Demonetisation: In Western Uttar Pradesh Farmers Suffer Silently

Published: December 23, 2016 - 18:58 Updated: August 8, 2017 - 15:34

A tenuous peace shrouds Baghpat. Prod below the surface and the latent disquiet among the agrarian community emerges


Outside the arcadian and sprawling Malakpur Sugar Mill lies a nondescript cabin. It is here that Manoj Kumar who is the shift manager waxes eloquent about the limited impact that demonetisation is having on their business. According to him, “We are facing no problems, there has been no shortfall in the sugarcane supplied by the farmers and we are not crushing any less sugarcane either”. As he sat smugly ensconced in his self-created utopia, the many farmers milling around stopped to look at him with perplexity. Aghast at what the manager was saying one exclaimed, “This is not true, why don’t you tell the truth? There are lines everywhere, and we have to give up working in our fields, and what is worse we have to stand in lines with no end in sight.” 


There have been no stand-offs between the farmers and the local administration, protests, or even small incidents of violence in the countryside over the lack of money. This is corroborated by both the farmers and the police. This tenuous peace belies the fact that farmers have had to let go of many working hands on their fields due to shortage of cash. Such a paucity of labour can hurt, but has been cushioned by the reality that there are many migrant labourers willing to work in exchange of rice, wheat or other foodgrains. Crops which require a fresh input of seeds are being shunned in favour of those like sugarcane which do not require a yearly sowing cycle.


The farmers in the area are pretty vociferous when asked about their opinions on demonetisation. "There is growing anger against this move, but how do we agitate? We won’t vote for Narendra Modi or the BJP. Here the Lok Dal is the strongest party and this is Ajit Singh’s ilaka (stronghold), we will vote for a pro-farmer party, it is evident that the PM is a kisan-vidrohi (anti farmer). This is a move that will only affect the poor, and the farmer; the bankers in the city have helped the rich convert their assets from black to white,” said Sudhir Pardhan, a farmer from Chhachharpur, a village nine kilometres from Malakpur, as he stood waiting next to his bullock cart piled high with the stalks. 


Another farmer from the same village standing behind him exclaimed, “The farmer is screwed any which way, demonetisation or not,” he continued, “there are no pro-farmer policies, our money had been stuck for nearly thirteen months with the mill and the cooperative and we barely have any means to survive. In times like these what does a farmer do? See, if we are suffering like this, the rich in the cities are suffering more, the move has brought everyone on the same footing.” 


In Uttar Pradesh, cities like Meerut, Mathura and others, much like in the rest of the country, have slowly been witness to a growing number of minor outbursts and clashes between the police and the general public standing in lines at the banks. Videos and news reports show groups of people jostling vigorously and trying to make a dash for their own cash

The binary categories of black money and white money, the haves and the have-nots, the rich and the poor have become more distinct since  November 8. Union Minister Uma Bharati, before the dust around demonetisation was yet to settle, had proclaimed that the decision of PM Narendra Modi was at par with anything done by Karl Marx. According to her the move was undertaken to break the class divide, but what has happened is quite the opposite. Income and wealth inequality have become more visible. Something which is indescribably insidious has been unleashed. The ramifications of which will take some time to surface. 


Discontent has been brewing amongst the farmers for some time now and there are visible manifestations of this in primarily agrarian areas. “If we don’t sell our crops we have no money, what will we do with our crops, let them stand in our fields?” Money or not, the promise of it is enough. Agrarian unrest has been on the rise in most parts of the country in the past year. There had been a sharp increase of 327 percent in the number of agrarian riots recorded in the year 2015. 

What this number has brought to light is the serious agrarian distress crippling the countryside which has been augmented by two years of drought, fluctuating prices of vegetables and the rising prices of essential goods . In any case, money had become dearer in many parts, and with this move even what little was left has vanished. The distress had metamorphosized into small agitations, that slowly but surely are on the rise.


In Uttar Pradesh, cities like Meerut, Mathura and others, much like in the rest of the country, have slowly been witness to a growing number of minor outbursts and clashes between the police and the general public standing in lines at the banks. Videos and news reports show groups of people jostling vigorously and trying to make a dash for their own cash. 


On the other hand Baghpat, Baraut and other surrounding villages have been relatively peaceful, stoically braving the onslaught of demonetisation. Many of the farmers who sell their crops to Malakpur mill, until recently, had not been paid their wages for nearly thirteen months. Yet, they are not motivated to agitate. Perhaps the futility of agitation is not lost on them. Many ask to what end, “We must sell our crops otherwise we suffer greater losses, it is the hope of payment that keeps us going.” It is the hope of future money that is keeping them quiet. According to them, they have collectively braved many a crisis. What is one more they ask? In recent times the money owed to them seems to be coming back, “Aren’t we getting the 2.5 lakhs that was due to us,” one farmer questions the group.


Dinesh Kumar Vashisht, the Station Incharge at Chhaprauli Police Station, sought to explain the reasons for the peace and quiet in Chhaprauli, “If there are banks with a lot of account holders and that much money to dispense there is going to be a problem”. “We have forty-five officers here and the rate of crime isn’t much and since demonetisation no real riots or unrest has taken place. We are told to be vigilant on Mondays and anyway the police officer have duties at banks. Sugarcane is a crop with a three year-long gestation period, and many of the farmers will use the same seeds that they have had from previous years. The area of land where wheat is cultivated is very little; so these farmers seem to be cut off from the larger mess,” he said. “Over and above that we have twelve banks for twenty-seven villages, that number of banks is more than enough.” On being asked whether the robberies, theft or local agitations have increased he replied, “This area is not integrated into the larger economy, money is not an important factor, if there is a shortage they borrow.” 


Baghpat which is a Jat-dominated district is comparatively affluent, because it has over time reaped the rewards of the green revolution. In 2014, there was a major swing of the vote towards the BJP and this time however, while there haven’t been conflagrations in the belt like other cities, the farmers are sceptical about their vote and many say that they will not vote for the saffron party and the PM in the upcoming elections as a sign of protest. Singalling what can be a considered a return for normalcy in the local politics. Whoever gets the vote will have to deal with the aftereffects of PM Narendra Modi's foray into playing Marx.


Abeer Kapoor is a reporter, data visualiser and his interests are agrarian issues, politics and foreign policy. He has a masters in development studies and loves food

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