India: Farmer Protests 2020

by Heeya Firdaus

Image Source: Aniruddha Guha Sarkar

Braving the harsh Delhi winter, impoverished Indian farmers are marching towards the capital in hopes of registering their protests against the oppressive Farm-Bills passed by the Narendra Modi Government in September, 2020.

The Government claims that the bills make it easier for farmers to sell their produce directly to private buyers and enter into a contract with private companies, that the provision to remove the government regulated minimum support price for crops will allow farmers to bargain directly with private buyers and negotiate prices on their own, and that this will boost production through an increase in private investment. While this may sound like a win-win situation, in reality, the odds are stacked against the farmers at every stage. The Minimum Support Price safeguards a minimum profit for the farmers even when the market prices are lower. Farmers are already caught in a dated system where they are losing ground, and the new bills now expect them to negotiate prices with big corporations like Reliance or Goodricke. The bills deliberately ignore the obvious imbalance in this equation, as small farmers with less than 2 hectares of land to their name will have absolutely no bargaining power against giant corporates who will most definitely use their free reign to cheat farmers of the prices they deserve for their crops. 

The bills are going to allow the government to stop buying crops at guaranteed prices, paving the way for low-income farmers to face even more exploitation and taking away the only semblance of financial assurance that they had in India’s volatile economy. The farmers can now also sell their produce outside the regulated “APMC mandis” escaping the network of middlemen. However, the pro-corporate provisions of the bill only replaces these middlemen with corporate middlemen who have even less accountability. In a country where 1.3 billion people depend on agriculture, breaking the backbone of the nation by making farmer’s vulnerable to corporate exploitation is a guaranteed step towards worsening the recession that the country is already facing—the first recession in decades. Not only has the Narendra Modi government refused to acknowledge the recession or make a single press statement, it has also launched a violent crackdown against the farmers who are exercising their democratic right to protest.

In response to the concerns about the minimum floor price being abolished, the government has said that the APMC mandis will end but they will not be shut down, and that the Minimum Support Price will not be scrapped. However, these assurances fail to be implemented and only remain verbal assurances. Given the Modi government’s track-record of keeping promises, it is not unusual that the farmers are still protesting. 

The laws expect farmers to be as well-versed in corporate selling as companies, not acknowledging the fact that these rural, impoverished farmers do not even have storage facilities to store their produce so that they may sell it as per their convenience. The laws also allow for the hoarding of food items by traders. Hoarding food items for the purpose of making a profit however, was a criminal offence in India. The bill essentially causes food prices to sky-rocket while farmers are driven to suicide due to meagre profit. 

But of all the issues caused by the Farm Bills, the Modi government’s response to its electors’ demands is what is of most concern. Instead of facilitating dialogue, the government has sealed the borders of Delhi fracking farmers to camp out on the national highways in the 45 degree Fahrenheit weather. It has also deployed paramilitary forces against a peaceful march and used water-cannon and tear gas. There has been severe police brutality and a violent crackdown on protestors, with the government using their favourite blanket accusation—labelling farmers as “terrorists”. The government and their pocket cops, the Delhi Police, have gone to the extent of preparing empty stadiums and shipping containers to forcefully detain the farmers. 

The Narendra Modi government is known for its violent and oppressive policies. However, the international community has failed to condemn his actions time and again. Part of the reason for this is that the Government has defunded and uprooted international Human Rights organisations like Amnesty from India. Censoring the press, influencing judicial decisions, suppressing dissent, unlawful arresting, and changing the very fabric of a nation through constitutional amendments oddly seem to be the only  characteristic elements of a government that came to power on the promise of “good days”. 

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