Indian farmers in unique protest

Indian farmers in unique protest

Protesting farmers speak of barren lands, mounting debt, verbal assaults from banks and money lenders, as well as suicides

New Delhi: From brandishing human skulls, which they claim belonged to deceased farmers, to holding live mice in their mouths.

From stripping naked to drinking their own urine collected in bottles, farmers in Tamil Nadu are coming up with unique ways of protesting.

India’s southern states are facing a severe water crisis as reservoirs approach the empty mark. The situation is worse in Tamil Nadu, where water levels in reservoirs are up to 80 per cent below capacity, leading to the protests.

Protesting farmers have even stripped near Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s office, after being refused a meeting.

They speak of barren lands, mounting debt, verbal assaults from banks and money lenders, as well as suicides by their colleagues.

Opposition parties in Tamil Nadu led by the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) have called for a statewide shutdown on Tuesday in solidarity with the farmers from Tamil Nadu protesting at Jantar Mantar, the area in New Delhi, where protests and dharnas are permitted.

While the farmers had put their agitation on hold until Tuesday, hours after they met state chief minister Edappadi Palaniswami on Sunday, state president of the National South Indian Rivers Linking Farmers Association, P. Ayyakannu told Gulf News, “If our demands are not met, we will resume the protest again in a bigger way”.

Saravana Kumar Vasudevan, a 32-year-old database software executive, who was in the city in support of the farmers’ protest, said, “We have come from drought-affected districts of Tamil Nadu demanding intervention by the Centre on drought relief funds, waiver of crop and farm loans, better pricing for crops and the inter-linking of rivers to irrigate our lands and pension for elderly farmers.”

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Call it desperation or a protest to draw attention towards their condition, in the last 40 days, the farmers have come up with eye-catching ideas to convey their message.

Sitting in a makeshift tent at Jantar Mantar, Ayyakannu, along with scores of fellow farmers sat drenched in sweat in the sweltering summer heat, hoped the powers-that-be take a decision on their plight back home.

While the tent erected more than a month back lay in tatters, the hopes of the farmers have not been dented.

“While the state government has waived off the loans from cooperative banks, our demand includes writing off the loans from nationalised banks and a revised drought relief package,” Vasudevan said.

The Central Water Commission says it has written to the principal secretaries of water resources departments of state governments, asking them “to take measures for water conservation,” but the farmers feel that alone will not solve their immediate crisis.

The government’s ‘Tamil Nadu’s Vision for 2023’ is for the state “to become India’s most prosperous and progressive State with no poverty, and where its people enjoy all the basic services of a modern society”.

Tipping point

•In Tamil Nadu, more than 40 per cent people make a living from farming, but lack of water due to poor rainfall and low crop prices has resulted in farmers protests.

•Not so long ago, their fields yielded abundant rice, sugarcane, pulses and cotton. They also had generous crop of fruit from mango and coconut trees.

•According to a TN farmers association, the number of farmer-related suicides and death is more than 400 in the state since October, though the official data claims it is much lesser.