Second Edition: Mar, 2021

Lennon Stella

Dalit Women Workers in Punjab's Agrarian Crisis

The ongoing farm protest movement and the demand to repeal the three farm laws have raised a fundamental question on the role of agriculture in India's development model in the future. But there are many hidden layers of the agrarian crisis that are yet to be uncovered.  The ongoing discussions have also made it clear that the agrarian crisis is not limited to remunerative prices, huge debt burden, or access to markets. But it is fundamentally about farming as an occupation for an overwhelming majority of rural people and the survival of agriculture in its present form.  A related, and most significant question is about the future of landless farm laborers, and the future of Dalit women farm laborers. Agrarian crisis is today a festering wound on the body politic, the pain of which is borne equally by landless Dalit working women. Today, land use is changing due to rapid changes in agricultural land relations and development projects. At many places, farm land is being acquired for development projects and the farmers are struggling for fair compensation for their land. But the newly pushed Land Acquisition Act, and amendments to the law to set up industries on Shamlat and Panchayat lands are also having a profound effect on the rights of the rural dalits and their right to bid on one-third of Shamlat lands. With lack of employment opportunities and the depletion of land in villages, the farm laborers are being turned into perennial casual labour.  Men are forced to work in the cities while the women workers are left behind in the villages to fend for themselves.In the villages, there is a severe shortage of employment for women farm laborers. Our surveys show that in Punjab, women farm laborers get a maximum of 150 days of farm work in a year and the average wage is far lower than the stipulated minimum wage. Women’s wage is also lower than the male wage. The result is that the women laborers are pushed into very low-wage, bone-crushing, low paid occupations such as tending of animals, cleaning of cow sheds, cooking, cleaning, storing and other care work. These occupations command little economic value because while it is labor intensive hard work, it is considered an extension of the housework, which is seen as women’s responsibility which has no value in the labor market. Every woman laborer enters the labor market with the disadvantage of her gender but Dalit woman laborer also suffers from an additional caste disadvantage. The worth of Dalit woman’s labor is so low that their status in the labor market is reduced to insignificance. The evil eye of the landowners, obscene language, sexual assaults, violence on Dalit women are the result of the increasing power of the land owners and the marginalised social existence of dalit working women. A worrying example of the social degradation of Dalit women has emerged in a recent UN report, “Turning promises into action: Gender equality in the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development”. This 2018 report records that the average age of a Dalit woman in India is 14.6 years less than that of an upper caste woman. How do we understand this statistic? Who has robbed Dalit women of their 14 years and 6 months? Why is the government not responding? Why are the policy makers not held to account? Why are we as a society not ashamed?Public policy research did not pay any attention to Dalit women labor when the so-called Green Revolution was ushered in.  What happened to farm labor? How did their means of livelihood disappear? How are they making a living or managing to send their girls to school?  How will the next generation survive? No policy maker asked these questions or done anything in this regard. But that does not mean that these questions were not asked. In Punjab, these questions were raised in the democratic, cultural and political mobilisations.  These questions resonated in the poems and songs of the legendary dalit poet Sant Ram Udasi who composed songs of the working daughters.  They appeared in Gursharan Singh's inspiring plays. These became part of several unions’ charters.More recently, issues such as caste-based sexual harassment and violence against Dalit women, the disappearing rights of Dalits on the common land and other shared resources, caste atrocities and humiliation, and land acquisition have become the basis of organized resistance. With all these struggles, Dalit working women, and especially the younger generation, have entered the contested political space.  Courageous young women like Nodeep Kaur and Rajveer Kaur are raising their voice for justice.  We must stand behind them and add our voice to the just demands of rights over Shamlat land, equal right to minimum wage, fair rates for farm labor, land for housing, compensation for farm labor suicides and redistribution of surplus land under the Land Ceiling Act. The heroic farm struggle waged by the farmers and workers has given hope; hope that a new just, and more equal society is possible.  The ultimate success, however, is directly linked to how the demands of Dalits are articulated in this ongoing struggle.

