Farmers protest: Indian women will lead the way, writes Justice Katju

Justice Markandey Katju
Justice Markandey Katju

Indian women will lead the way

By Justice Markandey Katju

The agitating Indian farmers are gathered in large numbers on the Delhi border. They held a massive farmers parade with thousands of tractors in support of their demands on 26th January ( Republic Day in India ), and have held a 4-hour stoppage of trains ( rail roko ) on 18th February from noon to 4 p.m. which was a partial success. But what now?

The Indian government has erected strong barriers on the roads leading into Delhi, thus denying the farmers entry into the Indian capital and denying them their constitutional right of holding peaceful rallies on the Ramlila ground, Jantar Mantar, and elsewhere in Delhi, or presenting a petition to the Indian Parliament which made the 3 ‘black’ laws against which the movement is going on. Where will the agitation go from here? The Indian political leaders seem adamant that they will not relent and not withdraw the black laws, come what may.

I submit that it is the Indian womenfolk who will now take the next step forward..

The power of women in popular agitations has often been underestimated, as it was believed that they are the weaker sex, and have to look after their homes and children instead of participating in agitations.

But it was women who led the march from Paris to Versailles on 5th October 1789 during the great French Revolution, which led to the end of the monarchy in France. It was the women of St Petersburg in Russia who held their demonstration on 23rd February 1917 on International Women’s Day which led to the February Revolution, the precursor to the October Revolution. In India, several women like the Rani of Jhansi have become immortalised in history.. Many other such historical examples can be given of the role of women in popular movements.

What I foresee now is that the next step forward in the present ongoing Indian farmers agitation will be played by women, particularly the wives, mothers, daughters and sisters of the Indian farmers. Many of them are already on the Delhi borders.

The Indian authorities have no doubt erected barriers at the Delhi borders to prevent ingress into Delhi by the agitators. But what if a huge crowd of agitating women tries to storm these barricades? Will the police and paramilitary forces shoot at them or baton charges them? The policemen and paramilitary personnel, too, are mostly from a peasant background ( it is often said that a soldier is a peasant in uniform ). Will they shoot or baton charge their own mothers, sisters, daughters and wives? Will they obey orders to do so? And even if they do, what effect will it have on their morale? Will, it not make them mutinous? And will this not provoke a nationwide ( and even international ) outcry, as happened after the Jalianwala Bagh massacre in Amritsar?

In the Mahabharat ( the famous Indian epic ) it is related that during the Mahabharat war the Pandavas did not know how to defeat the great Kaurav warrior Bheeshma Pitamah. So they devised the method of putting Shikhandi before Arjuna in his chariot. Shikhandi was regarded as a woman, Amba, in his previous birth ( another version is that he was a transgender ), and Bheeshma Pitamah, who was resolved never to fight with a woman, put down his weapons on seeing Shikhandi. Seizing this opportunity Arjun defeated Bheeshma.

So also my forecast is that the agitating farmers will now bring their womenfolk, like modern Shikhandis, to the forefront, to storm the barricades on the borders of Delhi, which will be like the storming of the Bastille on 14th July 1789.

(Justice Markandey Katju is former Chairman, Press Council of India and former Judge, Supreme Court of India.)

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