The farmers have shaken the government with their protests, now continuing for over three months. They’ve challenged the regime with their blockades, sit-ins, marches, as much as they have with their songs and music. This is not new. Historically, agrarian movements such as Tebhaga have given us a rich tradition of music that articulates farmers’ struggle, resolve, and demands.
Ongoing protests are no different as songs in solidarity have been produced in hundreds, adding a contemporary zing to traditional forms, creating new musical interventions, and standing up against the regime that has tried to censor them deploying all its auxiliaries. This episode of Waqt ki Awaz, in solidarity with the protesting farmers, is a tribute to the poetry and music from the farmers protests.
What started out as a folk song sung by the mondina workers in the paddy fields of Northern Italy later became a global anthem of protest. Bella Ciao has been sung and chanted all over the world where people gather to protest fascist governments or oppression of the powerful.
Now a new rendition of the classic song has been published by Indian musician Poojan Sahil. In an interview with The Telegraph India Poojan commented on his thinking as a new generation under an oppressive government:
“Like many of my generation who came out to support the anti-CAA protests, there is disappointment at what is going on around us. We feel that we will have to struggle for freedom of thought, the very existence of our friends…. essentially the world the generations before us took for granted,”
The Indian government recently agreed to three new laws that give private entities more control and freedom in the country’s agricultural market.
Farmers across India have taken to the streets, the highways and the borders to protest these new laws for they believe it will cripple this part of the country’s economy. They don’t believe big business will have the interest of the people in mind, something that has proven to be true in other countries.
Musicians have stepped up and are using their talents and voices to support all their local farmers that provide them with food.
One of these songs is Pecha. According to a recent interviewHarf Cheema (one of the musicians behind the song) said the song is about “common people fighting against the government for their rights”.
“First, farmers will feel attracted towards these private players, who will offer a better price for the produce. The government mandis will pack up meanwhile and after a few years, these players will start exploiting the farmers. That’s what we fear,” Multan Singh Rana, a farmer in the northern state of Punjab, told BBC Punjabi.
Harbhajan Mann is another musician that wrote a song in support of the farmers. According to a Facebook post he wrote he grew up in a family of farmers and he believes he is in debt to farmers around his country. Recently Mann was recently selected for the Punjab government’s ‘Shiromani Punjabi Singer’ award. In addition to using his voice as an artist Mann decided to decline receiving the award in support and protest of the actions being taken against farmers in India.
“How can I accept this award when my mother earth is in danger.”
– Harbhajan Mann
As farmers and their families have literally set up camps around the country the protests will seemingly continue for an unforeseen time – or at least until the government listens and makes the changes that this valuable part of the Indian society is demanding. Until then musicians will step it up and continue filling the soundtrack of the protest.
Cover photo by Ravi Choudhary, a photojournalist with Press Trust of India (PTI).