Most of us have been following the farmers in India who have been on strike for the past six months. They have been protesting the three bills the Indian government has passed which disregard the farmer’s needs and wishes while focusing more on the corporate aspect. However, two weeks ago the peaceful protest took a violent turn.
Why are the Farmers Protesting?
First, let’s quickly recap why the farmers are protesting. The main concern that the farmers have with the three bills passed by the government is that the minimum support price (MSP) will be taken away. The MSP ensures that farmers will be paid a minimum price for their crops if/when they don’t sell up to a set amount. This only applies to 23 crops specified by the government. Although there is no mention of the MSP being taken away in the new bills, the farmers worry that over time it will disappear because the new bill allows for deals to be made directly with corporations. With this structure, marketplaces will start to disappear as they will not be in use, and this will give corporations the ability to manipulate the farmers, and pay less than the minimum set price. Each bill benefits corporations at the cost of the farmer’s hard work and livelihood. The first bill allows private marketplaces to take place without government authorization and doesn’t require traders to have a license. This means that anyone can come to these markets and sell their goods to make a profit. It also enables electronic trading of the farmer’s produce. The next bill allows companies to make deals with the farmers directly to plant and sell certain crops. The corporations will order farmers to grow their crops for whatever price they choose to pay and the farmers must comply. 70% of India’s farmers are smallholders, which means they own less than 2.5 acres of land. These smallholders will most likely not be offered contracts from big companies, and so this bill only benefits farmers with more land. The final bill allows companies to hoard supplies without the government stepping in since farmers don’t have much storage for their crops. The farmers cannot take these big corporations to court regarding the price they have offered for the crops as there is no legal pathway for farmers to defend themselves against these contracts.
Another reason the farmers are protesting is of the way the bills were passed. These bills were introduced by Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his party in August of 2020 during a global pandemic. They were brought to parliament in August and, with the extreme force this party put forth, were passed the next month. Modi’s logic behind passing these laws was that it would allow farmers to have more freedom of their own trade, and allow them to further expand their market. However, the farmers believe that these bills will give corporations power over them.
How Did the Protest Turn Violent?
The peaceful protest started becoming violent on January 26. On this day, the farmers took their tractor rally into India’s Republic Day parade in Delhi. They met with many police officers who were armed with tear gas, and batons. The farmers also took their rally to the historic Red Fort, and hoisted the Nishan Sahib flag, as a sign of hope and prosperity. Amidst all of this, one protester died and many others were injured, along with some police officers as well. This event gained a lot of publicity all around the world, and due to all of this publicity, the Indian government actually decided to shut off access to the internet to avoid more information getting out to the public.
The Influence of Influencers
Many well-known people around the world have been raising their voices to bring more awareness to this issue. Among these are celebrities such as Rihanna, Greta Thunberg and Amanda Cerny. This then led to many Bollywood stars and influencers in India to start posting and show their support to the farmers. It took someone from outside their country to start speaking up about this before they could gather some humanity to talk about it. Bollywood influencers such as Ajay Devgan and Karan Johar gave brief and meaningless tweets, and showed no support towards the farmers. It appears that more people in the west care about this issue than people in India themselves. This was also made evident by an advertisement that ran this past weekend during the Super Bowl, which is a big event that millions of people watch each year. To air an advertisement in support of the farmers protest sent a big message to the Indian government.
Missing Farmers and Impact on Women
On the Republic Day tractor rally, there were 21 protesters reported missing. That number has since grown to 123. Let’s pause and think about that for a minute – 123 people who went to support a cause are now missing. There are also other protesters who have died on the protest site due to the poor conditions and extreme cold weather outside. This protest has also seen an exceptional amount of women out on the streets protesting. Women who have left their children and their homes, and are ensuring that there are enough resources for the protestors such as food, water, blankets, etc. Other women who are left at home are also supporting the protest by stepping up and managing their family farms all by themselves. Without this, the protesters wouldn’t be able to stay away from home for so such a long period of time as there wouldn’t be enough money to feed their families and support the protest at the same time.
Despite the hard work women are putting in, they are being mistreated by the police officers and others who are against this protest. Many women have also been falsely arrested, sexually assaulted, and tortured such as Nodeep Kaur. Nodeep is a 24 year old woman who is a Dalit labour activist and was arrested on January 12. Picked up by the police for simply supporting the farmers’ movement, Nodeep has been sexually assaulted and tortured brutally while in custody and has been denied bail. There have been many more cases like Nodeep’s, and many women have also been reported missing.
How Can You Help?
You may think that your voice does not matter, but it does. Period. Each and every voice counts. Regardless of your background or country of residence, your voice can make an impact. Here are some ways you can help:
- Sign petitions such as at the following link
- Spread awareness of the cause by educating others, posting about it, etc.
- Don’t fall for propaganda, make sure you are keeping up to date with current events from reputable sites
Edited by Michelle Nishidera