Lennon Stella

Passing through the Farmers’ Movement 2020-21

Navtej Bharti writes: Wherever I am, I’m at the borders of Delhi.These lines speak to today’s collective Punjabi subconscious in a poetic way. After sowing wheat, the farmers' caravans have been camped outside the capital for the last three months since November 26, 2020. A lot had happened during this period. The barricades stopped, but the emotions crossed. As Babu Rajab Ali used to describe such a situation - the pampered children finally came down from the attic, the agile bodies jumped, and the skin endured the water-canon splashes. The tear gas shells were tackled by bare hands. The seasons changed, the wheat asked for first water, the guardians of the crops tended to them, and then returned somewhat permanently; more heads joined, the caravan grew. We slowly learned the ways of the social media world, and dampened the noises made by the parrots of the ruler. The movement was labeled that made our dissent more directed. It was a test and we passed with flying colors. The union leaders were invited for meetings. They waited for hours in the government halls, and declined to eat the lunch offered to them. They carried their  langar-prasada or lunch with them. They asked simple questions - yes or no? The cabinet proposed amendments, but why come this far and return with half cooked arguments? These scenes passed through our hearts, minds, eyes and ears. If all the clauses are to be amended, then what is the need to maintain the structure of the law, what is the point? Perhaps, it is the king's reputation that is at stake. Everyone read, listened, watched, spoke, and thought about the historic uprising against this government failure. From the borders of Delhi, every village, office, hut, station, bus stand, religious places, social gatherings, every place got engaged in the same discussion. And everyone wondered - what hard-time, what difficulty, what challenge, what courage brought us here?Broadly speaking, the reason behind this grand movement to have been the enactment of the Agriculture Ordinance in June 2020, which forcefully made laws by September. The country has been in lockdown since March due to the Corona pandemic. People living in their own homes were still speculating about the truth of the disease, because the only way to avoid it was to conspire so much that the man became afraid of the man, all of them were made sick by precautionary measures before falling ill. The real infected were treated as untouchables. The whole world economy began to shake. Plans of years scattered in weeks. A plenary session of Parliament was convened. The whole earth was shaken. We are not out of the longi-latitudes. The country's growth rate has been negative at 23.9 percent, with the single sector agriculture growing at 3.4 per cent, a trend that has attracted the attention of large Indian investors. The ground is prepared for private players to play freely, meaning it is brought under the legal framework. Protests have been going on in Punjab since the days when laws were just ordinances. People of Punjab sit on toll plazas, and then block railway tracks. State government said suggestively that there would be a shortage of coal, just a sweet threat of not getting electricity, but in the meanwhile the agitation got matured, the artists have joined. Shambhu gathering is held. The authors returned their prizes, heard the hint of resignation from the ministry, and so on.“Delhi Challo” call was given for November 26. Reaching the capital, the outrage seems to have breached many barricades, filled in the gaps, merged the neighbouring states, merged into a united peasant front and the organizations seem to have taken the time and effort to bring it to this level. For a whole quarter now, our yards, our kitchens, our living, our cooking, melodies, excitements, worries, spirituality, pilgrimage, festive-days, have all been on the streets of Delhi. Let's verify (certify) our relationship with the people who are sitting on the highway in trolley-homes lined up.The first question that kept popping up. Whose fight is this? Who will fight it? There is a rough answer - farmers. The issue is not so lonely, so every hot, tired, tired, stubborn, stubborn citizen is involved in this fight. Who are the farmers now? Those who cultivate the land, sow seeds and produce