All India Convention of Agricultural Workers
ALL India joint convention of agricultural workers concluded successfully at Harkishan Singh Surjeet Bhawan, New Delhi on May 16. The convention was attended by more than 500 delegates from different states. Convention adopted the charter of demands and decided to hold protests in 500 districts on August 1, 2022, followed by a one-day rural strike, the date will be decided later.
The convention was inaugurated by P Sainath, renowned journalist, Ramon Magsaysay awardee and founder of the People's Archive of Rural India (PARI). While inaugurating the convention, he explained the state of inequality in our society which is the result of the neo-liberal economic policies. Inequality in Indian society is more acute than during the peak time of British rule in India. In 1991 when these policies were introduced in India, our county did not have a single dollar billionaire but presently according to the Forbes report, India has 166 dollar billionaires. Their total assets are US$ 794 billion. This number was 53 in the year 2012, the year when the socio-economic caste census was conducted in India.
According to this census, the leading bread earner of two-thirds of rural households was having income of less than Rs 5,000 and the income of 90 per cent of households was less than Rs 10,000. Out of the remaining 10 per cent, most of the households were those who had a government job at that time which was/is snatched due to these policies.
He explained how the policies of the government helped corporates to make huge profits during Covid-19 times. It was the health sector from which emerged 24-dollar billionaires in India during the pandemic and the second most profitable sector was online education. He reminded delegates that we fought freedom struggle to fight against this inequality.
Agricultural workers, the wage labour force in Indian agriculture is among the most marginalised sections of the population. They are missing from the entire policy process reflected by the lack of a separate legislature for agricultural workers. The crisis-ridden agriculture has a further devastating impact on their lives primarily due to increased unemployment in rural India and secondly due to the rise in the population of landless agricultural workers. There is a decrease of 9 million cultivators while the number of agricultural workers increased by 30 million between 2001-2011. With the increase in the number of agricultural workers over the cultivator’s means, the dependence on wage labour is more than that on land. With the mechanisation of agriculture and indiscriminate use of labour displacing technology, working days in agriculture have been further reduced. Agricultural workers are getting only 38 to 52 days of work in the year from over 100 days in 1990.
The minimum wages for agriculture are not revised timely, normally are inadequate and there is no mechanism even to ensure implementation of announced rates. Agricultural workers are still waiting for their share of land in absence of land reforms except in some states. Presently the agenda of land reforms has completely vanished from political discourse. Instead, the reversal of land reforms is happening and small and marginal farmers are losing their land due to the policies of the state. Millions of people are homeless even after 75 years of independence.
BJP led central government has further pressed on the implementation of neo-liberal economic policies which have already adversely impacted the lives and livelihoods of the working class during the last 30 years. Currently, the web of social welfare schemes as an integral part of the welfare state is weakening with the conscious implementation of anti-people and pro-corporate policies. This is further worsening the living conditions of the rural and urban masses. Despite all its limitations in implementation, NREGA has proved its utility in rural India during a serious period of economic and agrarian distress including the Coivd-19 period. Though the political will for its complete implementation was always lacking the BJP led central government is working to weaken it.
Major sections of agricultural workers belong to scheduled castes and tribes. Dalits were subjected to social exclusion, discrimination and economic exploitation over the centuries. In one form or the other, this continues even today in most parts of the country. But we are witnessing an increase in caste atrocities and strengthening of caste identity in the last seven years of BJP rule. The increase in atrocities against marginalised sections of society, gang rapes and mob lynching is integrally linked to the BJP project of marginalization of Dalits and oppressed sections under the crisis-ridden neoliberal order. The Constitutional rights of the dalits are being violated both by state and central governments. The BJP governments in the states have gone further ahead by patronising criminals who are leading the attacks. Movements demanding Swarna Ayog are being sponsored by the sang parivar in some states which not only target SC/ST Protection Act and reservation but also is an effort to establish caste supremacy.
V S Nirmal introduced the concept of convention and Dhirender Jha welcomed all the delegates. Vikram Singh placed the draft resolution in the convention. G S Goriya supported the resolution which was discussed by more than 18 participants from different states. After a detailed discussion resolution was unanimously adopted by the convention along with the charter of demands.
The convention was jointly presided over by B Venkat and Durga Swami from All India Agricultural Workers Union, D S Kasyap, Devi Kumari and Radha Devi from Bharatiya Khet Mazdoor Union, Sri Ram Chaudhary from All India Agricultural and Rural Labour Association, and Gaurav Kumar from All India Agragami Krishi Shramik Union.