For more than two months, millions of farmers in India have braved the freezing rain on the outskirts of New Delhi. Blocked from further entering the city by large police barricades of barbed wire and trenches, the farmers have set up camp in protest against the new farming laws passed last September. These three Farm Acts include The Farmers’ Produce Trade and Commerce (Promotion and Facilitation) Act, which expands areas in which farmers can trade, allows electronic trading of scheduled produce, and prohibits state governments from levying farmers, traders, and electronic trading platforms conducted “in an outside area.” The Farmers (Empowerment and Protection) Agreement on Price Assurance and Farm Services Act provides a legal framework for farmers to enter into pre-arranged contracts with buyers, including mention of pricing, and defines a dispute resolution mechanism. Lastly, the Essential Commodities (Amendment) Act removes things such as cereals, potatoes, and onions from the list of “essential commodities,” which means the government cannot regulate these items except in emergencies, and states that the government can regulate stock limits on agricultural produce only in cases of steep price rises. Essentially, these laws–initiated by the government of Prime Minister Narendra Modi–completely dismantle the previous committee structure, instead allowing farmers to sell their goods to anyone for any price.
While the government claims these new measures will modernize India’s agricultural industry, the farmers say they will devastate their livelihoods by allowing big companies to drive down prices. The farmers could sell their crops at higher prices, but without enough demand, they could struggle to even meet the minimum price.
The crowded demonstrations, which began in November, saw thousands of farmers chanting “Inquilab Zindabad”–“Long live the revolution”–as they marched on foot and drove in tractors and trucks toward New Delhi. Thousands marched from other nearby states to the city where, according to CNN, violence soon erupted, with police firing tear gas and water cannons to stop them from entering the capital. Demonstrations continued through December and into the new year, with protestors pitching tents and huddling under trucks. “Our land is our mother,” said 67-year-old Dharam Singh Sandhu. “If we can’t protect it then we have no right to live.”
Although these prolonged demonstrations have been largely peaceful, violent clashes with the police have drastically increased in recent protests. The police have engaged in abuse and brutality against the protesters, with teargas, batons, and unlawful abductions. 16 opposition parties have called the government “arrogant, adamant and undemocratic” in their response to the demonstrations.
The farmers’ key demand is to repeal the three Farm Acts that could lead to exploitation, but despite months of negotiations, government leaders have failed to reach an agreement or compromise with leaders of more than 30 farmers’ unions. Rather, in early February, the government created internet and electricity blackouts at protest sites and cut off access to food, water, and bathrooms. Journalists reporting on the situation were arrested and social media accounts protesting the situation were mysteriously blocked. “why aren’t we talking about this?!” asked Rihanna in a Tweet that sparked varying reactions. While many have thanked the singer for asking out and taken a stand against oppression, some Indian celebrities responded in support of the Indian government, calling the protestors “terrorists who are trying to divide India.” This ugly response, says Vox’s Jariel Arvin, shows just how deep the divisions are within Indian society.
Other prominent figures that have raised their voices in support of the farmers are Vice President Kamala Harris’ niece Meena Harris, Representative Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.), and Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg. “I still #StandWithFarmers and support their peaceful protest,” Tweeted Thunberg to her almost five million followers. “No amount of hate, threats or violations of human rights will ever change that.”