crops, but do not trade it. In English, we have different words for these two - Peasant (farm labourer) and Farmer (landowner). But the fear of losing land and unfixed price of crops should be with the landlord, not the carrier. In fact, the depth of the question also wants to ask what is the pursuit of this farmer, what religion, religion, caste, state and what language he speaks, what place does he have in the society? We have a question, we have to answer. Remember, there is an ear-ringer sitting on all the tones of our words, who wanders around looking for distances. Rare is the support of the participants.There was a lot of discussion in this context. Sometimes expressing concerns over the red period of history, sometimes doubting the performance of the leaders, sometimes not welcoming the multicoloured fabric of the movement, etc. It is very important for the success of the struggle that they be addressed in a timely and clear manner, otherwise there will be a possibility of entanglement in the unaddressed, unthinkable, unsecured threads and this will be fruitful to the ambushing elements. Talks should continue, both with internal support and with the external power.While the main issue is the repeal of the three agricultural laws, the Electricity Amendment Bill, the Environment Bill 2020 and the implementation of the MSP for commodities, yet  by Products can be witnessed meanwhile in the process of this protest. When the editor of a well-known Punjabi magazine asks what will come out of the front, the watchful eyes of love-town will see for themselves that from the peasant movement we have a legacy of labour, humility, patience, morality, help, coincidence, cultural and human commonalities are re-practicing. We are spreading from self to everything. We were able to talk about the good of all, but we are getting energized by seeing the reality of these practices. We are becoming eyewitnesses of such a grand fair, in which every age, class, religion, caste, gender is involved. Gender roles based on caste and class affiliations are crumbling. Equality is being served in Sangat-Pangat. A new political consciousness is emerging in the face of the prevailing dirty politics. Our world has widened, alliances have grown taller than rifts, heartfelt curiosity is giving rise to serious questions, conversations and entertainment content have standardized. Entertainment topics have become numb. The real enemy has been identified, and minor disputes have been settled out of court. According to Punjabi poet Tanveer, two farmers from his neighbouring village Bappiana, who were at loggerheads, went on strike and started speaking. "Delhi has lost, they have won the case." The hearts that are being cleansed, the emotions that are being purified, shouldn't all this be considered an achievement?                            ਗੁਰੂ ਅਰਜਨ ਦੇ ਕਹਿਣ ਵਾਂਗੂੰ                           ਸਭੇ ਸਾਝੀਵਾਲ ਸਦਾਇਨੁ                            ਕੋਇ ਨਾ ਦਿਸੇ ਬਾਹਰਾ ਜੀਓ। Being a transparent self, the other is also beginning to make sense. Abandonment of petty issues The whole cultural landscape that is being mobilized for a major ideological war needs to be decoded. To say to the ruler that your policies are not acceptable, of course, requires courage, the source of which is the partnership (brotherhood), which already exists in the peasant life; there is the concept of Siri-Sanjhi(Punjabi word for sharer). All the radiance belongs to AK, because there is no defeat while the brothers are alive, all the courage belongs to the brothers. Prof. Sukhdev Singh Sirsa writes ‘ballad of warrior’.Now the brave hero needs brothers with him, not arms.And Veer means not only brother, but also a warrior. Now that he has bowed down with his beard, according to the Waris Shah, when the field of love has come to a standstill, it will be considered bad for the warriors to shake their heads, whether it is faith or physical (physical) or responsibility, at any level, fugitive and enduring. Details will be kept.The next point is how to fight here, what the strategy will be. First, this is not an armed war. This is the struggle waged against injustice, untruth, falsehood, which is still going on since Guru Nanak’s time and even earlier and it is directed towards the truthful. And this is a long journey towards Sachyar. The English word movement means to be in motion, to