Farmers in India have been protesting for over a month in the wake of the government’s announcement of three laws changing price and market regulations on crops and agricultural yields. The protests, originating around New Delhi, have been joined by neighbouring states such as Haryana, Punjab, and Uttar Pradesh. The Indian diaspora and international activists have actively expressed solidarity with the movement, mobilizing in all parts of the world from Paris to New York.
In September, Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government passed laws to bring down regulations on the agricultural sector, namely on the storage, pricing, and marketing of crops. They argue this will give farmers more autonomy on their products by enabling them to sell directly to private businesses, such as supermarkets.
On the other side, protesters who have been vocal since November, see these new laws as threatening their economic livelihoods. They fear that the revocation of state-agreed minimum prices and previously regulated sales through local market auctions will lead negotiations with big corporations and market competition to push down prices. They believe that such laws will disrupt their economic security in the midst of the ongoing pandemic, where farmers have thus far played a major role in maintaining the country’s economic resilience.
The farmers’ peaceful protests have entailed hunger strikes and demonstrations. Some have constructed makeshift camps along at least five major highways on the outskirts of New Delhi. Many have slept on the ground or inside their tractors. Charity organizations, mostly Sikh-led, have arranged food distribution for the protesters.
Agriculture makes up the larger share of India’s economy, as it is the primary source of livelihood for almost 60 per cent of the population. Farmers thus represent an important electoral share which influences national economic and political agendas. In 2014, Prime Minister Modi emphasized protection measures for farmers in their election manifesto, such as fixing crop prices at 50 per cent of its production cost. For the BJP, the new laws are an attempt to give farmers a chance to compete in the modern global market.
In light of the protests, Modi maintains that these reforms will benefit farmers. Several negotiations between the government and farmers have failed. On December 18th, he declared online that he was “very humbly ready to talk on every issue,” after reaffirming the government’s position, according to Al Jazeera. Protesters have in turn reiterated that their bare minimum is set at an annulment of the three laws.
The major concern is the immediate safety threats faced by protesters, and the precarity stemming from their living arrangements is worsened by police brutality. For instance, on November 26th, marchers who sought to join Delhi were met by armed police force at the Punjab-Haryana and Haryana-Delhi borders. According to the Director-General of Police in northern Haryana, 25 people have died so far.
Aside from these protests directly opposed at the farming regulation lies a general discontent among the public that originates from Prime Minister Modi’s governance, as well as broader concerns for Indian democracy. The opposition’s demand for a parliamentary panel to look further into these regulations was overlooked, and the precipitated timing amidst an ongoing pandemic appeared suspicious to many. This way of governing comes as a reminder of Modi’s abrupt demonetization of the currency in 2016, and the 2019 change in the status of Kashmir region.
These changes on the Indian national agricultural scene will continue to resonate globally. Economies depending on agricultural imports for consumption and production will specifically be impacted by destabilization of local dynamics, with India being the world’s leading exporter of spices, Basmati rice, and cotton. This is what the diaspora and international activists have emphasized, pointing out that the protests are about the fair treatment of “the people who feed all of us,” as reported by CNN.
This issue’s global echo also sparked diplomatic tensions. Canadian Prime Minister Trudeau’s comment about concerns over the peaceful protests addressed to the Indian community in Canada has been qualified as “an unacceptable interference in our internal affairs” by India’s Ministry of External Affairs.
It is unknown what global repercussions these protests will have. This may either prove the international community’s continued disinterest for issues regarding the economic exploitation of export-oriented nations’ citizens or alternatively point to a global desire for ethical and sustainable global exchanges by considering the human lives impacted during the production of imported goods.
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