Updated: Oct 18, 2021
Over the last fifty days, Indian farmers have been peacefully protesting the three new farming legislation passed in India. After failed attempts to negotiate with the Indian government, farmers marched to New Delhi, the capital city, in protest against these laws. For weeks, they faced several roadblocks, tear gas, water cannons, and police brutality on their way. Despite all of this, they continued the treacherous march to India’s capital city.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, Punjab, the northernmost state in India, has been responsible for growing over 50% of the 13 million tons of wheat produced. The state is known as “India’s Breadbasket” and has produced 6.8 million tons of food from June to September — food exported to countries across Asia and Europe. The farmers have been facing immense debt since the start of the lockdown and have been working overtime to save their families from starvation and homelessness.
This year on Sept. 14, India’s government passed three legislative bills that aim to deregulate Indian agriculture by encouraging small farmers to sell directly to larger corporations. Since 1964, the Indian government had played the role of the “middle man” when it came to the exports of Indian agriculture. However, with these laws, the government will let private enterprises and international companies take their place and take away the previous assurance for minimum prices of certain crops.
According to official reports, since the agricultural acts were announced, 65 farmers reportedly committed suicide, but experts believe that unofficial numbers are much higher. Over the last decade, there have been more than 40,000 farmer suicides, with 94% of them being correlated with large amounts of debt.
Before the laws were passed, farmers could sell crops through an auction at their state’s Agricultural Produce Market Committee (APMC) and get a Minimum Support Price (MSP), which is the government’s price to buy farm produce. These government-regulated markets are called “mandis,” and without them, farmers will be forced to sell to corporations, which could lead to the potential exploitation of hundreds of thousands of farmers.
Indian Prime Minister, Narendra Modi, justified these laws in multiple statements to the public, claiming that these laws would allow for more freedom for farmers. Modi claimed that these laws would allow farmers to set their prices, sell directly to buyers and corporations, and participate in private investment to increase agricultural growth. However, ending the “mandi system” will lower farmers’ earnings, forcing them to sell their land to survive.
Critics of the deregulation laws claim that they are “anti-farmer” and “pro-corporation.” “We’re worried no one will buy our produce and that we’ll go into debt, and the government won’t be able to help us,” Harinder Singh, general secretary of the Punjabi Farmers Union, said.
According to the Punjabi Farmers Union, these laws will decrease earnings and bargaining power for small farmers, weaken the MSP system, which farmers rely on for certainty about investing in the next crop cycle, and lead to unemployment and more debt. The laws also prohibit farmers from pursuing legal recourse in case of disputes with corporations.
As a result of these laws, farmers took to the streets traveling from Punjab to the capital city New Delhi. Hundreds and thousands of citizens traveled on foot or using tractors, carriages, and caravans for hundreds of miles. They were met with various obstacles throughout their journey, such as police barricades, water cannons, and dug-up and destroyed national highways. Modi has deployed the riot police and national paramilitary officers to wait behind barricades armed with assault weapons. Local news reports stated that over 700 farmers were arrested and detained in Delhi. The police have also taken over 90 farmer leaders from the Delhi-Haryana border into preventive custody for two days.
On Dec. 1, the government and farmers met to talk and attempt to reach a compromise. However, the negotiations failed. The farmers ultimately rejected the government’s plan to create a committee to discuss the new laws, claiming that they “do not work to solve the problem.” Two days later, the government met with farmer leaders once again to negotiate; but the government’s lack of accountability angered the farmers further.
As farmers continue to march, they have gained the support of citizens on national and international levels. The #DelhiChalo movement (Hindi for ‘Let’s go to Delhi’) has spread into a global movement. Economists and agricultural experts around the world are expressing their concerns for the farmers and showing their support. Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau voiced his concerns during a Facebook Live session, urging that the Indian government upholds the farmers’ right to holding peaceful protests. Hashtags such as #NoFarmersNoFood, #DelhiChalo, and #StandWithFarmers are trending on social media platforms, including Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram. Researchers estimate that with 250 million supporters from across the world, these protests are the largest ever seen in human history.