The truth behind the 2020-2021 Indian Farmers’ Protest

Staff Writer Ishita Goel

The 2020-2021 Indian Farmers’ Protest is an ongoing protest against the three farm laws passed by the Indian Parliament in September 2020. Since November, more than 250 million farmers have taken to the streets to protest these new reforms set to change India’s decades-old agricultural industry.

The government claims that these laws will be instrumental in attracting private investment in the agricultural industry and will benefit India’s farmers in the long run.  The laws collectively seek to facilitate barrier-free trade of farmers’ produce outside the markets notified under the various state Agricultural Produce Market Committee (APMC) markets, define a framework for contract farming, and impose stock limits on agricultural produce only if there is a sharp increase in retail prices. The three Ordinances aim to increase opportunities for farmers to enter long term sale contracts, increase the availability of buyers, and permit buyers to purchase farm produce in bulk.

While the government believes that these reforms are crucial for the industry’s growth, farmers allege that these laws were passed without any consultation with the farmers and will expose them to unwarranted risk.

A primary reason for the farmers’ agitation is the systematic dismantling of the APMC mandis (Indian markets), in which the buyers of produce are obligated to pay a minimum support price to farmers. Two members of the opposition party write, “The farm laws open the field to an alternate set of markets/private yards, where the buyer will have no statutory obligation to pay the minimum support price (MSP). Since the said markets/private yards will not be charged any market fee/levy; the agricultural sector will see the gradual shifting of the trade from the APMC mandis to these private yards, [sic]” Furthermore, many provisions in the acts are conceived to be pro-corporate and anti-farmer and corporatization of the agricultural industry “without a concomitant security net” could lead to exploitation of the farmers at the hands of big businesses.

While there is still debate on how these laws will affect these farmers and the industry, India has witnessed violence and brutality over the last few months as a result of the protests. In February, farmers blocked highways and roads to protest these new reforms. On the 26th February, India’s Republic Day celebrations were overshadowed by violent clashes between the farmers and the police at the Red Fort in Delhi. The police used tear-gas and lathis (sticks) on farmers who had been protesting peacefully for 60 days. Meanwhile, the farmers stormed the monument and broke past the police barricades. The government has imposed an internet shut-down, cut electricity, and stopped water supply in the areas of unrest.

While the government has tried to alleviate the situation by proposing changes, the farmers continue to demand complete scrapping of the laws, calling the offered amendments an “insult” to the farmers of the country.

Many, including pop singer Rihanna, global activist Greta Thunberg, and Meena Harris, American lawyer and niece of US Vice President Kamala Harris have taken to social media to express their support for the farmers.

As the world remains divided on this and India navigates through these troubled waters, the Indian government needs to increase dialogue and reassure farmers that they have their best interests at heart and will ultimately do only what’s best for the farmers.

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