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The Farmers Protest in India

By: Dr. Rama Kant Dawar, BA, LLB, LLM, Ph. D. Psychology

All around the world there has been an overwhelming support for the farmers strike in India, especially among the immigrant community. Many have gathered for rallies, driving their vehicles with signs in Punjabi, Hindi and English stating, “We Support Farmers”. These support rallies and marches were conducted in the United States, Canada, UK and many other countries of the world. So why are these farmers taking to the streets in protest? It is simple, they want to be able to feed their families, their  communities and they want to have control over their livelihood without the interference by the government.

The farm bill acts passed in September of 2020 by the Lok Sabha (Parliament or Congress of India) and Rajya Sabha (Senate of India) collectively sought to provide farmers with multiple marketing channels and legal framework and pre-arranged contracts. The President of India, Mr. Ram Nath Kovind gave his assent for these three bills on 27th  September 2020. These bills were approved by the president of India and were put into law but was met with extreme backlash from the farmers which led to them demanding the reversal of the bills.

Protests against the reform bills picked up in September 2020, particularly in Delhi, Punjab and Haryana, where farmers have been at the forefront demanding the recall of the laws.

In 2017, the central government had released model farming acts. The Standing Committee on Agriculture (2018-19), however, noted that several reforms suggested in the model acts had not been implemented by the states. In particular, the Committee found that the laws that regulated Indian agricultural markets such as those related to APMC’s (Agricultural Produce Market Committees) were not being implemented fairly and honestly or serving their purpose. A committee consisting of seven Chief Ministers (elected public officials) was set up in July 2019 to discuss implementation. The Centre (the Federal Government of India) promulgated three ordinances in the first week of June 2020, which enacted three acts called Farmer Bills.

The three acts include:

  1. The Farmers’ Produce Trade and Commerce (Promotion and Facilitation) Act, 2020:
    1. expands the scope of trade areas of farmers’ produce from select areas to “any place of production, collection, aggregation”.
    1. allows electronic trading and e-commerce of scheduled farmers’ produce.
    1. prohibits state governments from levying any market fee, cess (in Scotland, Ireland and India a tax or levy), or levy on farmers, traders, and electronic trading platforms for the trade of farmers’ produce conducted in an ‘outside trade area’.
  • Essential Commodities (Amendment) Act, 2020
    • removes food stuff such as cereals, pulses, potato, onions, edible oilseeds, and oils, from the list of essential commodities, removing stockholding limits on such items except under “extraordinary circumstances”.
    • requires that imposition of any stock limit on agricultural produce be based on price rise.

Aftermath of the bills:

Government and academic responses:

On 20 September 2020, Prime Minister Narendra Modi referred to the bills as a watershed moment in the history of Indian agriculture and stated the bills will “ensure a complete transformation of the agriculture sector” and empower tens of millions of farmers. In the Prime Minister’s Mann ki Baat radio address on 29 November 2020, he said that “all political parties had been making promises to the farmers but now these promises had been fulfilled.” Modi cited the example of a farmer from Maharashtra “whose payments for his corn crop were kept pending by traders for four months.” “In this situation, the new farm laws that were passed in September came to his aid. Under this law, it was decided that all dues of the farmers should be cleared within three days of procurement, failing which, the farmer can complain.”

The Chief Economist of the International Monetary FundGita Gopinath, said the “farm bills and labor bills are very important steps in the right direction. They have the potential to have more labor market flexibility, providing greater social security to workers and more formalization of the labor market. In the case of agriculture, having a much more integrated market, creating competition, having farmers getting a greater share of the price that finally the retail price that’s paid. So that helps with rural incomes”. She also stressed that the implementation of it must be right.