keep on moving. Because the struggle is long, because the fields are scattered, because the seasons are dry, because the enemy is big, so every small and big restraint is required in preparation, as langar Veer from Malerkotla used to say, “Now it is known that We have to stay, so we start using steel utensils, we will spend the same money on food grains, and with disposables, the problem will only increase for us.” People of soil, live a simple life. Those who worked with hands know how to eat and drink with palms. And when popcorn langar is given in dupatta while passing, it is believed that sustainable alternatives are being thought of. Only Power-eyes don’t like public understanding, public wisdom, and public awareness. So they have only one option left, to chase away the agitators, to dig a foot, to dig a hole there, but one thing is for sure, the house cannot go out without a secret.So at the stage where the movement is at, not only the commander, but also the eagle eye of every soldier is needed, because during this period we got trained as responsible agitators. Leaders' communication with the agitators and people's faith in the leadership must be maintained at every possible cost, as the most important commitment now is to fight for the reduction of personal identities and the whole process at the center. One statement, one action, one decision, one tear now affects the whole movement. The movement is not a static thing; rather, it is a living dynamic phenomenon, the moves of which will continue to be talked about. Every turn is more complicated than before, each day will bring a different challenge from yesterday.The answer to the above grievances has to be given in a disciplined manner. Examine every aspect, move forward with a lofty goal, including disagreements / differences, be it verbal, but in clear balanced language and respectful tone, do not lose the aesthetics of pronunciation. Now this struggle is of country, so it is not wise to pay attention to provincial, regional or regional constraints and unreal divisions like rural-urban, left-right, literate-illiterate, youth- aged etc. Let every man ask oneself if it’s any trembling. The government's intention is to spread fear among the agitators; it will show its strength and go so far as to call us self-defence violent. They have mercenary police, mercenary media, a lot of mercenary villages, they have the power to buy, but we have no intention of being sold. The events of January 26 were a calculated government ploy to derail us, to tear us apart, to disorient us. Every time the deceiver is not an outsider, sometimes he carries self-conceit like the hero of Peelu. Cheaply dismissing local real uprisings in the face of major  revolution’s dream calls into question our far-sightedness and commitment to philosophy. The incident once took everyone by surprise, those who felt it was inappropriate, their words were silenced, their morale was shaken, but even those who expressed temporary happiness began to tremble quickly, no valid argument came.Well! This should be considered as the turning point of the route, where it was to be recognized that sometimes it is wise to choose the narrowest way, the green signal of open roads leads to evil. Have you forgotten the testimony of the young princes when they entered the state court through a small window, but with such a plan that they do not bow their heads, to solve the riddle of politics is how they have done it? Even so, owning one is still beyond the reach of the average person. The government's intentions were foiled and the situation was brought under control. Now is the time to consider Carstani as an opportunity to rethink the nature of the movement. It is now more profound, alert, conscious, serious, and alert. We understand the dialectical relationship of sensation (tears) with language (claims, slogans, speeches). Be careful! Beware! Now we have saved. You just have to be more discriminating with the help you render toward other people.                   Get up, don't snore.                    You don't afford/need this sleep.  Time will demand accountability these days from us. Before facing about to harvest crops, we must have something at hand, which we have to sow and collect. May a prosperous Vaisakhi come for all the farmers. High Spirits! Long live! (Photo Credits: Avani Rai)

