Farmers protesting at Singhu border | Photo: Suraj Singh Bisht | ThePrint
Farmers protesting at Singhu border | Photo: Suraj Singh Bisht | ThePrint

The ongoing farmers’ protest against the Narendra Modi government’s new agricultural laws isn’t just a battle to secure a legal guarantee for minimum support price, or seek repeal of the three legislations. The battle is also to stop India’s rich capitalists from smuggling out farmers’ labour power without paying the cost – and there are several reasons why farmers from the Sikh community are at the forefront.

The Sikh farmers of Punjab were the first to grasp the danger when Parliament passed the three controversial bills in a great hurry, without a discussion or taking farmers’ unions into confidence.

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The last time Sikhs of Punjab were locked in a battle with the government was in the early 1980s, when the Indira Gandhi administration had sent troops into the state to curtail the rising insurgency. But if the emerging Khalistan movement restricted wider support then, the Sikh farmers now have a worthy cause – and they have galvanised the country’s farming community and generated nationwide support. They will go down in India’s history as the frontline heroes of the farmers’ movement.

Also read: Modi govt gave an unwanted gift to farmers. Now it can’t even handle rejection

Toe to toe

The Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government – with help from its campaigners like Kangana Ranaut – are trying to portray Punjab’s Sikh farmers as ‘Khalistani terrorists’. But it won’t be easy. The Sikh farmer-youth are not only more educated, they are also globally spread out and can give a fitting reply to the Hindutva army. If the RSS-BJP allow their loose cannons to go after them as they did against Kashmiris, after the abrogation of Article 370, India as a nation will be in danger. The Sikh farmers can fight the battle better than any other state’s farming community in the country.

They are equally aware of what might constitute as a political gimmick. Modi rushed to one of the gurudwaras in New Delhi and kneeled before the Guru Granth Sahib but the Sikh farmers know why he was doing it. They remained unmoved.

It is this awareness and conviction that has blunted the Hindutva attack on them and also made farmers from across India join them in the movement. They understand the tactics deployed by the likes of Kangana, who repeatedly uses terms like ‘Khalistani terrorists’.

But the film industry from different regions, including Bollywood, is turning towards the farmers’ fight for justice and survival. They have rightly described the farmers as ‘food soldiers’ of India. Without the ‘farming soldiers’ producing food, there won’t be ‘standing soldiers’ on the borders. The RSS-BJP government never recognised the farm soldiers as nationalists but only adored big business families as real nationalists.

Also read: Banned in 1988, this ‘religious’ practice still forces Telangana’s Dalit women into sex slavery

Dignity of labour

Another reason why Sikh farmers have taken up the cudgels is to defend the labour, which is accorded great dignity in Sikhism. And it has roots in the relative undermining of casteism among Sikhs.

Majority of Sikh farmers are Jats. Historically, they too belonged to the Shudra varna who suffered indignities at the hands of Dwijas (Brahmins, Baniyas and Khatris) in united Punjab. Once Guru Nanak Dev established Sikhism and his and other Sikh Gurus’ teachings and hymns were compiled together into the religious scripture Guru Granth Sahib, it laid the foundation for the community’s liberation from the varna order and the indignity of labour.

It brought self-respect among the Shudra labourers, changing their status from that of an undignified community in a hierarchical system into one of equal and dignified members. Today, no farming community of India is as self-respecting as that of the Jat Sikhs. This is not to say that Dalit Sikhs, who are also known as mazhabi Sikhs, do not face social discrimination in Punjab. They do.

But the Sikh community is not as casteist and varna dharma practitioners as the Hindutvawadis are. Dalit Sikhs have their own Ravidasi gurudwaras around the world. They are also fairly well-educated than the Dalit community in any other part of India. They have an independent spiritual and social identity, though largely part of Sikhism. Although the Hindutvawadis want to portray Sikhism as part of Hinduism, their efforts don’t bear much fruit because Sikhs realise these are just methods of co-opting. Sikhism has already got global recognition as an independent religion.

Moreover, any Sikh with sufficient knowledge of Guru Granth Sahib, irrespective of gender, can become a Granthi, unlike in Hinduism. Though Arya Samaj allows women priests to recite shlokas and perform marriages, there is no liberation for women in labour participation in that sect too. Such gender-neutral involvement in spiritual and production process in Sikhism, unlike in Hinduism and also Islam, and their collective labour participation and efficiency in farm production, made Punjab India’s food basket. The RSS-BJP never called for such caste-free and gender-neutral participation in agrarian production. On the contrary, they emphasise on maintaining the parampara of varna dharma.

The advancement of Punjab agriculture is rooted in the social base of everybody working on the farm with dignity. Thus, Punjab has evolved as a separate cultural entity within Indian federalism. The state produces a lot of wheat and milk, and the notion of ‘Kar Seva’ (labour service) even in gurudwaras has attracted global attention.

