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'Making provocative art can garner attention too'

Illustrators and cartoonists voice dissent against the farm Bills with posters and satirical commentary

Image courtesy: Satish Acharya, editorial cartoonist
Image courtesy: Satish Acharya, editorial cartoonist

On 20 September, the Rajya Sabha passed three farm Bills aimed at liberalizing the agricultural sector. But there was bedlam in the upper house with opposition members walking out, microphones on the chairperson’s desk were broken, there was sloganeering and audio proceedings were turned off. The opposition has criticized the manner in which the Bills were passed without discussion or debate.They were not referred to a parliamentary committee for further deliberations.

The bills include Farmers Produce (Trade and Commerce) Bill, 2020, which will enable sale of produce in areas that are not under the government-regulated Agricultural Produce Market Committee (APMC). This means farmers can sell anywhere in the country and even electronic trading is a possibility. At APMCs, colloquially known as mandis,  farmers were assured of a minimum support price (MSP), which will not be available to them in other areas of trade. This aspect has been come under criticism. The Farmers (Empowerment and Protection) Agreement on Price Assurance and Farm Services Bill, 2020, outlines trade agreements for the sale and purchase of farm produce, but does not have adequate information on price fixing. Critics fear it will lead to their exploitation by corporate organizations. 

Also, the Essential Commodities (Amendment) Ordinance Bill replaces an ordinance promulgated by the President in June. It proposes stock limits can only be mandated if retail prices surge 50% above the average for non-perishables and 100% for perishables. It removes cereals, pulses, oilseeds, edible oils, onion and potatoes from the list of essential commodities. There are apprehensions that it could lead to hoarding. 

Farmers took to the streets to protest in parts of Punjab, Haryana and Karnataka. On social media platforms like Instagram, there are illustrated posters and comics expressing dissent with stark visuals or satirical commentary. Freelance editorial cartoonist Satish Acharya has created comics that have gone viral on both Twitter and Instagram. He picks a news-related talking point daily and creates a comic. A quick look through his Instagram account, @cartoonistsatish, will reveal cartoonish caricatures with a satirical take of politicians and celebrities, such as Narender Modi, Jaya Bachchan and Kangana Ranaut. “My job is to take a critical look at the government and become the voice of marginalized sections. I am concerned about the rushed manner in which these Bills were passed. This hurry, without a debate or discussion, is not the hallmark of a healthy democracy," he says on email. 

This sentiment is echoed by Lamya Khan, a 21-year-old illustrator from Delhi. Her poster depicts a hand-cuff as a link between Sansad Bhavan and a farmer and is posted on her Instagram page, @agraphicnerd, with the caption, ‘The Farm Bills forcefully passed today by the Rajya Sabha will decide the horrible fate for farmers.’ Speaking to Mint over phone she says, “The Bills were passed without any legislative scrutiny. They (the ruling party) could have looked at third-party reports or made a representative farmer body. There is so much hate mongering on social media, especially now with celebrities in the news, that subjects which matter get brushed under the carpet. We don’t have PR like Kangana Ranaut, but making provocative art can garner attention too."

Siddhesh Gautam illustrated the protests in Punjab and posted it on his Instagram page @bakeryprasad. He believes the Bills are anti-farmer in the long run. He says, “As a visual communicator, I couldn’t resist posting it to highlight the anti-socialism and pro-corporate measures to hide the government’s own shortcomings. The APMCs might become powerless due to the private sector, and farmers may have no control but to submit to the price and conditions dictated by corporates. Small-scale farmers will be worst affected due to the lack of socialist approach."

There are other artists who are using art to spark conversations and voice dissent. Enclosed are a few which are being shared on Instagram with hashtags like #FarmBills and #StandWithFarmers.

View this post on Instagram

Shouting farmers and sleeping media, 2020 On Thursday, farmer organisations in Haryana defied prohibitory orders imposed amid the pandemic to hold a rally at the Pipli wholesale grain market near Kurukshetra. They even blocked the Delhi-Chandigarh national highway for a couple of hours, when the police initially did not allow them to move to the venue. Their target was three central laws promulgated through ordinances ‪on June 5‬: The Farmers’ Produce Trade and Commerce (Promotion and Facilitation) Ordinance, the Essential Commodities (Amendment) Ordinance, and the Farmers (Empowerment and Protection) Agreement on Price Assurance and Farm Services Ordinance, 2020. These protests, preceded by sit-ins across Punjab, are gathering steam after Parliament convened for the Monsoon Session. The protesters say that the provision on dispute resolution under Section 8 does not sufficiently safeguard farmers’ interests. It provides that in case of a dispute arising out of a transaction between the farmer and a trader, the parties may seek a mutually acceptable solution through conciliation by filing an application to the Sub-Divisional Magistrate, who shall refer such dispute to a Conciliation Board to be appointed by him for facilitating the binding settlement of the dispute. Farmers fear the proposed system of conciliation can be misused against them. They say the ordinance does not allow farmers to approach a civil court. Union Minister Harsimrat Kaur Badal of the Akali Dal resigned from the Narendra Modi government, hours ahead of the voting in the lower House on the Farmers' Produce Trade and Commerce (Promotion and Facilitation) Bill, 2020 as well as the Farmers (Empowerment and Protection) Agreement on Price Assurance and Farm Services Bill, 2020. “Presently, farmers in Punjab and Haryana are staging protests on the streets. Soon, farmers from all over the country will hold demonstrations on the streets,” Chhattisgarh Chief Minister Bhupesh Baghel was quoted by news agency ANI as saying. #farmersproduce #farmerrights #farmersmarket #farmersprotest #justice #resistance #peace #delhi #2020 #bakeryprasad

A post shared by Siddhesh Gautam (@bakeryprasad) on

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