Vulnerability doesn’t necessarily promise any significant gains in the eyes of policy makers in the Indian context but it legitimizes your dissent
Vulnerability is a trait that is a slippery slope in its own, when it roars and bearing it further provokes an outcry then you overtly repudiate your inherited squalor and a resuscitation of your meaningful existence beckons. But when it becomes such an Achilles heel that to ameliorate yourself, you think of oblivion and life ends for many who give up at the saturation point of suffering. Our farmers are vulnerable, for most of the times they have been, whether the govt. conceals data or not, a large number of them are debt ridden, exhausted, exploited and burned.
At the same time, in a county with more than 50% do farming, farmers are the most favorite social and political entity to garner support in their name, from elections majorly to dreams of development where an inclusivity of farmers is a much relished ideal. India is so diverse that misery too varies with every km. To generalize this, there are different types of farmers among them the types in current arena amid farmers led protests are the Punjab-Haryana’s & say Bihar’s. Some liberal commentators have made certain comparisons between these two types as one state(Punjab’s slowing share in Indian agriculture’s growth) has comparatively rich farmers who employ laborers from the other state( Bihar the poorest of all Indian states but with burgeoning agricultural growth). So Punjabi farmers are less vulnerable than Bihar’s. But they are also the driving force behind the current impasse or agitation. They fear that with three agricultural laws brought by the govt they will be rendered hapless and neglected. The little political clout that is around them due to their profession which relates to poverty and simplicity is at stake. Bihari farmers are vulnerable with the lowest per capita incomes but the overall growth of their state’s agriculture is promising so that is for their own good, they have accepted this with a sense of complacency, they reached that saturation point but returned without neither losing nor giving up, their vulnerability was inevitable it seems, something that had to happen yet in totality it’s null and void.
On the other hand, Punjab-Haryana’s farmers reaped the benefits of green revolutions facilitated with high yield hybrid seeds, cheap and efficient irrigation supply and a sense of promotion from the side of policy makers. They served on all hopes; the vulnerability exacerbated by the scourge of partition tipping over the saturation point was tactfully combated with hard work and resilience. And in meantime Indian farmer was hailed as a warrior who has successfully won the war against famine and devious food scarcity. In the present context many small landholders who rely on govt procurement as a form of security net are wary of these laws; they don’t have the means to ensure fair deals with big corporate houses. They are vulnerable and their vulnerability will further be accentuated if there’s no regulation by state in the proposed pro farmers’ agri-market. More than 86.2% farmers possess less than 2 hectares of land, how corporate farming plays out and how markets will unravel are open questions.
Some agricultural experts have voiced their support for these laws as these laws are harbingers of reforms leading to crop diversification and thus cultivation of high value yielding crops. This sounds good and looks attractive when they show numbers of how much wheat and rice we have right now in surplus imposing additional costs of storage and maintenance. Yet India harbors one of the most malnourished people, its nutritional indicators whether read from the NFHS-5 or the global Hunger Index are appalling, but that is not the point. The point often repeated is that only states like Punjab, Haryana and some parts of western UP have a functioning mandi system in which govt procures heavily at the MSP. And the incomes of these farmers are well too, so their vulnerability is fraudulent, if anything they will be made equally vulnerable or empowered after successful implementation of these laws, it’s up to you to choose as per the side you are with. Since their vulnerability is misled as their claims, they lose the legitimacy given by populist understanding. They are well organized, articulating their fears explicitly, have a clear approach, a coherent support to a common goal, are eating well, have managed to sleep even in Delhi’s cold, countered false propaganda through media management, how will they be looked with sympathy? People only protest when they are so distressed, weak, going through an excoriation engulfed as institutionalized patronage.
The more resolve they show the more they get demonized, the more firm their demands are the more criminalized their dissent becomes, the more they bind their units with aplomb the more they are labeled with vicious titles accusing them of their allegiance to a conspiracy of unseating the state. Here farmers’ vulnerability has transcended to their resplendent strength, so much that the middle class Indians are ambivalent between supporting their cause or their vulnerability. I find it glamorous when people especially the vulnerable ones challenge and reject the status quo. The farmers’ protest at various border points in Delhi have been glamorous this far whether their feared vulnerability gets realized into reality or the present one staying afloat to demand better with the embrace of status quo ante will determine the ultimate fate of being glorious.
How vulnerable the govt will be if it concedes is too exaggerated as UPA’s anna moment, its invincibility will not be hemorrhaged even if it accepts farmers’ endurance, it will be a lesson anyway to reflect that if discussion & debate don’t happen in the forums designed for the same, streets welcome other forms of dialogue. Govt can still manage to show that it’s the farmers who matter the most and it represents a caring version of service to them. However if it does manage to reconcile through a mutual consensus without losing much in terms of commitment or populist opinion, it will be a win- win situation for itself more than the aggrieved farmers, whose influence will be diminished as a factor to be considered while forming policy to something that will be at the receiving ends. Whichever way glamour turns into glory or dwindles in the middle will leave farmers as vulnerable as they fear to be. But the message these protests have given will help shape the doctrine of vulnerability; let’s see whose vulnerability is wooed.