The gurudwaras – particularly the Golden Temple of Amritsar – are known for their langars where any visitor can have free food and even rich members of the Sikh community freely participate in labour. Such a culture of labour service without invoking the caste cultural indignity in temples is not there on the agenda of the RSS-BJP, even though their members and supporters routinely project themselves as authentic Hindu nationalists. Without promoting the dignity of labour by the nation’s ruling class, no nation can develop. The government doles out slogans like Swachh Bharat and Atmanirbhar Bharat but they would mean nothing without injecting the dignity of labour in the spiritual-religious system.

Also read: Don’t question Sikhs helping Muslims. We know what hate is and does

A living contrast

Sikhism lays stress on ‘Sarbat da bhalla (working towards the common good of all) and kar seva (doing physical work for the common good). These two ideas are part of the Guru Granth spiritual ideology, which runs counter to the varna dharma ideology of the Hindutva forces. The Sikh Gurus established the concept of dignity of labour at a time when the idea was almost unknown to the Brahminical spiritual, social and political ideology.

The Shudra/Dalit farmers and labourers in the Hindutva ideology are disrespected and considered undignified human beings, despite being the pillars of India’s food production system outside Punjab. The Modi government has not done anything to change this fundamental belief of caste and varna, and make farm work dignified in the spiritual and social system. What it has done instead is brought laws that would allow monopolistic capitalists to exploit the poor farmers even though they never participate in the socio-economic changes or spend their wealth on the wellbeing of the people at large.

The Sikh farmers are now part of a strong global community with agrarian production knowledge as their backbone. They have migrated to the US, Canada and Australia to furrow the forest lands and have become respectable citizens of those countries. They are a major political force in Canada now. India must learn from them with humility. And the RSS-BJP too must rein in its forces that are constantly working to demonise the Sikh community. The more they do that, the more they will be exposed before the world, not just in India.

The author is a political theorist, with an upcoming new book The Shudras — Vision for a New Path co-edited with Karthik Raja Karuppusamy (Penguin). Views are personal.

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  1. We always need a divergent and opposite in a vibrant democracy. So, I appreciate if the author point out the flaws in the Farmers law brought by this government. However, he is talking about everything except the farmer bill flaws. He brought Hinduism, sikkhism, Kashmiris.. Are these issues today? He talks like a politicians. Wondering how print PRINT this article.

  2. Current protest looks directly lifted from 1980s Bollywood movies. Congress know well that they can not beat BJP in development plank and need to divide the Hindutva Vote to reduce loss margin in 2024 elections. Britishers followed it 3 centuries back and Congress continued it. This is nothing new – Old wine in new bottle.

  3. You started your writing on farm laws and why only Punjabi farmers are protesting and then you quietly turned the narrative on casteism. You think readers are fool? And what do you mean by saying Sikh farmers have more self respect than any other farming community? What utter nonsense it is in the name of journalism. You are essentially insulting farmers of India. Also stop blaming industrialists without any concrete facts. I would love to hear how industries would exploit farmers with the help of these laws. Please provide your facts and arguments. No anticipation please. Seems like there is a competition going on between you and Shivam vij who can write more nonsense.

  4. I can sense a lot of partisanship in this analysis and it is only demonising Hindu religion and Hindutava as some sort of evil entity. It reflects less on the issues and more on the hatred towards Narendra Modi. There is no stating of facts about the farm legislations and most of the editorial is angry rant against the incumbent government. The Print should try to avoid giving space to such biased analysts.

  5. And then you think why “Hindutva” triumphs? If you stoop to finding religious religious and caste connotations in a protest related to livelihood and economics, you must rethink your analysis and also understand that you are also part of the same problem which you accuse the present government of creating ! This is indeed a shameful analysis . Shows why protestors knowingly or unknowingly were seen sitting with posters of arrested individuals .

  6. A completely flawed analysis of need to protest based on the lines of casteism and religion. How can you one define need to protest just based on how farmers work in fields on tenants of religion. This is an agitation by wealthy folks to make sure their guaranteed income stays as is. Modi should leave out Punjab and Haryana and reforms should be added for all other states.

  7. Print, are you going to become just mother BJP/RSS bashing organization? Please care to explain how the farm laws are anti Sikh?

  8. This article looks to be a misleading one. The author has no insight into the actual farmer bill(s) and just repeats the oft repeated topic of sikhism, caste system, etc. The topic should be changed to something like “Greatness of Sikhism”. Very sad to see that all the rich middlemen are misleading the farming community in such a large manner.

  9. What poppy cock. Allowing all shades of opinions an exoression on this platform is no justification for lowering your editorial standards.

  10. The likes of this author, will tag along anyone ot anything that is against the bjp govt. – doesn’t matter if they are illogical or even fantasising or distorting, or even if it goes against what is needed for the progress of the nation. Their arguements are specious at best.

