For Dalit farm protesters, battle continues to confront caste ‘at two levels’

Behind ‘kisan mazdoor ekta’ at the farmers’ stir, existed caste fault lines for many. And between the sit-ins and home, questions of land, labour and marginalisation.

For Dalit farm protesters, battle continues to confront caste ‘at two levels’
Kartik Kakar
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“Why are we landless people at this farmers’ protest site, you ask?...for us this is more about caste than the farm laws. It’s our one chance to confront our landlords about our plight,” said Paramjeet Longwal, a 32-year-old Sikh Dalit activist, over the phone, days after she returned home in Patiala from the sit-in at Singhu border.

For over one year, at protest sites along the edges of Delhi, agrarian communities camped across roads and within tents and trucks, united in their resolve to demand a repeal of the contentious farm laws, an MSP guarantee, among others. It was only last week that the curtains came down on the agitation as the government accepted several demands.

But behind the simple slogan of “kisan mazdoor ekta zindabad” (long live farmer-worker unity) that reverberated through the protests have existed the deep fault lines of caste. And between the sit-ins, their stages and home, questions of representation, labour and land.

The agrarian community in India is far from homogenous. The upper castes form a larger number of the kisan, the landowners, the employers; the mazdoor is mostly from the lower caste, and is the land tiller, the employed and sometimes the bonded labourer.

“The slogan of kisan mazdoor ekta zindabad is applicable only within the boundaries of the protest site. Back in our villages, there’s no such thing called ekta (solidarity) between the kisan and mazdoor,” said Paramjeet, general secretary of the Zameen Prapti Sangharsh Committee, pointing out that there were few Dalit men at these sites, and fewer Dalit women.

“Tractors and trolleys are owned by zamindars, that is the kisans and so we had no way to come. They would take upper caste women...I had mobilised close to 600 Dalit women and half of them dropped out because of a transport problem.”

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