Crushing dissent and stifling voices seems to have become the state’s tried and tested formula in dealing with protests, but people’s movements continue to persist.
Maharashtra is infamous for some of the highest farmer suicide rates in the country, and the majority of the state’s farmers belong to Adivasi communities, already deprived of the fruits of most economic and developmental growth. But unfortunately, apart from mega events like the Kisan Long March to Mumbai, few protests and suicides make news.
Touted as Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis’s “dream project”, the Samruddhi Expressway is one such project that threatens the livelihood of 3,000 farmers in Nashik but has not made it to the headlines. There has been news about the highest bidders for the project and the smart cities and economic opportunities it will create in the long run. But the media has been silent on the large-scale protests against the project by farmers living along the proposed expressway, and on the state’s attempts to suppress them.
The government is set to acquire 17,000 hectares of arable land and doling out compensation packages and loan-waivers is not going to alleviate the crisis because it is a quick-fix rather than a sustainable solution like ensuring land rights that farmers have been demanding.
Leading the protest is Raju Desale, the President of the Samruddhi Mahamarg Virodhi Shetkari Sangharsh Samiti, a collective of farmers opposing the project. When the farmers in the area got together for a demonstration when Fadnavis visited the site, Desale was served a notice under IPC 149, the section of the Indian Penal Code that deals with unlawful assembly. He was then detained at the police station from 7 am to 12 am, and asked to appear the following day as well. Subsequently, the same charges were pressed on the other farmers as well.
When Desale was first taken into custody, he was told that protests act as a hindrance to the government’s functioning. But what is a functional democratic government if it does not even listen to the people it claims to benefit?
Apart from the detention, Desale’s cell phone was also taken away by the police and this is something that particularly worries him. Within a couple of days, the number Desale was using as his registered WhatsApp number, was removed from certain groups that he was part of. Desale fears that the police may tamper with his WhatsApp data and add his number to other groups to implicate him in unlawful activities.
As the agrarian crisis across the country deepens, the state machinery is also taking every measure to suppress its public manifestations. From a confiscated phone in Nashik to point-blank killings in Mandsaur, the police has done it all, and mostly so without repercussions.
Meanwhile, the government does not seem to be addressing farmer suicides beyond immediate compensation either. According to a Scroll.in report, there has been no national-level official data on farmer suicides in the country after 2015. The National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) claims that there are discrepancies in the data that has come in from the states. But not having crucial data for two years, at a time when more and more protests are being carried out, only speaks of the extent of state apathy vis-a-vis farmers and their issues.
Support the Nashik farmers’ demand to take action against those who confiscated Raju Desale’s phone and arbitrarily detained them by calling the Police Commissioner of Nashik, Dr. Ravinder Singal, at +91-2532305219 and apprising him of the case.
Video by Community Correspondent Maya Khodve
Article by Alankrita Anand, a member of the VV Editorial Team