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Farmers Protest 2020 | Images shot by Vinit Gupta
Ready for the long haul © Vinit Gupta 2020

Ready for the Long Haul 

By Vinit Gupta

History shows that whenever ethics and economics come into conflict, victory is always with economics. Vested interests have never been known to have willingly divested themselves unless there was sufficient force to compel them. For a successful revolution, it is not enough that there is discontent.”

–    Dr. B R Ambedkar

India as a collective identity and nation was born out of a revolution. Countless sacrifices made it possible for us to live in a free and democratic land. For generations to come, we are indebted to the vision and forbearing of our leaders and forefathers. Yet, we are now at crossroads. A way of life that recognizes liberty, equality, and diversity seems to be a distant dream, especially with the recent political, economic, and governance policies. Just a few months back, with the ill-planned Covid lockdown, thousands had to flee from the cities that employed them. We watched as our working class walked in helplessness and betrayal. Our large metropolitan cities could not provide space for the very people who shed their sweat to build those cities. This shows that we as a society have failed. How many of those helpless workers reached their homes in rural India, how they are facing this continued displacement, and what solutions are put forth in future emergencies such as this, are questions that remain unanswered. News and information in this regard continue to be blocked or misrepresented. The farmers of our land have raised their voice of discontent for some time now. On average, more than 10 farmers in the country commit suicide in a day. There are many reasons – drought or heavy rainfall or reduced market demand or lack of resources and agro-scientific knowledge and so on. But, it all boils down to policy and governance. In 2017, farmers from Tamil Nadu protested at the Jantar Mantar, New Delhi, for 22 days. They were symbolically holding skulls in memory of the lives lost to suicide, and reminding the potential danger they were faced with. They vowed to drink their urine, to raise the issue of lack of water in the Deccan. They also announced that they would be eating feces as a representation of their prolonged hunger. It attracted the attention of other countries. Their loans were waived by the TN government. But, why should the people of this land have to go to this extreme to demand justice?

Once again, the farmers are forced against a dead wall, and right at this moment, they are trying to enter Delhi – some have managed to enter, while many others are blocked at the inter-state borders of Haryana and Uttar Pradesh. The power center that applies its iron fist on people without mercy or consideration continues to remain silent. Are we not facing a health emergency at the moment? Is a timely response too much to ask for? The farmers are ready for a long haul despite the odds — the ice-cold weather, the discomforts of the road, the pain and agony of displacement, and even the risk of coronavirus which is on an infectious march in Delhi — and nothing is comparable to them in front of the possible effects of the farm laws.

The success of this movement is crucial to defining who we are and what our priorities are as a nation. What is required is a collective recognition of every citizen’s political and social rights. Photographers are chroniclers of our time and history. Every photograph is an epigraph. It will live to tell stories, like mirrors that reflect the contradictory and complementary narratives of our society. A photographer stands apart in what stories he/she chooses to tell, how that story is being expressed and most importantly why he/she decides to tell that story.

Vinit Gupta is a promising young photographer who is sure of his convictions. He chooses his stories and tells that with utmost respect and reverence. His recent work titled IQRA was about the school that was demolished during the Delhi Riots (2019). None of the victims or perpetrators was included in this series – but from the broken building pieces, empty chairs, unclaimed drawings, and so on, one is left to imagine what had transpired in that space. The nonexisting faces of the victims and perpetrators flash before us… the unacknowledged role of those in power makes us shiver in silence.

Here, Vinit chooses to travel 40kms and on certain days, walk 16kms or hitch-hike (as vehicles are blocked by police) to chronicle the protesting farmers, in solidarity. Unknowingly, we too feel a sense of pride warm up inside us. In the determination and sacrifice of the farmers, a new history is being made.