Several Union Ministers urged farmers not to have “misconceptions” about the reforms. On 30 November 2020, the Prime Minister said that the farmers are being “lied” to: “the farmers are being deceived on these historic agriculture reform laws by the same people who have misled them for decades.” Modi added that the old system was not being replaced, rather new options were being put forward for the farmers. Rejecting demands for the inclusion of Minimum Support Price (MSP) as a mandatory provision in the Farm Bills, Minister of Agriculture & Farmers’ Welfare Narendra Singh Tomar said that, while the government was committed to MSP, it was “not a part of the law” earlier and “is not” today. 

              On 31 December 2020, the Kerala legislative assembly passed a resolution against the farm reforms and seek their withdrawal.

On 1 January 2021, 866 academics from several educational institutes signed an open letter, expressing their support for the three farm laws. The open letter states that the three acts “wouldn’t do away with the MSP, but rather free the farm trade from all illicit market restrictions, open the market beyond ‘mandis’ and further assists the small and marginal farmers to sell their produce at market and competitive prices. The new laws also provide full autonomy for farmers to sell their produce”. Also, they “strongly believe in the government’s assurance to the farmers to protect the farmers’ livelihoods”. The signatories are academicians from “DUJNUGorakhpur UniversityRajasthan UniversityGujarat University and many more”.

Response from farmers:

Farmers and others have called the bills “corporate-friendly and anti-farmer.” The bills have faced strong protests mainly from Punjab, Haryana, Uttar Pardesh and Rajsthan farmers and from opposition parties (including Communist Party of India (Marxist)Indian National Congress, and Bahujan Samaj Party), as well as a member party of the ruling National Democratic Alliance—the Shiromani Akali Dal—alleging that it will hurt the farmers’ earnings. The government, however, maintains that they will make it effortless for farmers to sell their produce directly to big buyers. One of the main causes of the opposition is the uncertainty surrounding how the reforms “will play out in reality.” Controversy surrounding minimum support prices (MSPs), the effect on middlemen, loss of states’ revenue and low bargaining power of the farmers are some of the fears that have led to the opposition to the bills.

Lack of statutory support for the MSP is a major point of concern, especially for farmers from Punjab and Haryana, where 65% of wheat (2019) is procured at MSP by the Food Corporation of India and state agencies. The deregulation of the sugar industry in 1998, which paved the way for private establishments, did not result in a significant improvement in farmers’ productivity or incomes. A state-led attempt in Bihar to deregulate the APMCs in 2006 has not resulted in an increase in farmers’ income or improved infrastructure. However, the Shetkari Sanghatana, the apex body of farmers in Maharashtra, wants the market to play its role to decide the prices of Agri commodities; it contends that the MSP has actually weakened farmers, instead of empowering them. The Sanghatana (Organization) is planning an agitation demanding that the government give freedom to farmers and stop intervening in the Agri commodity market so that farmers will not have to depend on MSP.

The RSS-affiliated Bharatiya Kisan Sangh (BKS) has demanded that the government send the bills to the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Agriculture and questioned the government’s hurry to get the bills passed.

150 farmers from four districts in Madhya Pradesh were allegedly defrauded of over Rs 5 crore (50 million rupees) by two trader brothers from Dewas. These 19 farmers from Harda district have lodged a complaint and the sub-divisional magistrate – the competent officer under the newly promulgated Farmers’ Produce Trade and Commerce (Promotion and Facilitation) Act, 2020 – has started the probe and conciliation process. The farmers said that they had been solicited by the traders door-to-door and promised higher price for produce for sale outside mandi under the new farm laws. Similar cases have been reported recently from Hoshangabad, Seoni, Gwalior, Guna, Balaghat, Barwani and Jabalpur districts.  A dispute in Hoshangabad district was resolved after the company agreed to buy paddy from the farmers at an agreed upon price after the SDM intervened based on the farmers’ complaint. 

