India farmers’ protest enters eighth month

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Millions resist new legislation

by hammad ali, Contributor

Most of us have been seeing it on our social media timelines since late last year. Farmers in India are protesting. International media first noticed it around early December, when farmers marched towards New Delhi, the capital of India. In cities across Canada, the Indian-Canadian community has organized demonstrations of solidarity. More recently, the government and government-friendly media in India has been attempting to discredit the protesters by alleging that their motives are primarily political.

India is a country where farming remains a prominent occupation for a large portion of the population. For decades, these farmers have sold their crops to the Indian government via the State Agricultural Produce Market Committees. This was highly regulated, with minimum price protection, maximum stock limits, and price caps on essentials. Under a recently passed law, the government proposes to heavily deregulate these committees, expecting farmers to sell directly to private businesses. Further, the government will no longer be offering price protection. Farmers are concerned that this will lead to private corporations driving down prices.

Gurjinder Singh Lehal, who comes from a family with a history of farming for several generations, tells us when this all began: “Farmers have been voicing their concerns since August 2020, when the three bills were made public. The protest began in Punjab and was later joined by other provinces. However, the government kept on ignoring the protests until the farmers of Punjab started their march to Delhi. Protests have been ongoing in all the parts of India and people from various provinces are joining the farmers in Delhi. The government tried to stop the farmers from reaching the capital by using tear gas shells, water cannons and barricades.” Since late January, the government has also shut down the internet, and set up barriers of concrete and barbed wire to restrict the movement of the farmers in Delhi. In January, the Supreme Court of India suspended the laws and formed a four-member committee to submit a report to the court. However, farm unions refused to cooperate with the committee, made up primarily of parliament members on record for having voted for the laws.

In the past few weeks, the Indian government has tried to discredit the protests by claiming that the primary motivation of these protests is political and/or religious in nature, and has even claimed that anti-Indian terrorists are posing as farmers. “There are farmers who used to serve in the Armed Forces who are now being met with water cannons for protesting peacefully. While Indian media is trying to defame the protests, international media and celebrities have been speaking up about the plight of Indian farmers to the world,” said Lehal. Several Indian celebrities have responded negatively to comments from international media, claiming that this is a matter internal to the state of India. Most of these celebrities are also on record for siding with the government on this issue.

To date, more than two hundred farmers have been killed in these protests, and far more have had their livelihoods affected. When asked about his biggest fears, Lehal mentions, “My ancestors have been involved in farming for decades. I am worried that big corporations are going to take over our family farms if this bill is not repealed.”

When asked if there seems to be any imminent hope of a positive resolution, Lehal says, “the protesters have been residing on the borders of Delhi since November, and plan to stay there until these laws are repealed. The people of Punjab have fought for human rights all through the history of India, and they now have the moral support of the world. With more than 250 million people protesting, we are confident our voices cannot be ignored indefinitely. I really hope that instead of silencing its own citizens, the government of India sets an example as the largest democracy in the world. It should understand that agriculture is the primary source of income for the people of India.”

At the time of this writing, a resolution has not yet been reached between the farmers and the government of India. International celebrities like Rihanna, Jameela Jamil, and activists like Greta Thunberg have been speaking up about the issue. Very few Indian celebrities seem to have spoken up against the government, possibly due to its less than stellar reputation for honouring differences of opinions. Any disruption to agricultural exports out of India will affect prices all over the world, so hopefully other countries begin to take notice and do what they can to help the negotiations end successfully.

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