adivasis, Dalits and OBCs. Decades of arduous work haven’t increased their wealth. On the contrary, many of them are more impoverished when compared to their situation some decades back. Drastic reduction of public spending in agriculture, a policy loved equally by Manmohan Singh and  Narendra Modi, has made them  depend on moneylenders. Massive fluctuations in the price of agricultural products have ensured that they cannot repay the money they borrowed from the money lenders.

But as Anand, a peasant from Maharashtra’s Vidarbha, said, “Currency crisis created by Modi can kill Indian farmers.”

“Our region is notorious for farm distress and suicides. People are struggling to live. Currency crisis has aggravated the crisis. Marginal farmers who borrowed money from moneylenders are in great trouble. They borrowed money for doing agricultural operations in harvest season. They couldn’t use old currency and were in serious trouble.”

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“Mere opening of Jan Dhan accounts have not made access to credit any easier and most transactions are still through hard cash. Throughout rural India, we found farmers who wanted to sell their produce in Rythu Bazaars. But they couldn’t find buyers. The problem has been particularly acute for farmers seeking to sell perishable goods like vegetables, fruits, flowers as well as for the fishing community seeking to sell their catch,” said Vijoo Krishnan, the national joint secretary of the All-India Kisan Sabha, who led the Kisan Jatha from Virudhunagar in Tamil Nadu to New Delhi.

“The peasantry keeps reserve money for investment in agriculture, household expenditure. In some cases, the pension is received in Rs 500 or Rs 1000 notes. At times, it could be the amount earned from their toil. The fact that most in front of banks were either poor peasants, agricultural workers or rural poor rather than the rich proves it is only a move seeking to create an illusion of fighting corruption,” Krishnan said.

“Poor farmers in the country will remember Modi for systematically ruining their livelihood. Modi is aiming for corporate agriculture. Anger against Modi was evident in his home state Gujarat. Farmers in Gujarat actively participated in our Jatha. Farmers are cursing Modi. Modi will have to pay a huge political price for his pro-corporate policies,” said P. Krishnaprasad, who was the captain of the Kisan Jatha from Kanyakumari.

The Fontamara story

Written by Ignazio Silone, Fontamara captures the life of poor Italian peasants during Mussolini’s fascist regime. Silone was an anti-fascist political activist with firsthand knowledge of how Italian fascism ruined peasant livelihood. The story is set in a fictitious Italian village called Fontamara.

Silone depicts how a fascist regime can exclude a majority of the people from the democratic political process as well as smother them economically.

Fontamara is largely narrated by a peasant called Giuva. Giuva tells us how their daily life would be made atrocious by Mussolini’s monumental excesses and mistakes. Even if peasants were suffering like hell, Blackshirts, the paramilitary wing of the fascist party, would ensure that they remain patriotic.

There is an interesting part in the novel which would tell the intensity of perversions that fascists were inflicting on peasants. On a fine day, goons of a big landowner/contractor connected to fascists would divert the flow of the river in the village. Peasants had traditionally used water in this river to irrigate their land.

Now they are helpless. They decided to go to the mayor to complain. They learn that the mayor has been replaced by a fascist nominee. Peasants learn that podesta is a wealthy and powerful contractor, who recently migrated to their place expecting more fortunes.

Peasants, mostly women, would try to speak to the  contractor but in vain. They were offered help by a lawyer called Don Circonstanza who was dining at the house of the contractor. Circonstanza would introduce himself as a friend and well-wisher of peasants. Once he gains the trust of the peasants, Circonstanza proposes a compromise.

The compromise is simple. The contractor would get three-fourths of the total water in the river and peasants would get three-fourths of the remaining water. Circonstanza would tell the illiterate peasants that both parties are getting equal amount (three-fourths of the water). He tricks the peasants to sign an agreement.

The peasants return to the village. The next morning the agents of the contractor come and intensify work related to the river diversion.

When some of the peasants get agitated, the local parish priest comes to the village and convinces the peasants that they should not fight the contractor. Some peasants notice that the priest came in the contractor’s car. Eventually, the peasants are thrown out of their land and the contractor accumulates more land.

The Kisan Sangharsh Rally was in Delhi on November 24 and march to Parliament but Prime Minister Narendra Modi didn’t see their anger. Instead, he said he will save farmers at a meeting in Punjab’s Bathinda the next day.

The Kisan Sangharsh Rally comprised four Kisan Sangarsh Jathas from Kolkata, Jammu, Kanyakumari and Virudhunagar that converged in Delhi. The rally was organised with the slogan, “Save Agriculture, Save Peasantry and Save Country”. The call of the rally was “No to Suicides, Unite to Fight Against Neo-Liberal Policies and Communal Forces”. According to the rally organisers, “the Jathas travelled across more than 10,000 km over the last 22 days interacting with the farmers and rural poor.”

Will Modi ever understand that he is the anti-hero in the Indian version of Fontamara? Or shun it since it is Italian?

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