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Failure of land reforms and rise of 'absentee' landlords: Why farmers' agitation is rocking

By NS Venkataraman*

From time immemorial, agriculture has always remained as an important and one of the most respected subjects in India. In recent times, it is receiving much more attention and considerable technology inputs and management techniques. This is a welcome development.
However, discordant voices are also frequently heard from those who term themselves as kisans and some of them are indulging in public protest and demonstrations for one reason or the other. They disrupt public life, block the highways, demanding greater privileges and support from the government. In the process, agriculture subject is getting mixed with politics and with some of the “kisans” sounding more like politicians than agriculturists.
The present ongoing agitation in Punjab and Haryana against the recently enacted farm laws and the way in which the protests are being organized and the adamant stand of the protesters, have made many people to start thinking and introspecting as to who is the real kisan and who is not.
As generally understood, those involved in agriculture operations are broadly divided into five categories.
There are absentee landlords who do not live near their agricultural holdings and even live abroad and entrust their agricultural land on lease and collect income (lease rent) every year. They too call themselves as kisan but the right terminology should be “absentee owner of land”.
There are others who live near the agricultural holdings but do not work physically on their land and engage workmen and women to cultivate the land and these workers are paid wages. They too call themselves as kisan, whereas the appropriate name for them should be “agricultural entrepreneur”.
Another category is those who own a small area of land and physically work on land by themselves and their family members and cultivate. They are the real kisans.
Then, there are those who do not own land but work on the land getting daily wages , with no responsibility for yield but are expected to work hard. They do not get any social security coverage and they are generally termed as agricultural tillers. They do not have any job security. As they physically work on land, they should be duly recognized as real kisan. This is not done.
Further, there is one more category who do not own land and who are not involved in agricultural operations directly or indirectly but procure the agricultural products and sell them in the market, through mandis or other means. Many times, they extend loans to the cultivators at exorbitant interest or pay them a sale price in advance for their agricultural products, fixing low price.
They hoard the products, deliberately increase the price in the market and make big profits. They too claim that they are part of kisan class but they should really be termed as agricultural traders (middlemen).
The ongoing farmers’ protest in Delhi has confused many people in India, who have emotional attachment to the kisans and are spontaneously grateful to them
In the case of ongoing farmers’ agitation near Delhi, many middle men (traders) as well as those who do not actually work on the land and absentee land owners term themselves as farmers and are conducting the protest christening it as farmers’ protest. They have the money power and probably they can pay wages to the workers in agricultural fields, who are called tillers and bring them to the protest site to make it look like a big crowd. Obviously, these tillers must be happy because they continue to earn wages and in this case without working!
In the case of most of the land reform measures of the government initiated in the past few decades, most of the benefits have not reached the agricultural tillers (real kisans) and small landowners who physically work on the land (real kisans) but the benefits of the government schemes largely reach the other categories mentioned above, ( non-working farmers) and they get the lion’s share of the benefits.
It is very well known that the real kisans do not realize an adequate sale price for their products but only those who do not work on the land get the maximum benefits. This problem of the real kisan has been under public debate for the last few decades. When the present government tries to find a solution for the problems of the real kisans, the non-working farmers are upset and they protest. They have the money power to keep the protest ongoing for a very long time.
Most of the agitation by the farmers in recent years are really organized not by the real kisans but only the other category of people.
The ongoing farmers’ protest in Delhi has confused many people in India, who have emotional attachment to the kisans and are spontaneously grateful to them for giving food to the countrymen. They feel very sad to see the people sitting in bitter cold and protesting and demonstrating for several days now, though with reasonable comforts such as geysers and several other gadgets, which a real kisan may not have used at all in his lifetime.
In such conditions, the image about kisan in the mind of the people is now undergoing change.  Now, the time has come to clearly distinguish between the real kisans from fake kisans.
---
*Trustee, Nandini Voice for The Deprived

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