People's Democracy

(Weekly Organ of the Communist Party of India (Marxist)


No. 25

June 19, 2011



Onion Growers Occupy Collectorate, Score Historic Win


Amra Ram


SOME six months back, many a government was disquietened by the prices onions and garlic that were then selling at Rs 80 to 100 and at Rs 250 to 300 per kg respectively. It was therefore not surprising that the peasants of Rajasthan saw some benefit in onion cultivation. At present, Rajasthan ranks second in onion cultivation --- after Maharashtra.




It is notable that the onions grown in Maharashtra, mainly in Nashik, are dark red in colour and have thin skin. On the other hand, the onions grown in Sikar, Jhunjhunu, Nagaur and Jaipur in Rajasthan are sweeter and thick-skinned. However, they are more watery and therefore deteriorate early. That is why the peasants of Rajasthan feel compelled to sell their onions immediately, more so because of inadequate provisions of cold storage in the state.


The average yield of onion in this area is 30 to 60 quintal per bigha.


The Sikar onion is tastier than its Nashik counterpart and is known as the “Shekhawati’s coconut.” This time the area witnessed a bumper crop of onions which lent a colour of joy to the growers’ faces. But the latter felt compelled to weep when they reached the mandis with their crop. They felt compelled to sell their onion, which was once being sold at Rs 80 to Rs 100 per kg in retail, at Rs 80 or Rs 100 per mound (40 kg). No onion trader was prepared to give them more than Rs 2 or Rs 2.50 per kg.


The traders controlling the mandi were now trying to take full advantage of the growers’ helplessness, as neither the central nor the state government has decided the support price for onions. Against the wishes of the growers, there was also a deduction of 5 kg per bag in the mandi. But the growers’ patience gave way on April 23, 2011, when the traders said they would offer the rate of only 2 rupees per kg for onions. Having grown incensed, the onion growers staged a demonstration on the spot and locked the mandi’s gates. They blocked the Sikar-Jaipur National Highway for about 4 hours.


Amra Ram, state president of the All India Kisan Sabha and a member of the legislative assembly, led this blockade.


On April 26, the growers held a panchayat in the onion mandi at Sikar being on the issue of onion prices. Earlier, conventions were organised on March 4 on the same issue, with the participation of peasants from Sikar, Nagaur and Jaipur.


At Sikar, the subdivisional magistrate (SDM) had had to personally appear before the kisan panchayat and receive their memorandum that detailed their problems and demands. The Kisan Sabha gave the government a reprieve of 7 days, warning that the growers would hold a kisan mahapanchayat on May 2 if the government did not pay heed to their demands in the meantime. 




However, the government began to try foil the move to hold a mahapanchayat instead of conceding the genuine demands of the growers. The district administration imposed Section 144 in the district on the bogus plea that elections to cooperative societies were taking place. This greatly added to the peasants’ discontent. They began to reach the mandi from early morning on May 2 --- quite prepared to withstand any kind of police repression. More than 7,000 peasants had reached the mandi by the noon time on the day.


The mahapanchayat began at 12 noon under the leadership of Amra Ram and state Kisan Sabha vice president Pema Ram, MLA. The main demands highlighted here were that the government must announce the minimum support price (MSP) of Rs 10 per kg for the onion crop, begin government procurement of the crop, ensure correct weighing with electronic balances, and ensure immediate payment to the growers.


The suffering growers told the mahapanchayat that they have to cough out more than Rs 10 per kg from the day they plant the seeds to the day they bring the crop for sale. In such a situation, if the traders purchase the crop at Rs 2 to 2.50 per kg, it simply amounts to ruining the growers. Quite incensed, the growers accused the government of changing the onion prices at will.


CPI(M) state secretary Vasudev, Kisan Sabha state secretary Sagar Khacharia, the CPI(M)’s tehsil secretary Bhagwan Singh, B S Meel, Ram Prasad, Hari Singh Garhwal, Harphool Singh, Rungharam, Om Prakash Yadav, Roshan Gurjar, Subhash Nehra, Rood Singh, Rameshwar Bagaria and Ram Ratan Bagaria were among the leaders who put forward their views at the mahapanchayat.


When no representative of the district administration reached the mahapanchayat even though its proceedings continued for more than four hours, the growers marched towards the Collectorate. When they reached the Collectorate gate after traversing a distance of 2 km, the police tried to prevent their entry into the Collectorate campus. Thousands of peasants then broke the gates open and entered the premises where they began a meeting exactly in front of the district collector’s office, with the bonnet of the collector’s car as a makeshift dais. Having sensed the deep-seated anger of the growers, the collector (district magistrate) simply ran away and hid himself in the veterinary hospital.    


