June 14, 2020

Agri Workers Protest for Food, Work & Social Security

AGRICULTURE workers organised protests throughout the country on June 4 to demand food, work and social security for the rural masses in the times of crises. The protest demonstrations were organised from village to district level in 15 states. Through this struggle rural proletariat raised their demands and conveyed its message clear and loud: the wealth of the country belongs to its people and we shall have it; we need food, employment, education, health and social security for people.

These protests were organised across the country in front of the respective district collectorates, BDO offices, other relevant administrative offices, panchayat offices and MNREGA work sites. Protests were organised in 12 districts of West Bengal and in almost all rural districts of Andhra Pradesh, Telangana, Tamil Nadu and Karnataka. Effective protest demonstrations were organised at district, block and panchayat levels in the Hindi states like Uttar Pradesh (33 districts), Bihar (14 districts), Punjab (16 districts), Haryana (7 districts) and Rajasthan (7 districts). In Kerala, protests were organised on May 26 in 11,401 units attended by more than 69,000 people. While states including Maharashtra and Telangana saw demonstrations at work sites of workers engaged in employment scheme, labourers flocked to panchayat bhavan in some districts of Uttar Pradesh. Demonstrations were also organised at a few places in Odisha and Madhya Pradesh. AIKS and CITU have given their support to the call and they also actively participated in the protests. In some districts, they organised independent demonstrations in support of the demands of agricultural workers and rural masses.

Experience of the last three months during the lockdown shows that even though the coronavirus does not differentiate between the rich and the poor, people from different religions and castes, the measures undertaken to stop the infection, like unplanned lockdown are mainly affecting the poor, working class, peasants and the marginalised sections of India. However, it is also true that the workers and the poor are more susceptible to the infection due to their socio-economic conditions often resulting in hunger, malnutrition and weak immunity.

Agricultural workers and the rural poor are the worst affected by the lockdown crisis and the policies of the Modi government. The rural proletariat is facing absolute poverty and an unprecedented level of unemployment. In addition, the forced reverse migration is worsening the situation beyond imagination. The number of agricultural workers is more than 14.43 crore (according to the 2011 census) who also work as rural workers, migrant workers and under MGNREGA. Since most of them are not landowners and therefore, most government schemes do not cover them. These conditions have compelled them to opt for the path of struggle. As the government is not ready to listen to their miseries during this time of crisis, they have decided to make their voice heard. Thus, the All India Agricultural Workers Union had given a call for an all-India protest on June 4, on the following issues and demands.

The protest call was over the failure of the central government in managing the crises, reverse migration and rural unemployment, lower wages, MNREGA as a solution for revival of rural economy, hunger and the public distribution system, direct monetary support, health services, and land issue.

On the basis of above issues following demands were raised during the protests:
•         Distribute Rs 7,500 to all households for three months immediately.
•         Give special assistance to migrant workers in their native villages and compensation to the families of the migrant workers injured or deceased in accidents, or due to hunger or suicide.
•         Provide 200 days of work with either Rs 600/day or the minimum wage in the states, whichever is higher, and unemployment wages to jobcard holders. Allocate additional Rs 100,000 crore for MNREGA.
•         Distribute 10 kilograms of rice/wheat and other essential items for free through the public distribution system for the next six months to all without any compulsion of ration cards.
•         Arrange a proper health check-up of citizens, especially in rural India, through the public health system.
•         Stop the dilution of labour laws.
•         Stop the disinvestment of public sector units and investment of FDI in various sectors with immediate effect.
•         Stop all efforts to implement Model Contract Farming Act, 2018, Model Tenancy Act or Agricultural Land Leasing Act to dispossess farmers; distribute all government and surplus land to the landless and agricultural workers.