Hundred Days Into the Worlds Largest Protest: Where Are We now
Last week marks 100-days since farmers took to the streets of New Delhi to call the Modi government to act. In September 2020, Indian Prime Minister, Narendra Modi, passed three bills regarding the farming industry without the consultation of the farmers. These laws could ultimately lead to the mass destruction of the lives of the local farmers — that is 58% of India’s population.
A little bit of history.
In the 1960s, India’s farmers were struggling to earn money through their practice, and famine rose. The government decided to pair up with Americans to figure out a way to intervene and increase food grain production, in what is known as the Green Revolution. However, while increasing food grain production, they overused chemical fertilizers and pesticides causing some land to become infertile. While many crops suffered, foods such as rice and wheat production took off, creating a food surplus.
During this time, India developed a marketing system to establish set rules and regulations that would ensure fair pricing. The pricing system called Minimum Support Prices (MSP) was derived which are minimum established prices at which the government purchases crops from farmers. Before grocery stores, farmers would bring their crops to local wholesale marketplaces, known as Mandis, where they would sell their goods to the locals directly, however, after grocery stores came into play, the picture changed. Farmers no longer had the means to directly interact with the large retailers, and so the middlemen were created. These middlemen would act as a liaison between the farmers and retailers. At the Mandis, auctions would take place and the middlemen would be responsible for selling the crops to these retailers. The prices were also based on MSP. But now the middlemen had the power to exploit the farmers — and they often did. Because MSPs were not the law, farmers were left vulnerable to the middlemen. Although farmers usually did receive the MSP, they weren’t given anything more. They were stripped of their profits and sometimes had to wait days to receive the MSP. Farmers were often left with the bare minimum after selling their crops, making it nearly impossible for farmers to pay off their debt, much less, survive.
Farmers have been rallying against the current system for years. Because the agriculture industry has been on the decline, many farmers are struggling to make a living. In 2015, the average farming household lived off 6,491 INR, which is 89 USD/month. With this income, individuals could barely afford the basic necessities and were unable to pay back their debts. Unfortunately, this led to the rise in suicide rates. According to the Indian Journal of Medical Research, every day 28 farmers die by suicide in India.
Despite all this, their voices have remained unheard. Rather than listening to the farmers, the Modi government came up with what they claimed was a solution. They passed three bills regarding farming practices, taking this initial problem to a whole other level. They intended to eliminate the exploitation of the middlemen, however, these bills create other problems, problems much worse than middlemen.
Bill #1. Farmers’ Produce Trade and Commerce (Promotion and Facilitation) Bill: This bill allows farmers to sell their goods outside the Mandis.
Government Intention: This bill will allow farmers to sell their goods directly to corporations and private buyers essentially eliminating the middlemen. Farmers are given more choices, and could potentially sell their goods for better prices compared to what they would get at the Mandis.
Problem: Many farmers believe that this bill is a way for the government to eliminate themselves from the agriculture business. If farmers were to sell outside the Mandis, their earnings although could be high, would depend on the current market. If a product in the market is in low demand, the prices will drop, but at the same time, if the production costs are high for that product, the farmers will be in a tight spot. During these times, the government will not intervene since they are selling products outside the Mandis. Farmers fear that this will lead to the end of the MSP, which although not perfect, is still something that is needed.
Bill #2. Farmers (Empowerment and Protection) Agreement of Price Assurance and Farm Services Bill: This bill allows farmers, corporations, and private buyers to negotiate contracts for sales at pre-determined prices.
Government Intention: Allows farmers, corporations, and private buyers to form legal agreements which would ensure that exploitation does not occur.
Problem: Farmers do not have the means to bargain and negotiate with large corporations. Also, if future problems were to arise, this bill would prevent farmers’ from taking legal action against the corporate buyers, once again subjecting them to exploitation.