Protests 2020 Indian farmers’ protest:

Since the proposal of these laws, different protests have come underway in different states of India, especially in Punjab and Haryana. These protests are the first large-scale farmer protests since the Narendra Modi government came into power in 2014. On 26 November 2020, farmers from Haryana were stopped from entering Delhi by Haryana police. At the border near Ambala, protesters were struck with water cannons and tear gas shells by the police forces; protestors threw stones and tossed police barricades into the river. A protester told the news-media that they “will break all the barricades if [they] were not allowed to move ahead.” In response, the police used water cannons. After all of these barricades the protestors went through, they continued on protesting the new laws on the borders of India’s Capitol in New Delhi. The media has reported that trenches were dug by the police on certain routes into Delhi; the Haryana BJP government dug the National Highway connecting Haryana and Delhi. Sand-filled trucks and bulldozers were also placed on the path of the march to Delhi. Earlier, the house of Haryana’s Chief Minister was surrounded by farmers.

Farmers on protest against farmers bill in New Delhi, India

On January 01, 2021, a 57-year-old farmer was killed due to inclement weather during the protest. Over 76 protesters have died due to this farmers’ strike. On New Year’s eve, a candlelight vigil occurred to pay tribute to all the lives lost amid the standoff.

On January 07, 2021, farmers marched the freeways of New Delhi with more than 50,000 tractors participating in the march. These tractors were driven by farmer women, the elderly farmer families, and young adult farmers. Another tractor rally is planned for India’s Republic day on January 26, 2021, in New Delhi. The protestors are expecting more than 100,000 tractors participating in the tractor march on January 26, 2021. According to protesting farmer’s leader Mr. Sandhu that on each tractor there will be three to four persons and it means that on January 26, 2021 more than 300,000 protestors will be on the streets of New Delhi on 100,000 tractors including women, children, adults and many other supporters.

Farmers on tractors protesting against the farm bills of India in New Delhi

On January 08, 2021, many farm labor groups joined the protesting farmers from Haryana and Punjab. Traders, shop-keepers, and other business owners supported these labor groups financially, providing free bus rides to the protests.

Chief Justice of India’s Supreme court ordered the government of India to resolve the issues with the farmers and to provide necessary facilities to the farmers; including but not limited to medical and protective measures to stop the spread of Corona Virus as there are more than 200,000 farmers protesting. Even in the United States of America Corona virus is on rise. Currently in the United states as of January 09, 2021 the total number of cases is at 22,529,117 and rising daily. The death toll in the United States of America as of January 09, 2021 is 379,120. In the state of California, the death toll is 50,923 as of January 09, 2021. There is also a protest staged for January 09, 2021 in favor of India’s farmers in the city of Tracy, California and more than 6,500 individuals participated in that march. At this time the intervention of the Supreme Court of India is deemed necessary.

Support march in Tracy, California, USA in supporting farmers of India

There is much more happening in India than just the pandemic crisis. The world is not only concerned about the new Covid-19 strain but has also set its eyes on the infamous Farmer’s protest that has taken a serious toll not only psycho-socially but financially also on people involved, not involved, and the government.

            The particular vulnerabilities in society have been aggravated in the wake of the farmer’s protest and Covid-19 crisis-escape. The issues regarding Indian democracy, castism, and untouchability, Hindutva, and Islamophobia emerging from the pandemic and protest have been extended to reflect upon Indians present globally.

            The farmer’s protest which has led to many farmers losing their lives due to hunger strikes has spiraled and crawled into a humanitarian crisis of epochal proportions and our political, economic, and psychological systems have come crashing down. Meanwhile, record numbers of farmers in India are committing suicide, and experts fear the farming laws could drive even more people to the brink. Evidently, the government has turned a blind eye towards the current and past situations that came out as warnings. 

            A prominent and well know Sikh religious leader and priest named Baba Ram Singh, who was 65 years old committed suicide in favor of the protesting farmers on December 16, 2020. Saint Baba Ram Singh was a former member of SGPC of Haryana and a well-known Sikh Principal preacher in Haryana, India.

Sikh Priest Baba Ram Singh, who committed suicide supporting farmers of India.

