The farmers’ protest began, initially, for the sole purpose of getting the new farm laws repealed. The laws that were the bone of contention were: Agricultural Trade and Trading (Promotion and Facilitation) Act 2020; the Price Assurance Farmers Empowerment and Protection Agreement and the Agricultural Services Act 2020 and Commodities (Amendment) Act 2020.
Farmers saw these laws as a surreptitious and predatory attempt by conniving “capitalism” to take away their land, their only source of livelihood. But the government, in love with the pride of the parliamentary majority, ignored the farmers’ request. They believed the farmers lacked the capacity to mobilize their tiny protest into a mass movement. Surprisingly, farmers from several states, regardless of their religious beliefs, joined the protest, braving police baton charges and torrents of water on elderly farmers, in addition to inclement weather, turning freezing at times. Local and diaspora farmer sympathizers flooded them with food, fruit and even quintals of American almonds (from the US-based toot brothers). The government is trying tooth and nail to sow discord between the unions in Kisan. The formidable leader of Jat Kisan, Rakesh Tikait, currently on hunger strike, said he would continue the strike until his death.
The altered complexion of protest
To express their solidarity with farmers, 18 opposition parties have decided to boycott the speech of the Indian President (January 29, 2021) at a joint session of parliament at the opening of the budget session (The Hindu January 28, 2021). They criticized the government for its stubbornness as 155 farmers, braving water cannons, tear gas and lathi charges, had already lost their lives. Government-sponsored media carried reports that the movement was backed by Khalistani and Pakistani elements. Pakistani drones allegedly dropped hand grenades through drones in eastern Punjab which, strangely, never exploded or showed to the media. The government even considered filing an affidavit in the Supreme Court to affirm its allegation of foreign aid to the peace movement.
The protest continued to show a singular interreligious harmony where the non-Muslim man protected the Muslims offering prayers.
Much to the chagrin of “strongman” Modi, the protest took on an all-Indian dimension when army chief Bhim Chandra Shekhar Azad, founder of azad samaj party (open society party) joined the protesters with the statement `ek juth ho kar larna hai‘ we must fight together).
Soon, Azad’s rants went viral on social media. He taunted the government saying it was preventing peaceful farmers from reaching Delhi, but could not stop the Chinese from building 110 houses in the Indian state of Arunachal Pradesh. The media blacked out images of farmer martyrs, including Sikh saints (sants) who committed suicide to express their solidarity with the protesters.
Emergence of the Joint Movement of Oppressed Peoples
It was a nightmare for Narendra Modi to watch people from all walks of life join the movement. The wave of “oppressed people” of 41.73% seems to have turned against him (Muslims 14.23%, Christians 2.3%, Scheduled Castes (numbering 1108) 16.6% and Scheduled Tribes (744) 8.6% Modi’s fears were unfounded despite the rhetoric, protesters were unable to turn their movement into a future electoral alliance.
What prevented the coalescence of the demonstrators?
The caste factor militated against the unity of the lower castes with the upper castes. Same sikhs have an ironclad caste structure. In addition to the hierarchy of castes, religions, languages and cultures separate the poles of peoples. India’s 1.3 billion people (2014) include Hindus (80%, including those who eat beef), Muslims 11%, Sikhs, Buddhists, Jains, Christians, Parsis and Jews seven percent (combined). The Hindi language dominates in Dravidian South India and Indo-European North India which are recognized by the Indian constitution, in addition to 780 minor languages and dialects.
Dalit religion in Indian Punjab
Most of the protesting farmers were from the Indian state of Punjab or neighboring states. The sikhs are considered the most liberal community in India. Yet even they, like Muslims, are not immune to caste influence (arzal, ashraf ajlaf, etc.).
Brahmins in Punjab
Brahmins (priests) are considered the guardians of Hindu religious traditions throughout India. But this is not the case in Punjab. They are pejoratively called mang khani jat (community or caste living simply on alms). But the degradation of traditional Brahmins does not mean the elimination of sikh caste hierarchy. Caste-based discrimination in Punjab has a different complexion. The Sikh community replaced Brahmins with well-to-do jats sikhs with material strength owning farmland as it goes and enjoying hegemony over gUrudwara and other panthers (sikh holy organizations and institutions).
Dalits who convert to Sikhism are disappointed. They are excluded from the management of committees and gurudwara. The land owner sikhs dominate without land dalits.
Furthermore, within the framework of the local customary pattern of patron-client relationship commonly referred to as razat namethey are even denied property rights to the plots of land on which they have built houses in segregated settlements near the main villages.
Dalits are the second largest community in the state of Punjab. Numerically, they are almost equal to the strength of the Jat Sikhs. However, their share in land ownership is only 4.82%. And they occupy only 2.34% of the total cultivated area. without land, dalits are deined their fair share in the management committees of the sikh gurudwaras (shrines). Ravidassia dharma
Frustrated Punjabi dalits attempted to seek upward social mobility through religious conversion to another Sikh dharmaRavidassia Dharma.
This dharma was officially announced by Babu Mangu Ram Mugowalia in a statement made by the Sants of dera Sachkhand Balan on January 30, 2010. The pre-partition Ad Dharam movement has its roots in this dharma. This movement is the only movement of its kind in the North West region of India which aims to secure a dignified place for dalits through religious reform, cultural transformation and political influence rather than seeking emancipation through conversion and Sanskritization.
The Dalits regard Guru Ravidas as their saviour. His teachings urge dalits to defend.
The exclusion of dalits in the sikh the caste system has hindered the fusion of sikhs with dalits and other minorities to shape a common movement of oppressed people in Indian Punjab.