Bill #3. Essential Commodities (Amendment) Bill: This bill removes items such as cereals, pulses, oilseeds, onions, and potatoes from the essential commodities list. Only under extraordinary circumstances like war or famine, will these items be added to the list.
Government Intention: This bill was implemented to reduce stockpiling, and bring price stability. It also gives farmers the freedom to produce, distribute and supply their products.
Problem: The essential list allows for items to be sold at a certain price, despite the demand for the product. So by removing these items, items that individuals consume daily, it will allow for these prices to increase when in low stock. Also, farmers’ do not have the ability to compete with corporations to stockpile and produce on a large scale which would ultimately give rich investors an unfair advantage to manipulate market prices.
In November 2020, farmers from northern Punjab and Haryana states, the two largest agricultural producers, took to the streets to express their disinterest in these current laws. Recently millions of individuals have joined the streets in support of the farmers.
Many of them have settled outside New Delhi’s borders since late November to voice their demands for the removal of the three laws and for legal assurance that the MSP system will remain.
Although farmers have only been expressing their concerns and fear in a largely peaceful manner, they have been met with horrific violence from the police. One of the most violent protests took place in central Delhi, where footage shows farmers attacking police with sticks and metal bars while officers used tear gas and batons. This resulted in the death of one protester, 25-year-old, Navreet Singh. Delhi police claim that Singh died from an overturned tractor, however footage obtained from the scene shows Singh being shot by police causing his tractor to overturn and run through the barricade. Postmortem reports also indicate that he suffered from an injury consistent with at least one gunshot wound to the head.
Despite this evidence, nine senior journalists are facing criminal charges for reporting that Delhi police were responsible for the death of Singh. Police are still denying any sort of involvement in the young mans’ death.
Back in December, the Modi government offered to meet with farmers but rejected their demand for the withdrawal of the bills. The Indian government continues to insist that these laws will benefit the farmers despite their raging concerns.
The farmers’ cries have reached beyond the Modi government as people all over the world rally in support of their families back home.
A fellow supporter at the rally in Toronto, Nanki Kaur, shared her thoughts with CBC:
“It would be like if we went to work, and there was no longer a minimum wage. They feed us. It’s up to us to stand up for them.”
People all over social media continue to share updates on what’s happening in India, and raise support for the farmers and their families. The farmers' protest has also captured the attention of famous Hollywood celebrity, Rihanna, as she tweeted her support to the families in India.
Rihanna’s tweet created, what some people may call, a public awakening all over the world. Many of her fans thanked her for using her platform to talk about this important issue. However, many Indians and Modi-supporters came to the defence of the government calling her “an ill-informed outsider” who was a part of a “plot to divide India.”
Kangana Ranaut is one of the many individuals standing behind the Modi government, claiming that the farmers’ protest is an “act of terrorism.” Kangana is very well known for her controversial Twitter rants and also bashed Rihanna for getting involved.
Despite the millions of farmers and allies that line the streets in New Delhi, there are clearly many individuals in favour of these bills. Regardless of what view individuals hold, one thing is quite clear — communication is required between both parties.
Farmers are still settling at the highway of New Delhi as they continue to fight for the laws that could destroy their practice. Farmers could run into problems as summer temperatures reach 45C, however, they remain unfazed, and claim they won’t back down until they get what they deserve. They also claim that protests will soon spread all over the country, and despite nearing India’s major harvest season, they still will not back down.
There have been multiple conversations between the government and the farmers however they have yet to reach an agreement. The Modi government has offered to delay the laws for 18 months, but it was quickly rejected, claiming they wanted full repeal.
Farmers fear that the intentions of these bills are not what meets the eye. They believe they will lose the very minimum stability they have now, eventually leaving them with nothing. The farmers’ are an extremely important part of our lives — they provide us with the food we eat. Their voices are being heard all over the world, yet the Modi government is yet to make a change. Communication needs to occur, and an agreement of some sort needs to be achieved. It is important to remember that the government is for the people — their voices need to be heard.