    But the moot pt, these farm laws initially address are –
    1. The overall food security frameworks in india incl leakages at fci and other procurements, storage and distribution. Centre pays for msp, lakhs of tonns of grains rice and wheat rot, rotten grains sold to distillery at throwaway prices.

    2. Pubjab /Haryana will have to move away from this rice -wheat cycle or the nature will extarct a far higher price in the near future, as soil degradation is rampant, incr input costs and reduce profits. When water crises worsens, the costs will be unbearable.

    3. Agriculture, will have to be subsidised in india, like in all other countries but thru more efficient mechanisms like dbt etc. Fiedoms in agriculture supply chain both at inputs and outputs needs to be dismantaled.

    4. Agriculture supply chain is essential, otherwise boom busts will happen. Media who is so much for the farmers now, w/o understanding issues will cry hoarse every yr when onion prices rise and forget abt farmers, should not we let our poor farmers extract higher prices and higher profits. Mechanism, where farmers have more steady income will need to be built, and there can only happen thru mkt reforms in output supply chains.

    Lets think abt india 10 yrs hence and not be ostriches or idiots like this kancha who is the most stupid illogical fool as seen from his arguements in this column or thru this tv debates.

  11. A totally biased article just blaming Hindutva and RSS for everything, even though the current agitation is due to pure economics and not cultural. The Print editorial team should at least maintain a pretense of a factual analysis, even if they want to push an agenda. This is just blatant bullshit.

  12. Unfortunately it took 28 years for the MURDERED nun to get justice.

    People who have recently converted and are given an task to convert more people unfortunately even when they see wrong things happening in their new faith keep quiet.

    A person who cannot speak of wrongdoing in the faith he follows CANNOT BE TRUSTED.

  13. The article clearly shows the lack of understanding of Sikh and caste of the author. Only punjabis can understand the castist supremacism being practiced in both rural and urban areas. Its avery superficial understanding by someone who clearly isn’t a punjabi and gets his knowledge from what is seenn movies and TV

  14. This is a Communist infiltrated movement plus the masala of urban naxals anto Hindus cleverly woven as an anti Sikh Govt move. The movement has zero support even from so called anti Modi authors

  15. This author has no interest in the farm laws or how the famers are affected from this. There is not even an iota of research or even reasoning as to why the farm laws are not good for the country, just emotional chest thumping and elevating a community at the cost of another. This piece is the definition of communal incitement and probably serves the interst of those elements which have already hijacked genuine protests.

  16. The author didn’t even discuss/argue/foresee the very basics of Agro-Economics. At least the author should analyse his/her native state’s Agri-ecosystem with ref. to Farm laws context to put forward a valid argument.
    This article is an example of how national Issues are pushed into a ‘Pseudo’ Casteist & Communal appropriation.

  17. Wow. This must be the most ridiculous commentary on the farm laws, from a bigoted man who can’t think beyond caste.
    For all is vituperative rants, the jats, whether Sikhs or Hindus, are the worst oppressors of dalits.

  18. Poor Article – a debate b/w Equity Vs Efficiency that is at the heart of Socialism Vs Capitalism Dilemma is made to look like a Sikh Jihad inside the country.

  19. ThePrint should avoid Divisive & Biased Articles like these. This is no Jihad being waged inside the country, but a conflict b/w Equity & Efficiency that is at the heart of Socialism Vs Capitalism.

    To talk about Article 370, RSS and other stuff is giving a poor spin to debate on the farm laws.

  20. What author has said mostly true about Sikhs. They are hardworking and industrious people. However the reason for this agitation is not the same.. This is mainly orchestrated by wealthy middlemen who have nothing to do with Labour or dignity of labour. This agitation is to protect their money making business.

    • Not true, the laws are designed to disown the land-owning farmer of their land, control the land ownership and food supply in the hands of the few Gujarati billionaires that support BJP, either you are part of the BJP IT Cell or your blind to what’s been happening in India since Modi rule. They are the new East India Company, but with brown faces.

  21. You do realise the govt can simply exclude punjab from agri reforms and the sikh farmers can watch their lead disappear and see rest of the country’s farm folks growing prosperous.

    Be careful what you wish for.

  22. This is the most flawed “analysis”of the laws that i have seen. The author clearly doesn’t understand even the basics of economics. Not surprised.

    • Could not agree more. The piece completely obfuscates the issues. I would imagine that the print would use a more robust editorial framework work to rein in attempts to ‘ clutter’

  23. This converted Christian is trying his best to turn Sikhs against Hindus with lies and shame less Shekhar Guptha providing him with a platform to spread his poison, the Reason why Indis was enslaved for thousands of years is due to these traitors , every country and every religion had traitors but in Islam and Christianity they will kill and destroy the families of these traitors once the right wing gains power , but in India even under so called right wing government, these traitors are roaming free.

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