Interview with Paramjit Singh (English version) PDF Drucken E-Mail

Interview with Paramjit Singh,

Chief Editor of Sikh Siyasat News Network, Punjab - India

Original interview in English

After one year of struggle the controversial farm law was repealed. Is it a victory?

Yes sure, it is a victory, but it is not a total solution to our problems. Because our agriculture, our farming sector, and our ecology have complex problems. What the government was doing was turning the complexity of problems into a worse situation. So we were able to avoid the situation from further worsening, but the complex problems we were facing before these farm laws are still there.

Can you explain these problems shortly?

First, in India farmers are in huge debt. They don't get a proper price for their agricultural produce. This is a big problem for the farming section. Second, the agricultural model we have, especially in Punjab, is very resource intensive. Because of that our natural resources are exhausted. There were studies about the groundwater level in 2017 which showed that the groundwater in Punjab will be finished in 22 years - in the meantime 5 years have passed. Until then we would have used all our groundwater resources. Presently 75 percent of the agriculture in Punjab is dependent on groundwater. So the groundwater will just disappear. This is because of a crop cycle which is a result of the Indian Union Government's policy. Unless there is crop diversification and assurance that farmers get sufficient prices for alternative crops, and unless a Punjab specific less resource intensive agriculture model is implemented, we are not going to come out of the problems we are facing. And then there are ecological problems because the crop cycle in Punjab is not suitable for our state and our climate. Traditional crops were replaced - especially for rice. Due to that we are exhausting our natural resources and our ecology is affected. Also our climate is changing. So we need crop diversification and assured prices for those crops. So we can say it is a big victory in the sense to avoid a situation that would have brought us in a worse situation, but the complexity of problems is still there.

How could the farmers sustain the resistance for such a long time?

First of all the people realized that all of society will be affected by these farm laws - not only the farmers. The farm laws were directly affecting farmers, but other sections of the society were also affected. There is an interrelation. If farming communities are going to suffer, all society is going to suffer, when they allow big corporations to monopolize the whole agricultural produce. When they are going to hand over the whole control to those in companies, whose only aim is to maximise their profit, not only the producers, the farmers, are going to suffer, also the consumer will suffer.

So farmers could sustain because there was wider participation in this struggle. There was support from religious organisations, especially Sikh organizations who supported the strike by providing food to the farmers who were protesting at the borders of Delhi - not only to farmers from Punjab but also farmers from Haryana, from Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Uttar Pradesh. There was also participation from other sections of society but also especially from the Sikh Diaspora. This was the first time since 2014 that the ruling BJP's IT cell or online propaganda wing was defeated. This was possible with the wide support especially from Sikh Diaspora. Also NGOs played a very good supportive role and provided basic facilities and infrastructure like tents and warm water. But the most important factor was the commitment of people who were determined to stay in Delhi until these farm laws were repealed.

Is there repression from the government?

PS: Yes, there was. Not only thousands of farmers are facing cases against them, like for blocking the National Highway when they were holding protests at different sites. Then there were also protests against representatives of the ruling party, for those protests they are also facing charges against them. After the incident at 26th January, after protesting farmers broke through police barricades to reach Delhi's historic Red Fort complex, the government tried to repress the protest with brute force by using their mobs. From 28-30 January mobs belonging to the ruling party tried to terrorize people, they tried to attack protesting farmers and tried to create an atmosphere of fear. Miscreants were attacking farmers while police were protecting the attackers. Then there was an incident called Lakhimpur Kheri when a vehicle driven by the son of a ruling party minister ran over four farmers, who were returning from a protest site very peacefully. The vehicle ran over the farmers; some of them died in that incident. In Karnal, Haryana a civil administrator was caught on camera while issuing directions to police to break the heads of farmers. Later the police used brute force against farmers and a person died due to head injury caused by police personnel. More than 700 people died during the protest due to various reasons, including road accidents as famers were compelled by the government to engage in a year long protest on roads. So not only direct and indirect repression was there but also false propaganda that the protesters that they were anti-national, was also a kind of repression, we can say.

Were there protests only in Delhi or also in other parts of the country?

There were also protest rallies in other parts of India. The predominantly participation was from Punjab, Haryana, Uttar Pradesh, from Rajasthan and Madya Pradesh also. India is a very vast region. The capital Delhi is in the Northern part. From Punjab to Delhi is about 500 km, but from Delhi to the southern parts of India it is more than 2000 km. So there was a represential partizipation from their side in Delhi, then they were holding protest rallies in their states. Other parts were persistently participating but they were not participating the way Haryana, Punjab or Western UP were able to participate, because they are located in proximity of the Capital of Delhi. So we can say that the main protest was localized around Delhi but protesters from other parts of India also participated in it.

What are the main challenges for the future?

Let's talk about demands. Thousands of farmers are facing criminal charges. So now the first demand of the farmers unions is that those cases should be withdrawn and a widespread amnesty should be there. Then they demand a 'minimum support price' (MSP) which is a mechanism for an assured price for farmers' produce. They are also demanding compensation to the families of farmers who have lost lives during the protest. These are some immediate demands. When we talk about challenges: The centralized system is not suitable for a region that is so diverse. There are differences in climate, in natural resources, there are differences in terms of traditions, differences in soil quality and all that. We need localized models. Particularly in Punjab we need a diversification plan with assured prices for alternative crops. So the challenge is to create a specific model for Punjab that should be less resource intensive and more eco-friendly, and more economic returns for the farmers. These are the main challenges and could only be achieved through struggle to redefine power relations between the Union and the states.


veröffentlicht in Talktogether Nr 79/2022