The Indian Farmers’ Protests, 2020
In September of 2020, the Indian Parliament approved three agriculture regulation laws that allow farmers to sell their products directly to buyers bypassing the government entirely. In India, where the rural economy is largely agrarian and the country’s food supply is sustained through the tireless work of hardworking farmers, agricultural bills and laws are of supreme importance. When in December of 2020, millions of Punjabi farmers took to the streets in protest and announced their intent to march to the Indian capital of Delhi to directly speak to the Prime Minister regarding the bills and vocalised their dissent, the whole world sat up and took notice.
Prior to these bills being introduced, farmers sold their crops at auctions in their state’s Agricultural Produce Market Committee (APMC) where they were supported by a Minimum Support Price provided by the Government to buy farm produce. If these Government-regulated markets, known as ‘mandis’ are eradicated, poor farmers are opened up to a complete corporate market within which lurks the potential for immense and cruel exploitation. The MSP, a governmental guarantee that the farmers’ livelihood is secure is the only thing that keeps farmers faithful in investing in the next crop cycle. This investment is what feeds the nation in the coming year. If this MSP system is weakened, there will be large scale unemployment, debt and in a worst-case scenario, famine.
The Indian Prime Minister, Narendra Modi, who has a long list of controversial statements and political and economic decisions to his name, has said that these agricultural bills are justified as they allow farmers to set their own prices, sell directly to buyers and corporations and participate in private investment. What he has failed to mention in his public statements is that the best way to support farmers would be by increasing the government-sanctioned MSP.
The disparity of the farmers’ bargaining power becomes evident when one realises that 60% of the nation’s population depends on agriculture while their contribution to the GDP is a meagre 15%. Farmers, the cornerstone of the Indian economy and the Indian food supply are starving, in debt and have little to no financial security or safeguard. Within 2018 and 2019, there have been records of 20,000+ farmer suicides.
The farmers have launched what has been recorded as the largest protest in human history. And yet, the Government of India refuses to meet their demands, claiming to know better about the grassroots than the people who tend to them. Peacefully protesting individuals who are merely seeking financial security are being tear-gassed, water-cannoned and police brutality. Stadiums in Delhi have been converted into holding cells for farmers. They are being labelled separatists and anti-national by the people who unthinkingly eat the food that has been put on the table by the efforts of the protestors.
Overall, Indian farmers demand better representation, better support and more attention from the Indian government. And while arguing the motivations of the government is futile, appealing to the compassion of the people might not be. These farmers do not only matter because they are the food providers of the nation. They do not only matter because they are the economic backbone of this society. They matter because they have families to feed and lives to live, they matter because they are protesting out of agony and deep-seated frustration.
They matter because they are fellow human beings. We must stand in power with them.
Written by: Geetanjali Roy