Why Farmers In India Are Still Protesting Eight Weeks On

Holly Aldridge

Indian farmers have been protesting outside of New Delhi for eight weeks now in retaliation to the new farming laws laid out by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in September of last year.

The BJP have been ruling India since 2014, and have recently revoked previous commitments to farmers’ aid. The new farm laws will relax rules surrounding the sale and pricing of various produce, by pushing the industry into the free market.

This new legislation commits the farming industry to the free market, which means that they will be controlled by private buyers and at risk of being exploited by global corporate businesses. The new farming ‘reforms’ are an embodiment of agri-business, which will disrupt the lives of nearly all Indian farmers.

The rules which are being dismantled have been in place for decades, and have protected Indian farmers from mass economic exploitation. Most farmers currently operate within government-controlled wholesale markets, which ensure a fixed rate for crops. A regulation known as the AMPC Mandis has provided funds and protection of farmers’ rights for decades.

True liberation for Indian farmers can only be achieved through greater state investment in the agricultural industries in India

Whilst the government is asserting that the AMPC Mandis is still going to operate, many farmers are sceptical as to the extent of protection they are going to receive once they are trapped within the free market. It is widely believed that these new regulations are the first step in permanently removing any assurances on fixed pricing.

The government are insisting that the new laws will be beneficial for farmers. They are asserting that they will be liberating as it will give farmers the autonomy to set their own prices. This is the crux of the issue regarding the farmers’ motivations for the protests. The farmers are advocating for assurances on their protection whilst the government are maintaining that further fixed assurances are not necessary.

The BBC have argued that true liberation for Indian farmers can only be achieved through greater state investment in the agricultural industries in India, contrary to what the BJP are stating. Therefore, it is apparent that until the government put collective farmer welfare at the forefront of their policy considerations, the protests will continue.

A 2016 Economic Survey stated that a farming family in over half of India’s states were receiving an annual income of 20,000 rupees, which translates to £230. Food and trade policy analyst, Devinder Sharma has stated that it will be difficult for people to have faith in the free market when incomes are already so low. This proves that the new laws will only further entrench their insecurity within society.

The free market will struggle to benefit the farmers in India. This is because the country is one of the most unequal in the world, and has a government with a history of human rights violations. India is home to a ‘quarter of the world’s extreme poor’, which demonstrates the extent of inequality throughout the country. The free market within this context will only benefit the rich, private buyers, and will leave the farmers at a distinct disadvantage.

The protests themselves emerged in November 2020 as a result of these divisions and vulnerabilities. The farmers have been blockaded out of the capital, New Delhi and have since set up a series of camps along the border. There has been little to no cooperation from the BJP government, as they are still insisting that the laws do not put farmers’ economic stability at risk.

In early January, the Indian Supreme Court made a controversial ruling. They have stated that the new laws should be halted in their application, however, they have asserted that legal action will be taken if the protests continue.

Whilst the new laws are exploiting Indian farmers, the West see it as an economically beneficial scheme

Therefore, whilst it appears at first glance that the Supreme Court are protecting the farmers from these laws, the World Socialist Web have asserted that the dual rulings are ‘paving the way for state repression of the protest’. Therefore, it is evident that there is a lack of support Indian farmers are receiving from the government and the judicial bodies. The farmers are not pandering to government demands and rulings, as they continue to fight for their rights.

This is the biggest worker protest ever to be seen in India, and has received a very small level of consideration in the West. In December last year, Boris Johnson confused these protests with an ongoing conflict between India and Pakistan whilst speaking in the House of Commons. This blunder can be seen as a manifestation of the lack of international support and attention the protests are receiving from Western states, as the Prime Minister was unaware of the agrarian crisis in India.

It brings into question whether Western leaders are not acknowledging the plight as the new laws will benefit the global free market. Therefore, whilst the new laws are exploiting Indian farmers, the West see it as an economically beneficial scheme, which has led to the extent of unrest being cast aside.

It is crucial for this issue to be given more attention further afield from India and its neighbouring states. The plight of Indian farmers is at a very delicate stage, and the more pressure that is placed on the Indian government, both nationally and internationally, will undoubtedly aid the fight for their rights.

The BBC have described the farmers protest as a ‘collective resistance’ against the misguided regulations being advocated for by the BJP government. It is evident that the Indian farmers will not stop their resistance until they are met with compassionate cooperation from the government.

Holly Aldridge

Featured image courtesy of Naveed Ahmed on Unsplash. Image license found hereNo changes were made to this image. 

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