The Wages of Solidarity

What victorious farmers’ unions owe Dalit communities

Farmers’ union leaders addressing protestors at the Tikri border of Delhi in 2021. The Left-leaning Punjab based unions were far more open to the farm labourers’ unions that joined the movement. SHAHID TANTRAY FOR THE CARAVAN
31 August, 2022

There was an air of jubilation among the five hundred or so farmers who attended a Sankalp Sabha in Rohtak, a town in Haryana, on 27 December 2021. A month earlier, in Delhi, seventy kilometres to the south, Prime Minister Narendra Modi had announced the withdrawal of the three farm laws that had sparked a gruelling yearlong protest movement. The rally was one of many held in solidarity to mark the movement’s victory. It had been organised by the Kisan Mazdoor Sangharsh Sahyog Manch, a civil-society group from Rohtak, as well as local professors, university students and factory workers. These were all communities that had regularly joined and aided the massive sit-in at Delhi’s Tikri border. Along with the singing of Haryanvi ragnis­—folk songs of protest—remembrances were held for farmers from the state who had died in the agitation.

At the event, Inderjit Singh of the All India Kisan Sabha spoke about an incident that took place on the day when the protest sites at Singhu and Tikri were dismantled and the victorious farmers began returning to their villages. While a few farmers were packing up a statue of Chhotu Ram, a Jat leader from the early twentieth century who united farmers and labourers in Haryana and Punjab, he said, they chanted the slogan “Kisan ekta zindabad”—Long live farmers’ unity. An agricultural labourer who was standing nearby asked them, “Where is the labourer in that slogan?” Almost immediately, all of the farmers changed their slogan to “Kisan mazdoor ekta zindabad.”

This was a snippet of the solidarity and respect for labouring Dalit communities that I saw so often in the farmers’ protest sites at Singhu and Tikri, which were mostly organised by Punjab-based, often Left-leaning, farmers’ unions. But that same solidarity was lacking at the protest on the Ghazipur border, which was organised by the Bharatiya Kisan Union (Tikait), whose cadre largely hail from the region around Muzaffarnagar, in Uttar Pradesh, that I call home.

I had joined the farmers’ movement, in December 2020, as a co-editor for the bi-weekly newspaper Trolley Times, brought out by like-minded writers, artists and activists. During those uncertain times, when the government shut down the internet at protest sites and much of the mainstream media limited itself to parroting the government’s talking points, Trolley Times emerged as one of the main grounded sources of information about the movement. It served to educate the farmers about the dangers posed by the farm laws and published a breadth of reportage about larger societal issues related to farming and rural society, as well as interviews and profiles of leaders and participants of the movement. Despite playing a fairly central part in the cultural space of the protests myself, I noticed that I had religiously avoided going to Ghazipur, instead reporting mostly about Singhu and Tikri. This was despite my cultural and linguistic ties to the area that many of the Ghazipur protestors came from.