The additional district magistrate (ADM) and certain police officials tried to open a dialogue with both the MLAs --- Amra Ram and Pema Ram --- but to no avail. The simple demand of the incensed peasants now was that the collector must be brought to the negotiation table. It was at about 6 p m that the police brought to the spot the collector who was trembling no end. At last, the collector came to the growers’ mahapanchayat and conceded the demands that were within his jurisdiction, adding that he would forward the demand for MSP to the state government. The Kisan Sabha then converted the mahapanchayat into a dharna and announced to hold a mahadharna at the Collector’s office on May 24 in case the demands were not conceded. Amra Ram announced that peasants from other districts too would be invited to take part in the proposed mahadharna.


In this phase, hundreds of peasants took out a rally in the city on May 12 and burnt the chief minister’s effigy in Jatia Bazaar. On the same day, the chief minister’s effigy was burnt in Kuchaman town of Nagaur district as well. Here the peasants organised on May 15 a mahapanchayat in front of the SDM’s office, with about 700 peasants participating in it. All the three CPI(M) MLAs in the state --- Amra Ram, Pawan Duggal and Pema Ram --- addressed this mahapanchayat.




On May 24, the peasants taking part in the mahadharna defied the heavy police bundobust, once again broke the Collectorate’s gate open and entered the premises. Hats of many police officials simply flew into the air during the scuffle that took place here. The angry peasants kept the Collectorate in their occupation for more than two hours. Amra Ram made the important announcement here that the peasants would bring the entire district administration in Sikar to a grinding halt on June 3, as their next action in the process of intensifying their struggle.


In the meantime, officials of the Electricity Board entered some peasants’ houses in the name of meter reading, filed false VCRs against them, misbehaved with a peasant woman and snatched her jewellery away. Hundreds of peasants then gheraoed the concerned police station and demanded the arrest of the engineer responsible for it. The gherao was lifted only after high police officers assured necessary action.


On May 30, Rajasthan’s minister for cooperative affairs, Parsadi Lal Meena, could not address a conference of the cooperative supervisors and officials in Sikar town and had to unceremoniously go back because of the Sikar mahapanchayat’s announcement of holding black flag demonstrations against and organising a gherao of the state’s minister. The minister and the administration were so much afraid of the black flag holding peasants that the former did not dare enter the city.


On the other hand, more than 500 peasants joined the panchayat in Chetala village of Nagaur district on May 31, on the issue of onion prices. Women made an impressive presence here. The panchayat warned the government that, in case the government did not heed to the peasant demands, the administration would be brought to a halt in Kuchaman as well on June 3.


Further, the protracted movement of the peasants of Deedwana tehsil of this district reached a crescendo on June 1; these peasants have been agitating for compensation after their crops were destroyed in 2009. On the day, about 5,000 peasants, including a large number of women, squatted on all sides of the SDM office at Deedwana. When no positive and satisfactory response came by 4 pm, Amra Ram declared that the gherao would continue indefinitely and that the peasants would paralyse the administration the next day. He urged the peasant men and women present there to join the gherao in the largest possible number and be prepared for all sorts of sacrifices. While the announcement enthused the peasants of the whole area, it unnerved the whole administration.




It is worth noting here that, confronted with angry peasants at Maullasar, once the chief minister Ashok Gehlot too had had to run away from the scene, leaving his shoes behind. It is not surprising that even today Gehlot gets nervous on the name of Maullasar.


At Deedwana, finally the district magistrate (DM) had himself to come to the gherao/dharna venue at 10 in the night and announce the suspension of three high officials who were responsible for submission of a false report regarding crop destruction. This further enthused the peasants who then returned to their respective villages, shouting slogans all the way.


The Rajasthan state unit of the All India Kisan Sabha greeted the Deedwana tehsil unit of the organisation, its leaders and activists on the success of their agitation.


The onion producing peasants too scored a historic victory. Afraid of the CPI(M)’s and Kisan Sabha’s programme to paralyse the administration in Sikar on June 3, and in view of the large scale preparations going on in all the villages, the chief minister held a meeting of his advisory council and then announced direct purchase of onions from the peasants. This was the first occasion in the state when such a protracted and militant agitation was organised in the state for direct crop procurement.


The peasants reacted to the state government’s announcement by holding a Victory Ceremony on June 3, under the leadership of Kisan Sabha. These continuing militant struggles on local issues make it clear that victory is assured provided the people are ready for making sacrifices. The oppressed have no other way but to fight for their rights. The Rajasthan state secretariat of the CPI(M), its Sikar district unit and the district unit of the Kisan Sabha hailed the fighting peasantry of the district for their determined fight up to the victory point.