By Riya Lahoti
Over the last few weeks, Indian farmer protests have gained significant attention through the lens of social media and multiple platform societal movements. While the protests have been occurring since Sept., 2020, they had finally acquired mass recognition during November when their peaceful protests within India’s capital, New Delhi, were responded to by police violence in the form of tear gas, unjust beating of unarmed protestors, etc. Hundreds of thousands of farmers from all around India have gathered in the outskirts of Delhi, blocking many arteries in the capital, showing no signs of leaving any time soon. Three new Agricultural Bills sponsored by India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi triggered the protests.
On Sept. 27, 2020, India’s president, Ram Nath Kovind, approved of the following amendments and policies:
Farmers’ Produce Trade and Commerce Act – Ability of farmers to sell their produce to anyone, anywhere without previous limitation on inter and intra-state trade.
Farmers Agreement on Price Assurance and Farm Services Bill – A national contract framework intended to be used when a farmer and buyer come to an agreement.
Essential Commodities Act – Authorizes governmental regulations of certain food supply only within explicit circumstances.
Ever since India’s 1960 “Green Revolution,” India’s government had planted a price floor in which it set a minimum price for many crops, allowing small farmers to earn a profit even when competing with larger corporate-owned farms. This system has allowed India to not only support the backbone of its country, farmers, but resulted in creating annual food surpluses for its vast population, helping fight national hunger.
However, the government’s new policies will allow removal of past restrictions placed upon corporations and business-owned farms. For example, now corporations have more freedom to how much land they can buy, and more free rein over stockpiling commodities, allowing them to overtake markets in which smaller farmers’ produce and crops are normally sold.
Before, farmers would sell their products at auctions held under the state’s Agricultural Produce Market Committee (APMC), ensuring their goods were fairly sold and above the minimum floor price. However, these new laws, Modi states, will allow farmers to be in “greater control” in regards to setting their own price and who they sell to, cutting the previous over watch of the Agriculture Produce Market Committee.
Farmers Are Angry
More than an estimated 250 million citizens have participated in the 24-hour general strike constructed to fight the new agricultural laws. Rage and anger fill these crowds of farmers as they now believe these new laws have opened them up for greater monopolized exploitation by larger companies.
In Modi’s 2014 election, he promised that by 2020 he would raise farmer incomes by two times. However, this grave pledge has yet to be followed through as more than half of India’s farmers have reported going into debt since. Citizens claim this is because of the government’s “neglect” of the agricultural sector of their nation.
In India’s astonishing 1.3 billion residential population, around two-thirds depend heavily on farming for survival and livelihood, yet the GDP of agriculture makes up only 17 percent of India’s total economic output.
Controversial arguments have lashed out as many try to make sense of the true purpose of these policies; whether it’s to truly benefit the small farmers of India, or constructed to aid the rich allies of the government in becoming richer at the sacrifice of poor farmers.