Lennon Stella

Petrichor

Write it, writeHistory counts its skeletons in round numbersA thousand and one remains a thousandAs though the one had never existed.- Wislawa SzymborskaWhenever a struggle is fought, it is fought keeping an aim in the mind. The aim fuels and leads the movement. Various farmer unions of Punjab had decided, in May 2020, that their main and bigger concern was economic. On October 27 2020, the farmer unions from all over India held a meeting at Gurudwara Rakabganj Sahib where they formed a coalition under the name Sanyukt Kisan Morcha (SKM). A seven member coordination committee was formed to run this united front. The committee comprises the All India Kisan Sangharsh Coordination Committee and representatives from various farm unions of Punjab. The demands of this economic struggle unite farmers, labourers and the consumer. The main demand of this movement is to get the government to repeal the three ‘farm laws’. Apart from this, legalizing the minimum support price, repeal of Electricity Bill 2020 and removal of anti-farmer clauses from the Environment Bil,l are also their demands. Karti Dharti’s objective is to reiterate and emphasize the ambition and resolve of the movement. The movement is not just economical in nature but also an opposition to political particularism of the government. These protests have transcended the boundaries of  caste, religion, community, region and political division. There is no place for selfish communal extremism in the current struggle.Whereas some self centred elements have left no stone unturned to dissipate the demands of people, on the other hand, the movement observed a Maha Panchayat at Jagraon on February 12. On February 16, Sir Chotu Ram’s birth anniversary was celebrated. Mahapanchayats at Chandigarh and Barnala on February 20 and 21 respectively, were organized. People enthusiastically joined these rallies and actively participated to demand their rights. While these gatherings instilled hope among people, participation and involvement of farm union and labour union leaders served as an answer, a pretty decent one, to the questions that were being raised whilst interrogating unions. In Barnala, Joginder Singh Ugrahan repeatedly mentioned and brought up the issues of illegal detention of political activists. He announced the upcoming plan of action.On February 23, Chaha Ajit Singh’s birth anniversary will be celebrated together by BKU- Ekta Ugrahan and SKM. On February 27, Ugrahan appealed to people to head to Delhi. When Ugrahan announced that Women’s Day on March 8 will be celebrated in Delhi, it took SKM leaders, who were present on the stage hardly any seconds to decide that the entire protest will observe and celebrate the occasion.The Lok Panchayats that are taking place throughout Punjab have served two important purposes. First, various farm unions of Punjab have respected their differences and chosen to put them aside for the protests and show a united front. The second outcome is the consent and contribution of the people of Punjab. It is this partaking and unity that strengthens and fuels the leaders of our struggle. The courage to label Delhi police’s cases and government’s fury as ineffective stems from a faith that is sourced from lakhs of people who are standing together in this struggle.Punjabi to English Translation by Gursahiba Gill

Lennon Stella

Water and Soil

We are raindrops, pouring as a stringAnd enliven the leavesNazam Hussein Syed’s lines refer to the petrichor - the fragrance of earth immediately after it rains. Up in the sky, the water droplets playing in the air feel the thirst of the earth. And it pours. The soil that longed for this union, emanates the fragrance of the pleasure it finally receives. The soil resurrects and produces the crops. What is this union? What does it do? This intimacy does not follow any pomp and show. Intimacy is the identity of self in nature. The moment it happens, a home establishes. Petrichor sprinkles everywhere. This kind of intimacy does not need a hiding place. It is the fallaciousness that needs camouflage to cover its karma. The coupling of water and soil is the truth and this truth makes its presence known in the form of the fragrance.We are the rain drops. This declaration is an exertion of our identity. This exertion, however, has humility too. Being just a drop of rain is modest. A single drop is useless. It is the string of millions of drops that makes rain. Rain cleanses. It bathes out the surfaces of the leaves that accumulate dust over time. They gather dust and lose their identity to the outside world. Probably, they forget what they were. It becomes our job to wash away that layer of otherness. We fill out the empty sacks and dishes. We replenish; reassert that our focus is to fight for truth. We refurbish the spirits.The rain drops are born with this aim - to wash away the impurities and to relinquish the thirst. The true purpose is to serve and in turn give away the fragrance of union. The betrothal happens both inside and outside thus closing the distance between the two. After meeting the beloved, when the tears flow down, this distance becomes nil. What are humans after all? Aren’t humans water too? When one is untainted, like rain, one works to stop others from befouling too. Similarly, we raindrops are here to re-transform others to be alive and purge the object like sternness.(Photo credits: Randeep Maddoke)