            The protest has unfolded many layers of the Indian political system which is trying to manipulate everything against communism or the basic idea of equality, rights, and citizen considerations. It has clearly come out as a pseudo-democratic system that is inclined towards capitalism and supports the high or cream class. The revelation has been done about what is real and what is pretentious. Those who already have more are being served even more in the golden plates and those who have less are being snatched away from their basic needs.

            The wire correctly states, “The indecent haste with which the divisive farm bills have been legislated into law raises several disquieting questions about the future of India’s parliamentary democracy. The voice of the opposition was suppressed and dissent against the Bills bludgeoned to ram through with their passage in both Houses of Parliament, without a meaningful debate. This has robbed the farm bills of their democratic and moral legitimacy. Clearly, any law in a functioning democracy that does not enjoy the un-coerced allegiance of the community and is imposed by a government indifferent to wounded societal sensitivities can have no claim to acceptance and obedience by the people. Mahatma’s leadership of the freedom movement was anchored in this unquestionable premise.”

            This is the first time in so many years, where the protestors in India have not burned the trains, buses, stores, and government properties. So many protesting farmers have died during this protest since November 26, 2020, BUT THE GOVERNMENT OF INDIA firmly stated on January 07, 2021, that the government of India is not going to take these bills back and will only offer to make changes in these bills.

            In  December 2020, some of the government officials and elected officials stated that protestors are terrorists, while the protestors are old and elderly farmers, ladies from the farming families, children, young women from schools and colleges (whose parents and grandparents are farmers), farming labor, labor unions and many other supporters including, but not limited to commission agents of farming commodities, business owners and as well as different political and social organizations.

            The farmers’ protest against the Farm Bills passed by the Indian parliament continues in full swing even after multiple rounds of discussions, public interpretations, and indirect conversations with the central government.

A discussion will probably throw up a solution if the principle of ‘give and take’ is followed sincerely by both sides. This seems to be missing in the current discussions between the government and protesting farmers. Today, farmers want the three bills to be withdrawn which means that they have already decided on the outcome and consequences of the talks.

Farmers protesting against new farmer’s bill of India in New Delhi, India

            The leaders of the protest are from Punjab and Haryana, two states that were the biggest beneficiaries of the first green revolution of the mid-sixties. The revolution aimed at increasing the production of essential food grains to make the nation self-sufficient. The success achieved was because of the joint effort of the establishment and local farmers that resulted in food self-sufficiency on one hand and prosperity of the farming community on the other. Today, the average farming household income in Punjab and Haryana is 2.5 times more than the national average.

            The question is why is the government silent? Surely the central government is out of any reasons at all to introduce these bills which are harassing the farmers of India. The agitation of farmers which is much obvious also reaffirms the view that peoples’ power and its assertion through mass mobilization can alone secure the promise of egalitarian democracy and that elected governments cannot show a brazen disdain of popular sensitivities.

            Those in power is coming out as people with zero emotional quotients and the weight of a farmer’s emotional quotient is much greater. This indeed is gaining support from people all around the world.

            Elected representatives of Indian origin speak out in support of protesting farmers:

            “The fundamental right to peaceful protest is the cornerstone of any functioning democracy. I am appalled by the unnecessary violent measures taken by police forces in India against farmers demonstrating their constitutional rights. As Canadians, we must always call out injustices when we see them at home or abroad. The images surfacing of the use of water cannons and tear gas against an unarmed group of citizens is alarming. I am deeply concerned for the safety of all those involved.” – Kamal Khera, MP, Brampton West

            “The Indian govt’s use of water cannons and tear gas on farmers protesting mass privatization of the agricultural sector and unjust reform of farming laws is appalling. They deserve respect for feeding the nation instead of being subjected to state brutality.”– Gur Ratan Singh, elected representative of Ontario

            “We are shocked to see the Indian government’s suppression of farmers protesting new laws which will endanger their livelihood. Instead of using water cannons and tear gas, the Indian government needs to engage in open dialogue with farmers.” – Jack Harris, MP, St Johan East

