By: Rithiga Rahulotchanan
In August 2020, farmers in India took to the streets in protest of the Indian government’s new farm acts. Since their passage in September 2020, protests predominantly organised by the Sikh diaspora have escalated across the world, from the UK to Australia, driving the farmers’ ongoing struggle for the repeal of the three bills.
It is no secret that India is the world’s largest producer and exporter of spices, producing roughly 68% of the world's spices. However, India is also the leading exporter of Basmati rice and the largest producer of milk, with main production taking place in states like Punjab, Haryana, and Delhi where farmers are protesting. India is also the world's second-largest producer of rice, wheat and other cereals, ranking second in fruits and vegetable production just under China. Therefore, it is safe to conclude that without the hard work and diligence of Indian farmers, the rest of the world would be missing the majority of their dietary staples.
According to the World Bank, more than 40% of India’s workforce is engaged in agriculture, making agriculture the largest source of livelihoods in India. Furthermore, 70% of rural households are completely dependent on agriculture as a primary income source. Of this, a further 82% of farmers are categorised as small and marginal. As the backbone of India’s economy, questions must be asked regarding the support, or lack thereof, provided by the Indian government for its farming community, particularly during such turbulent times.
In 2016, Prime Minister Narendra Modi promised that he would double farmers' incomes by 2022. A government committee later reported that in order to double farmers’ incomes by 2022, incomes for farmers would need to grow by 10.4% each year from 2015, which has not been happening. The report also stated that the government needed to invest 6.39bn rupees (£64bn) in the agricultural sector. However, data on both public and private investment shows that investment has been falling.
Farmers’ wages have also been affected by inflation in recent years. World Bank data shows that consumer price inflation grew from just under 2.5% in 2017 to nearly 7.7% in 2019. Surveys conducted in 2013 and 2016 showed an increase in farmers' incomes in absolute terms of nearly 40% over that period. However, a report by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) in 2018 estimated that farmers’ incomes actually increased by just 2% a year throughout those three years. Experts suggest that whilst accounting for inflation, it is clear that farmers’ incomes have remained stagnant or even declined for several decades. The rising costs faced by famers, as well as the fluctuating prices they receive for their produce have also had a detrimental effect on wages.
Another issue faced by the farmers is the crippling amount of debt they are being held liable for. In 2016, an official government survey carried out by the National Bank for Agriculture and Rural Development, found that in the three years up to this point, the average amount of debt that farmers were liable for had more than doubled. Previously, there has been much political debate regarding whether farmers should receive debt relief, triggered by increases in debt-related suicides. Discussions involving a one-off write-off of all farmers' debts did not amount to much however, as farmers continue to face high levels of debt.
There have been attempts at federal and state level over the years to give farmers direct financial and other support, such as subsidies for fertilisers and seeds, and special credit schemes. However, evidence in favour of the success of such schemes is yet to be presented.
What are the three farm bills?
In September 2020, three farm bills were passed, which threaten the livelihoods of Indian farmers, under Modi’s regime.
The three bills:
1. The Farmers’ Produce Trade and Commerce Act abolishes mandis, which guarantee farmers a Minimum Support Price (like the UK’s minimum wage). Their abolishment means that farmers must sell crops at a corporately dictated price, or risk their crops being left unsold.
2. The Farmers Agreement on Price Assurance and Farm Services Act creates a framework for contract farming to be agreed between the farmer and the buyer pre-production. However, without a mutually beneficial agreement of price, or the Mandis as a minimum, the farmer will have no powers for negotiation or litigation.
3. The amendment to the Essential Commodities Act allows for the stockpiling of agricultural products, thus giving corporations further control of agricultural commodities to increase their own profits. Small agricultural farmers will further be at the whim of corporations and their demands.
The aim of these laws is to deregulate farming to ‘allow direct relationships’ between farmers and corporations, thus allowing for the mass privatisation of Indian agriculture. Deregulation will limit farmers’ bargaining power against large corporations, who will be able to buy crops with no minimum buying price.
Since mid-November, farmers have travelled to Delhi in protest of the unjust laws with the aim of getting these laws repealed.
The state response
As of 30th January 2021, the response of the Indian state to these protests has escalated, with numerous reports of human rights violations across Delhi:
Sikh Expo reported seven human rights violations committed by the state over a 48-hour period:
1. Indian police brutally attack peaceful protestors with tear gas, batons, and water cannons. Hundreds were injured, many disappeared and one dead.
2. Indian police cut the internet at protest sites while they attacked to create a social media blackout and stop communications between protestors and the rest of the world.
3. Indian police cut food and fresh water supply to protest sites in an attempt to starve protestors.
4. Indian police begin the unlawful of innocent protestors and their family members.
5. State-sponsored goons and badgeless officers start widespread riots against innocent protestors.
6. State-owned media and news outlets create false propaganda to instil vitriolic hatred in Delhi residents for farmers.
7. Angry right-wing Hindutva mobs escorted into protest sites by police and allowed to attack innocent protestors.
Indian government officials also reportedly submitted around 250 Twitter accounts to be blocked on grounds of public security. Accounts included those of Kisan Ekta Morcha and Tractor2Twitr, as well as other popular accounts associated with the protests. Twitter also blocked the accounts of Caravan, a news magazine, activist Hansraj Meena, actor Sushant Singh and other lawmakers. Dozens of accounts have since been restored, however the hashtag #TwitterCensorship is now trending, as Twitter users express strong disdain for the platform’s role in further suppressing the voices of the farmers in India, and fuelling the ongoing media blackout regarding the inhumane treatment of protestors in Delhi.
The recent state-sponsored attacks come as no surprise to the minority groups of India. The country has a well-documented history of human rights violations dating back to 1947, from the Sikh genocide in 1984 to the anti-Tamil program of 1991, as the Indian ‘democracy’ continues to be one which panders to the demands of the wealthy and allows the persecution of the working class and minority groups.
Passed without union consultation, these laws serve as an important reminder of the extent to which India is determined to protect the business interests of billionaires at the expense of its citizens.
What you can do to help
As the organised protest enters its third month, with union discussions seemingly at a stale mate, the economic resources of the farmers are running dry. Without our support, the hands of those who feed us will go without. Below are some ways you can play an active role in the plight of the farmers in India:
· Donate to Khalsa Aid.
· Send an email to your local MP to push the UK government to intervene and help. Follow the link in @landworkersalliance’s bio on Instagram for an email template. As Parliament considers debating on this issue after an e-petition garnered over 106,000 signatures, your email could make a significant difference.
· Raise awareness about the ongoing struggle in India. The government’s consistent use of social media blackouts is causing a delay in the receipt and spread of important information regarding the situation in Delhi.