Indian Farmers Protest New Laws Enacted By The Modi Government

Indian farmers are protesting in response to a set of laws passed by the Modi government. The Prime Minister Modi claims that these new laws will help farmers by opening them up to private companies and increasing their profits. The farmers argue that the laws actually maintain the power imbalance between farmers and corporations because of the inherent vulnerability of farmers’ situations.

The Modi government says this move frees the farmers from being the ‘middlemen’ between the government and the corporations. The laws make it easier for farmers to sell their produce directly to private buyers, and allows them to stockpile, which was previously a criminal offence in India. However, this ‘liberation’ of farmers, as Prime Minister Modi has referred to this law as, may actually put them in more precarious positions because the limitations regarding the financial interactions between farmers and global corporations will be lifted, effectively handing the bargaining power over to the wealthy corporations.

Most of the farmers in India own very little land, less than 5 acres each. This makes them vulnerable because their power is diminished in the face of giant corporations. Thus, in discussions between the farmers and private interests, they will necessarily bend to the will of the corporations. The coronavirus pandemic has been particularly difficult for farmers in India, and this puts them at even more of a disadvantage when coming to the table with wealthy corporations. Farmers are fearful that this most recent move by the Indian government will make them “slave[s]of the company,” reports Aljazeera.

The recent history of the farming industry in India is riddled with injustices; since global corporations have begun inhabiting the space, they have put in place financial systems that disadvantage farmers by encouraging the use of loans and credit systems. These systems can have negative consequences for farmers; the unpredictability of crops, weather, and prices make loans sometimes impossible to pay back. Additionally, corporations have mandated use of pesticides and large machinery, while also increasing the prices of these tools. Moreover, the biodiversity of crops in India diminished substantially when farmers became part of the global agricultural system. What used to be local farms that provided a rich diversity of crops to communities now are monocultural farms that feed into other pieces of global agricultural corporations’ puzzles. For example, the soy grown in India does not go to Indians, but to cattle in South America. Additionally, because farmers use pesticides for the crops in India, and those crops are used to feed cattle which is sold to consumers, these practices are also harmful to the health of those who benefit from the cheap prices of food that this global system creates.

Worse, the environmental impact is devastating to Indian lands, because these monocultural crops do not feed back into the soil like biodiverse crops do, and the pressure on farmers to produce such large amounts of product on corporations’ timelines leads to unsustainable farming practices that deplete the soil. In addition, the transport of agriculture globally utilizes technologies that emit large amounts of carbon. In all, the globalization of the agricultural system is harmful to the environment, to the consumers, but worst of all to the farmers in India. Though these new laws lift the restrictions on direct selling to private consumers, they propagate the cycle of corporatism that leaves farmers more vulnerable and less profitable.

Though there is more food being produced now than at any other point, citizens of the countries who make the food rarely reap the benefits. In the 2019-2020 fiscal year, India produced almost 300 million tonnes of food, just from grains. Yet, 14.5% of their citizens, almost 200 million people, were classified as undernourished in 2017. The agricultural production system that takes advantage of Indian farmers and sells the goods they produce to other parts of the system is perpetuating the hunger crisis, as well as contributing to an economic one.

Since 1998, over 200,000 farmers have committed suicide by ingesting the pesticides they are forced to buy from the corporations, because their situation is unendingly dire. Some foreign leaders have labelled this a mental health crisis, but this detracts from the importance of the pressures and instability that the current system places on farmers in India. The laws that get passed by the government must take into consideration the interests of the farmers – they have too long been forgotten in the interest of global corporate infrastructure. Though these laws are cloaked in the façade of giving power to the farmers, that is necessarily a false representation because their vulnerability, preserved by this agricultural system, makes them powerless in the face of giant global corporations.

Keely Bastow

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