Farmer protests in India: “the largest mobilization in human history”

Farmers in India have been on the warpath since the land reforms were passed in September last year. In recent weeks hundreds of thousands have been gathering around the capital New Delhi. Tension is mounting and clashes with the police are taking place.

The matter has reached a new dimension when “celebrities” such as Rihanna or Greta Thunberg have raised their voices on social media to support farmers.

“Why don’t we talk about this?” Rihanna asked, with a link to a US CNN story about Internet cuts promoted by the Indian government to stop the protests. In addition, Twitter has suspended some accounts of protesters.

Thunberg said he supported farmers’ protests Indians with a link to the same news and a document supporting the protests.

The Indian government has not been too amused. In a declaration he lamented that the protests involve “only a small part” of the country’s farmers. It ensures that interest groups are trying to take advantage of the protests and derail them and give the example of the celebration of the Indian Republic Day, last january 26, “A cherished national commemoration, the anniversary of the inauguration of the Constitution of India, was sullied, and acts of violence and vandalism occurred in the Indian capital,” says the government statement.

He asked celebrities and other commentators to inform themselves better before commenting on the situation. “The temptation of hashtags and sensational comments on social networks, especially when they are used by celebrities and others, is neither precise nor responsible,” recalling that the Government has offered a moratorium on the legislation.

What is happening in India?

The ‘Indian Farm Bills of 2020’, dubbed ‘Farm Bills’, are three laws initiated by the Parliament of India in September last year. Since they were approved, an outrage has been unleashed throughout the country, especially from members of the agricultural sector.

The protesters claim that the new laws are “anti-agricultural” and put farmers at “the mercy of companies”, claiming they will hurt their income. Agriculture is the largest source of income for most Indians, employing more than half of the country’s workforce.

The strike on January 30 has been described as the largest organized protest action in human history. In November, police forces beat protesters with water cannons and tear gas. The protesters responded, throwing stones and throwing the barricades set up by the authorities into the river.

In December, tens of thousands of people demonstrated in the capital, New Delhi, and more than 250 million people from across the subcontinent took part in a 24-hour strike in solidarity. It all culminated in a violent barrier breaking at the Red Fort in Delhi on January 26, India’s Republic Day, and another strike on January 30.

The protesters are camped around the capital. Clashes have occurred and the government is using internet shutdowns as a method to try to cut off communication between the protesters.

The agricultural laws of India

The government claims that the three new laws will serve to help farmers by eliminating taxes and other financial charges imposed by the government to help them sell the products directly to businesses.

The objective is also to encourage private investment in agriculture.

The three laws are as follows:

  • Law for the Promotion and Facilitation of Trade in Agricultural Products, 2020
  • Agricultural Price and Services Guarantee Agreement for Farmers (Empowerment and Protection) Act, 2020
  • Commodity (Amendment) Act, 2020

Farmers argue that new laws prevent them from obtaining a guaranteed “minimum support price” (MSP) and that companies will be able to monopolize production.

They say it opens the markets to competition, which means that prices will no longer be held at a fair level. This leaves farmers exposed to being taken advantage of by large companies, in turn causing a drop in wages.

“Just as big fish eat small fish, now big companies will eat us,” Rakesh Vyas, a farmer camping outside Delhi, told the BBC.

Has the government responded?

The force of the protests put pressure on Prime Minister Narendra Modi to take them seriously. This led to a breakthrough on January 12, when the Supreme Court of India decided to temporarily suspend the legislation.

They hoped this would appease the protesters, but the farmers’ unions maintained that they wanted the laws to be repealed entirely, a demand firmly rejected by the government, which offered only one amendment.

Now they are back on the street.

Farmers are demanding a total withdrawal of the laws and say they are willing to remain camped outside the capital until this is done.

Why agricultural protests are an environmental problem

More than 50% of the population of India is engaged directly or indirectly in agriculture, which is heavily affected by the climate crisis.

Although farmers’ demand on the Minimum Support Price (MSP) is not directly related to environmental issues, the impacts of climate change are an integral part of it. Crops across India are increasingly affected by problems such as excess rainfall, lack of rain, heat, pests, hail, floods, drought and storm surges, which affect farmers’ incomes .

In 2019, Ramesh Chand, a member of India’s federal think tank, Niti Aayog, spoke at a conference stating that agriculture is “critical to climate change and clean air, and the sustainable use of land and water. “

Climatic fluctuations have greatly affected agriculture in recent years in this part of the world. Agriculture had a gross added value (the value of agricultural goods and services produced after deducting the cost of inputs and raw materials) of 16.5% last year, according to the Economic Survey 2019-20.

Agriculture is not just an environmental issue, it is a source of livelihood for many and an important contributor to our local economies. Changing its laws can have implications for national income, food security and the survival of a significant sector of the population.

“Agriculture is both part of the problem and part of the solution to climate change and sustainability. We must seize every opportunity to move away from inefficient agricultural practices and move towards sustainability, efficiency and long-term resilience. Among all sectors, agriculture offers the best hope for green growth that is environmentally sustainable, “added Chand.

Article adapted from section “Living” of the euronews edition in english, on climate change, sustainable lifestyles and environmental issues.