Since November, one of the busiest highways leading to New Delhi, India, has been blocked as thousands of farmers from India’s northern states have come to protest three newly passed agricultural reforms. The three laws, which were passed on September 27th, are designed to reform the country’s agricultural market by working to deregulate it over time.
However, farmers fear that the laws will allow agribusiness and big corporations to exploit them. The farmers have been peacefully demanding that the government repeal these laws, but they have been taking highly unethical actions to suppress the voices of their people, and it is inexcusable.
While India’s nationwide food marketing system was complex, the system ensured fair prices to 100 million farmers in the country. Farmers would bring their crops to wholesale markets known as mandis and sell their products to traders through open auctions with transparent pricing. Minimum Support Prices (MSP) enforced the crops’ prices, a government price that served as a benchmark for certain items. The crops would then either go out to a secondary market or be stored for future sales.
This system protected the farmers from exploitation from private corporations and gave them market standards for their products. Northern states in India, such as Punjab and Haryana, have incorporated this system into their market so that farmers from these states have some of the country’s highest incomes.
Currently, the agriculture industry only accounts for 15% of India’s national income. Despite half of the country depending on a dying industry for their livelihood, more than half of India’s farming households are in debt, contributing to a nationwide suicide crisis. In 2019, 10,281 farmers committed suicide, accounting for 7.4% of the country’s suicides that year.
Furthermore, the government has handled the increasing growth in farmer suicide terribly. Instead of providing for their farmers’ needs and introducing helpful reforms, Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government decided to pass laws that wouldn’t help the vital agriculture industry but instead privatize it.
For this reason, the anger and resentment by farmers and their households have continued to build up over time. With the government ignoring the desperate cries for help and choosing to push for the farmers to further extremes, the passing of the new agricultural reform acts served as a breaking point for the thousands of angered farmers.
The first act, the Farmers’ Produce Trade and Commerce (Promotion and Facilitation) Act, allows farmers to sell their produce outside of mandis, in unregulated spaces. However, these deregulated spaces enable big corporations to come in and use their prices to attract farmers from the regulated markets. This can cause a collapse of the traditional mandis, allowing for farmers’ exploitation and the end of MSPs.
The second act, the Farmers’ (Empowerment and Protection) Agreement of Price Assurance and Farm Services act, creates a framework for contract deals. This means that, for the farmers, there would be little oversight over the business agreements, and farmers would have fewer options when trying to get out of bad deals.
The last act, the Essential Commodities (Amendment) Act, eliminates the government’s storage limits to control prices. Big companies will have the freedom to stock commodities, helping them dictate terms to farmers.
For over 60 years, the Indian government has offered guaranteed prices (MSP) to farmers for certain crops such as rice and wheat. As per the conditions set forth by the government, MSPs cannot be altered and acts as a safety net for farmers when crop prices fall drastically. The three new farmer acts don’t mention anything about MSPs, but Modi and his government have verbally promised that MSPs will not disappear, a statement the farmers find hard to trust, resulting in them demanding written assurance.
In an attempt to get the government to repeal these new laws, tens of thousands of Punjabi and Haryanvi farmers traveled to the capital of the country, New Delhi, leaving behind their livelihoods. The protestors have set up camps on highways, creating make-shift homes and living off food rations and donations from non-governmental organizations (NGOs) such as Khalsa Aid.
In reports from across the country, they have stated that they will stay as long as it takes for the government to repeal the new laws, and their persistence has inspired protests in other nations and social media awareness.
In December, at least 1,000 residents of Montreal, Canada, attended a car rally that garnered a lot of attention on social media. Even Canada’s Prime Minister, Justin Trudeau, said reports out of India were “concerning” and that his country would “always be there to defend the rights of peaceful protest.”
In response to the protests, the Indian government has started suspending railway services from Punjab, blocked the internet in places with a high concentration of protestors, and barricaded highways to stop protestors from coming in. Additionally, police used tear gas and rubber bullets to respond to a peaceful protest in November, which led to three farmer deaths.
When CNN posted an article about the protests, pop star Rihanna and climate activist Greta Thunberg retweeted it in early March However, instead of gratitude and appreciation, the celebrities were instead met with hate from supporters of the government. Additionally, some Indian residents claimed that celebrities shouldn’t retweet propaganda and interfere with India’s issues.
Additionally, the Indian government got several A-list Bollywood celebrities, including Akshay Kumar, Kangana Ranut, Sachin Tendulkar, and Karan Johar, to tweet that India should focus on the government’s efforts to resolve the ongoing farmer crisis rather than paying attention to “half-truths” and those “creating differences,” followed by the hashtag, “#IndiaAgainstPropaganda.”
The Indian government has also ordered Twitter to suspend accounts that tweeted support for the farmers or criticism of its treatment. The police arrested a climate activist on suspicion of sedition for allegedly sharing tips on how to drum up support for the protests online.
The Indian government wants to privatize the agricultural industry with as little interference as possible, but the farmers are not standing for it. The only thing the government was willing to do was push the introduction of the laws by 18 months, but this alone is not enough.
Instead, the government needs to direct their focus on the reforms the farmers need instead of opening up the industry for big corporations to exploit the unprotected people. The restriction of free speech, the use of unethical violence, and the passing of the three laws is a dehumanization of one of the most vital industries and needs to be stopped.