On the 26th of November 2020, India witnessed the biggest strike in recorded human history, with two hundred and fifty million labourers and farmers turning out in protest against newly introduced farm laws. Three months later, tens of thousands of farmers are still camping outside Delhi and many more continue protests around the state. The farmer protests have gained world-wide attention for both their scale and for the repressive clampdowns that they have encountered.
The scale and intensity of the movement has grown since September 2020, when the farm laws were introduced. The slogan of the movement, Kisaan Majdoor Ekta Zindabaad —Long Live Farmer/Worker Unity — not only poetically captures the movement’s aims to repeal the laws, but also connects the common struggles of farmers and labourers.
Agroecology Now! stands in solidarity with these protesters. We also join hands with human rights organisations demanding that farmers have the right to protest free from violence, persecution, unlawful arrest and detention. We support demands for the unconditional release of farmer protestors, union leaders and journalists.
Farmers Respond to the State’s New Farm Laws
For decades, farmers have sold their produce via a localised state-regulated agricultural market, which provides them with a guaranteed minimum support price for their crops. The Government of India (GOI) argues that the farm laws they are introducing, which remove the minimum support price, would allow farmers to sell produce directly to businesses and corporations. The GOI claims that reforming law based on market logics would create competition which would increase the price of agricultural products, benefiting the farmer as well as liberalising the agricultural sector.
Farmers, however, have a different view and are sceptical about whether free market forces would work in their favour, as removing the minimum support price would leave them vulnerable to powerful corporations. Indeed, this has been the experience in countless other contexts, including in the USA where market liberalization has reached a climax, decimating rural areas and farmers – hardly a model to be exported and imposed on farmers around the world. Assuming that history will likely repeat itself – these laws will improve the livelihoods of the more prosperous and large farmers able to capitalize on corporate agriculture. The three laws will simultaneously work to disempower a majority of Indian farmers and deepen existing problems relating to farmer debt, land capture, growing inequalities, malnutrition, and food insecurity.
Given the protests, the Supreme Court of India has suspended the law for eighteen months to address farmers’ grievances. Some commentators have argued that this action is inappropriate as the Supreme Court ought to preside over constitutional and legal matters, rather than act as an intermediary between the state and the farmers. Despite the Supreme Court’s actions, the farmer protests continue.
Human Rights Violations Against the Protestors
Amnesty International and a range of other human rights organisations have strongly condemned the unlawful violent repression of the protesters and demanded an end to these repressions. Human rights organisations have observed that the GOI has disproportionately and unlawfully used firearms, batons, water cannons and tear gas against protestors, many of whom are women and elderly citizens, shut down the internet in Delhi to demobilise the movement, failed to undertake a full and thorough investigation into the mob attacks against farmers involved in the protest, and targeted social media users who advance the voice of farmers. Furthermore, farmer activists, union leaders, and journalists have been charged with the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act and colonial-era sedition laws. Human rights organisations have demanded the unconditional and immediate release of those detained.
We fully support these important demands and stand firmly against the criminalisation of these protests.
For further visual, written, and musical narratives about the protests see: