The Nation and the World

Your pantry and India: Farmers protest in New Delhi

Farmers are essential for India’s economy and for produce across the world. Farmers are not only a profession, but a heritage in India as many farmers are generational. On November 30, 2020, 200-300,000 farmers from Punjab and Haryanaya, located in northern India, peacefully protested in New Delhi against the new agricultural laws. The three new laws were passed in September, by Prime Minister Narendara Damodardas Modi and his party, Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), and the farmers worry as the result of these laws, private companies will exploit them. These laws affect not just the pantries in India, but closets and pantries worldwide.

These laws change how farmers market and sell their produce. Before, farmers needed to sell through an auction at their state Agricultural Market Committee, where companies would bid to buy the farmers’ produce. The government would regulate and place restrictions in these auctions, and ensure a minimum and maximum price. Under the new laws the government will no longer regulate the sales. Prime Minister Modi stated in a radio interview that his new agricultural laws will “unshackle farmers” and give them new opportunities.

However, farmers are nervous that there will no longer be a government-established minimum support price (MSP), so they will need to sell at a lower price while there is much produce in the market. Farmers are frustrated with the falling crop prices, but now fear that these three new laws will allow big private companies to drive their prices down further. 

Farmers have protested in the past against the Indian government, as there has been much distrust and tension since independence in 1947. However, past protests do not compare in size to last November’s. As Soutik Biswa, an Indian correspondent for BBC, stated, “None have seen the staggering levels of cohesion and mobilisation — involving… more than half a million protesters and large swathes of civil society — as the ongoing agitation.” 

The Indian government has shown a pattern of meeting these peaceful protests with violence, such as abuse of human rights and murder.  As SimranJeet Singh, a scholar and historian of South Asia, stated, “In the past, when Indian agricultural workers have protested for fair prices and working conditions, the Indian government has responded with violent crackdowns that include documented torture, human rights abuses, and extrajudicial killings.”

Menveer Singh, a cousin of farmers in Punjab, from Vancouver, Canada, stated, “The entire world should care about this issue, because in a globalized society we are all connected. … Everything from turmeric to Basmati [rice] comes from Indian farmers.” Plus, according to the United States Department of Agriculture, India is the world’s largest cotton producer, surpassing China. 

Many consumer goods heavily rely on these farmers, and the three new laws passed could significantly impact goods everywhere in the world. 

Countries and people around the world have spoken out in favor of the protests; especially, relatives of farmers in Punjab have spoken out. Government officials and protesters in numerous locations such as Germany, France, Canada, Texas, New York, California, and Seattle have spoken out in solidarity with the protests in India. 

Jasmit Singh, a cofounder of the Sikh Coalition, the nation’s largest Sikh civil-rights organization, wrote for the Seattle Times that the United States should align with the protesters in India. They are practicing peaceful ways of protesting, which are deeply ingrained in the democracy of the United States. He further wote how essential the farming culture is to Sikhs. “The issue of profound importance to Sikh American community, because for many of us, farming is our history.” He argues that these three bills are more than a business and economic crisis, shattering a deep practice amongst many Sikhs and farmers.

Sikhs in San Francisco led a caravan to the Iocal Indian consulate to bring attention to the crisis farmers are facing. Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has spoken out in alliance with the farmers as well, stating the situation is “concerning” and Canadians are “all very worried about friends and family in Punjab.”

Image source: India TV News.

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