            “I stand with farmers in India who are protesting peacefully, as well as their loved ones here in Ontario, who are watching the violent crackdown in horror. Everyone deserves to be able to exercise their democratic rights without fear of state-sanctioned violence.” – Andrea Horwath, leader of Ontario’s official opposition

            “I stand with the protesting farmers of India, who are fighting for their rights of peaceful protests, as well as I stand with their loved ones. Healthy democracies allow peaceful protests. I urge those involved to uphold this fundamental right. I also urge the government of India to resolve this issue of farmer’s bill 2020 at their earliest. It is of utmost importance that the Government of India initiate the start of the recovery process for these hard working protestors and their families.” — Jasvir Singh Deol, MLA, Edmonton State Assembly, Canada

            “The reports of peaceful protesters being brutalized in India are very troubling. Many of my constituents have family there and are worried about the safety of their loved ones. Healthy democracies allow peaceful protest. I urge those involved to uphold this fundamental right.” – Harjit Singh Sajjan, Defense Minister, Canada

            “I received many messages from concerned constituents in Brampton South about the situation in India. My residents told me how worried they are about the protests of Punjab farmers. I share their concerns and hope that the situation will be resolved peacefully. The freedom of expression and to protest is fundamental to every democracy and I strongly believe that they should be heard.” – Sonia Sidhu, elected representative from Brampton South

            “Many of my constituents and I are deeply concerned about the safety of our family and friends in India. The right to peaceful protest is a constitutional right. Farmers in India should be able to voice their opinions and protest peacefully without fear for their safety.” – Maninder Sidhu, MP from Brampton East

            “Treatment of Punjab farmers is terrible. They are protesting bills that will impact the lives of so many. Farmers are the backbone of Punjab. They deserve to be treated with dignity. The Indian government needs to engage in dialogue with farmers.”– Kevin Yarde, MP, Brampton North

            Many foreigners also gave interviews and many flew down to India in support of Indian farmers. The Gurudwaras in India are constantly offering ‘langar prasad’ to the farmers and are providing shelter to them. People are contributing basic food items and necessities like woollen clothes, soaps, utensils for the protestors. 

            The protest has affected the whole country adversely including blockage of routes, highways, and streets which has caused a problem for the general public who want to move and travel within the County of India. It has also created doubt in the minds of the general public that the government in which they have put their trust is failing them. The people are becoming nervous as to make the government hear about their basic needs is now such a big and difficult task.

            Amid protests the government has evaluated a much greater economic loss due to disrupted flow of goods and services, stopping of trains from plying, stopping highways which is causing a lot of delays in goods to reach their destination, etc.

            The government has not given any thought or consideration to the aftermath of this protest, which will cost the general public and the government billions of Indian Rupees. Using police force, blocking the highways, digging the highways, and putting the medical resources for protesting farmers is a daily charge which can be eliminated if the Government would just work with the Protestors to come up with a positive resolution.

            It is a bad history that these bills will not only bring foreign companies in India or bring corporate to hick high the general public selling them the grains, produce and other items at a high price, which will bring the public in haste financial problems.

            The Psychological and financial impacts of these Protests will last a lifetime for those involved. This is a difficult time which millions around the world have been impacted by and will need to recover from, especially for those Farmers and Supporters on the front lines who for many weeks have been living on the streets protesting for their basic rights and livelihood. With such large gatherings and the fear of contracting the Corona Virus the Indian Government has not established a Test Site for these protestors to go to for Corona Virus testing. At this time the daily rise in cases should also be of utmost importance to the Indian Government, but the Government has yet to offer such services to the Protestors for their health and safety.

            This protest has extended beyond what any person has imagined or thought, and there is still no end in sight. To date, there have been multiple meetings between the Protesters and the Indian Government but as of yet no resolution or compromise has been established in which both sides are happy.

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