Lennon Stella

Koh-i-Noor

While contesting the Mansa Municipal Council elections for the first time, I felt some new experiences.On one hand, other parties’ campaign included noisy revelry, liquor, langar, and buying votes for as much as INR 15 lakhs, on the other hand were my colleagues who arranged basic ration for tea and gas cylinders for cooking as per their own capabilities. A rickshaw puller helped with free services for transporting, and banners, posters, chairs etc. were funded by friends & allies.Instead of campaigning in the traditional way, the revolutionary plays were performed and rallies were held at common places. Nearest and dearest families arranged for ceremonies to donate fruits and other goods at their own expenses. Women played an important role in the door to door campaigning and at the polling booths. The revolutionary stars shone bright during the all night events called “Jaago”. In the results today the labour class stood up for their rights and for truth. Our team managed to make a name for itself at third place. I will always be proud of these 104 Kohinoors (votes). My colleagues stood firm even in the face of strong whirlwinds and managed to save their identity and existence.May these diamonds always shine!(photo credits: Nav Rahi)

Lennon Stella

One More Thing

At around 10 AM, the announcements made rounds at the Barnala grain market. The volunteers were being addressed. There were arrangements for snacks for the volunteers on one side while those who fed themselves boarded the trolleys and jeeps and drove towards their assigned locations. The police personnel were standing under the tree shades as the clouds grazed by the sun in the sky.Jhanda Singh Jethuke and Harinder Bindu were looking after the arrangements since the morning. Volunteers tested the sound system and reported that the sound was echoing and was not clear at various places. Jethuke took to the stage and started to address the issue. There were mostly police in the audience, but the sound was to be tested at the same pitch the leaders would be using for the speeches throughout the day. “Wheat and rice will be sold at the rate of gold. The government is also indulging in propaganda around the three farm laws. They are telling the rural dalit laborers that the plan is to take the land from the farmers and distribute it among them,” he started to speak. He appealed to the sound system company to fine tune the system so that the voice reached each and every ear without any noise.Jethuke would give the same lecture again, four hours later, when the masses would show up in the packed trolleys, school buses, and trucks. He spoke again when the people raised yellow, green and red flags and their rightful voices against the three farm laws and against the new labor codes. The idea behind the grand rally was to make the united farmer-laborer voice revergrate in every corner of the world. More than a hundred thousand people listened to the speakers intently. The laborer and farmer flags flew free in the open air.In the past few weeks, the unity of the morcha and the integrity of the union leaders have been questioned. Joginder Singh Ugrahan, state president of Bharti Kisan Union Ekta Ugrahan, which is not a part of morcha but is aligned with its focus and program, made it clear at another rally in Chandigarh on February 20 that the morcha leaders were not running away from their responsibilities. He explicitly elaborated on the way morcha was taking a lead on the legal matters to free the detained protesters from the Delhi jails. It was Ugrahan who gave a call for the Barnala grand rally. Kulwant Singh Sandhu, Ruldu Singh Mansa and Balbir Singh Rajewal were some of the prominent leaders who appeared at the Barnala rally. Their presence was a decent answer to the spinned narratives churned out by both the national and state media.This decency was an extension of the mid-morning stage address given to an empty audience space. “People are not walls; they will sit. The sound will echo regardless. I request the sound managers to not postpone the matter to when the people will arrive to listen to the leaders. We need to find a solution now,” Jethuke said. There was a plinth behind the stage which was chained and locked to a pillar. The lock had a sign of the Tempoo Union on it. Jethuke appealed to the speakers that the owners must remove the plinth. “People are going to sit on it and feel comfortable. It won’t be possible then to claim the plinth.” However, no one showed up for about ten minutes. The lock had to be broken. It was announced that the union would pay for the broken lock. By this time, the first caravans of people started to arrive. By noon, the growers of the grains occupied every inch of the grain market. People were listening to the uncorrupted, unbroken voices about their democratic and economic rights.The one who ties death to his shoulders And sprays the fieldsThe one who tries to reach a decent earningAnd is crucifiedBut he is known forHunger and dejectionThis Laalo of Nanak is calledA mazdoor (laborer)He is the rightful owner of the butter and creamBut he eats dry grainHe picks the grain kernels And breathes the huskGross inequality is consideredA norm hereThis Laalo of Nanak is calledA mazdoor.The rally began with the poetry performance by the Rasoolpur Kavishri Jatha.(photo credits: Nav Rahi)