The Editor

Using Covid-19 pandemic as a pretext, the Government of India has pushed three farm Acts through the Parliament, which are blatantly pro-corporate and anti-poor, and anti-farmer. These Acts intend to hand over farmlands and farmers to profit-hungry corporates. This will push the already struggling farmers to great distress, and this distress will only get compounded as our economy is under extreme duress. While the Bharatiya Janata Party-led National Democratic Alliance government claims that the passage of the bills is a watershed moment for the agriculture sector, the farmers – especially in the northern states of Punjab and Haryana – have been holding massive protests.

They see it as a threat to wheat and rice procurements on which they are more dependent than farmers in other states. The fear now is that with these new farm Acts, the government is weakening the mandi system and creating more avenues for the farmer so that it can pull out of the MSP procurement system. Once the government is out of the picture, the farmers would be at the mercy of traders and middlemen. Another bone of contention is that traders buying from farmers outside the mandis don’t have to pay any fees or cess or levy on the purchase but those trading inside the mandis still have to do so. This is bound to hurt business in mandis and make way for more private participation.

Farmers Protest 2020 | Images shot by Vinit Gupta
Farmers Protest 2020 | Images shot by Vinit Gupta
Farmers Protest 2020 | Images shot by Vinit Gupta
Farmers Protest 2020 | Images shot by Vinit Gupta
Farmers Protest 2020 | Images shot by Vinit Gupta
Farmers Protest 2020 | Images shot by Vinit Gupta
Farmers Protest 2020 | Images shot by Vinit Gupta
Farmers Protest 2020 | Images shot by Vinit Gupta
Farmers Protest 2020 | Images shot by Vinit Gupta
Farmers Protest 2020 | Images shot by Vinit Gupta
Farmers Protest 2020 | Images shot by Vinit Gupta
Farmers Protest 2020 | Images shot by Vinit Gupta
Farmers Protest 2020 | Images shot by Vinit Gupta
Farmers Protest 2020 | Images shot by Vinit Gupta
Farmers Protest 2020 | Images shot by Vinit Gupta
Farmers Protest 2020 | Images shot by Vinit Gupta
Farmers Protest 2020 | Images shot by Vinit Gupta
Ready for the long haul © Vinit Gupta 2020

The Swaminathan Commission which looked at the agrarian crisis in detail and formulated reports that are to form the basis of improving the livelihoods and income of farmers had suggested many solutions. But one key aspect of its recommendations was – the government cannot experiment at the risk of farmers. If the government wants to adopt new technology, solutions, or anything else, let it do it at its own risk, but not by risking the lives of farmers.

As part of the ‘Dilli Chalo’ protest called on November 26 and 27, lakhs of farmers, laborers, and small traders decided to march from Punjab, Haryana, western Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, and other states towards Delhi. During their attempt to reach Delhi, the farmers faced warlike resistance from the Indian government at two inter-state borders. Protesters occupied several miles of highway with their tractors and trolleys. The protest sites on the Delhi border that popped up about a week ago have turned into semi-permanent camps featuring almost a festive atmosphere, with some leaders saying they have enough supplies to stay put for six months. Tractor-trolleys loaded with blankets, mattresses, vegetables, gas cylinders and utensils have arrived there. There were also charging points and extra batteries available for mobile phones. Water tankers have been installed at regular intervals and langar provisions have also been made for anyone who would like to eat.

These protesters – men and women – overcame their fear because they have left homes with the understanding that this is a long haul. They know that more than Covid-19, it is the farm laws that are going to bring the noose around their necks. It is a fight for their very survival. They are prepared for it.

Vinit Gupta Photographer

Vinit Gupta lives and works in New Delhi. He has a master’s degree in Economics and Anthropology. Vinit Gupta’s project, Where They Belong- portrait from Mahan forest was exhibited at the United Art Fair in 2013, Delhi Photo Festival 2015, and Fotofest Huston in2018. He is a recipient of the Neel Dongre Photography Award/fellowship 2013-2014 and 2014- 2015 supported by the India Photo Archive Foundation. He received the National Foundation of India Media Fellowship for 2018-2019.

Published on December 8, 2020

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