The Asian Peasant Coalition (APC)'s observance of 29 March as "Land of the Landless: Land to the Tillers", reminds us of the words of Mahatma Gandhi: "In reality, the toilers is the owner of what he produces. If the toilers intelligently combine, they will become an irresistible power."
Socialist leader Dr Ram Manohar Lohia had also echoed in the last century that "the most exploited element in Indian society was the landless village labourers and farmers." Dr Ram Manohar Lohia had said that the freedom struggle in India could not be completed until the prosperity of a humble kisan (farmer) became a reality. When Dr Lohia was elected President of Hind Kisan Panchayat in 1949, he said in his address that the reconstruction of India was primarily a question of the reconstruction of her five and half lakhs (550,000) of villages. Like Mahatma Gandhi, he wanted a village-based democracy in India. Each village should be a zone of peace where proprietary rights of land should be given to the impoverished and actual tillers of the soil and even landless labourers would be able to secure rehabilitation and social justice. Dr Lohia had put the spotlight on the bitter truth of so-called 'urban development' when he said that our villages were neglected by the government for the benefit of urban areas. Village dwellers were exploited economically and culturally. Land must belong to the tiller, was Dr Lohia's priority, in his scheme of agrarian revolution.
REALITY IS GRIM: MOST LAND DOES NOT BELONG TO THOSE WHO TILL IT
So many decades after our independence, words of Gandhi and Lohia have only gained relevance manifold - because most land still does not belong to the tiller. The kind of 'development' model we are chasing, is not resulting in "tillers should own the land" but even those who have a land are at risk of losing it. After the policies of globalization, privatisation and liberalisation that were implemented in India since early 1990s, even land-holder farmers are becoming landless, said Harinder Singh Manshahia, farmer and farmers' leader, and Punjab State President of Socialist Party (India).
According to National Sample Survey Organisation (NSSO) data, 60% of the country's population has right over only 5% of land; whereas 10% of the population has control over 55% of the land. The 2011 Socio Economic and Caste Census shows that 56% of households in rural India do not own any agricultural land. The NSSO 2013 revealed that top 7.18% of households own more than 46.71% of the land.
Asian Peasant Coalition (APC)’s KR Manga, who is part of Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas (KMP – farmers association in Philippines), and Raja Mujeeb, who is part of Pakistan Kisan Mazdoor Tahreek, called for ending corporate control in food and agriculture in Satyagraha discussion held in lead up to the Day Of the Landless 2021. They called for strengthening the fight for genuine land reform and rural development to truly transform the world's food systems.
Raja Mujeeb said: "On the Day of the Landless, we - farmers and peasants, poor farmhands, agricultural workers, contract farmers, Dalits, rural women and youth, and land reform advocates across Asia - vow to further our resolve in fighting against landlessness. Landlessness breeds social injustice, hunger, and impoverishment. Landlessness is a bane to farmers and all the people of the world."
Dr Sandeep Pandey, Ramon Magsaysay Awardee and national Vice President of Socialist Party (India) said that "It is unacceptable that farmers and food producers who feed our nations do not have access to land and are food insecure because of land and resource grabs, and of corporate capture of agricultural production and trade."
WHY HUNGER? WHEN FARMERS GROW MORE THAN NEEDED TO FEED ALL
The COVID-19 pandemic that ravaged the world in 2020 further exposed the profit-oriented nature of global food systems as it drove millions of people into chronic hunger. By the end of 2019, at least 690 million people went hungry. By the start of 2020, hundreds of millions of people continue to suffer acute food insecurity as they face conflict, climate change, and economic crises of epic proportions.
As of October 2020, a staggering seven million people have died of hunger. Pandemic-related hunger also led to the deaths of 10,000 more children each month over the first year of the health crisis. Forecasts even warned about multiple famines in the coming months as the lowest-income households are most likely to face increased hunger. Strict lockdown policies and quarantines have affected all stages of food supply, resulting in a steep rise in food prices and widespread food insecurity.
APC leaders said that hunger and poverty of Asian peasants and sectors in agriculture are among the direct results of centuries-old landlessness. Large-scale land deals and acquisitions - land grabs led by corporations have dispossessed and displaced farmers from the land they till. Millions of hectares of land planted with staples, grains, and other food crops, as well as indigenous lands, and public lands were land grabbed and converted into plantations, extractive mining projects, and farms devoted to export cash crops. Governments have become willing accomplices in these land grabs through public-private partnerships that take away land, water, and other natural resources from the people. Profits keep pouring into the pockets of the few as the majority of peasants and their families endure worsening landlessness and land grabs amid a pandemic. Farmers who assert land rights are faced with attacks either from local landlords, big corporations, and even government agencies. Peasant killings and other forms of brutalities against farmers happen on a daily basis.
In Asia, the largest mobilizations we have seen in recent months are of India’s farmers, taking to the streets in hundreds of millions, to oppose and protest neoliberal agricultural laws that will make them more vulnerable to a few powerful corporations.
APC statement alarms that "ongoing efforts to address the rising global hunger and poverty through the upcoming UN Food Systems Summit will only end up in legitimizing and further advancing tighter imperialist control over food and agriculture."
APC called for just, equitable, healthy, and sustainable food systems that would bring to the fore the peasant’s aspirations and struggles for land and genuine agrarian reform.
Cathy Estavillo, Chairperson of Amihan women peasant federation, Philippines, and Vice Chair of APC; Ravindra, landless person from Hardoi in UP, India; and Anil Mishra, a farmer from Unnao, UP, India and President of Socialist Kisan Sabha also addressed the Satyagraha which gave a unified call for Land Must Belong To The Tillers.
(Bobby Ramakant is part of CNS (Citizen News Service), Asha Parivar, APCAT Media, and Socialist Party (India). Follow him on Twitter @bobbyramakant or read www.bit.ly/BobbyRamakant)