Indian farmers forced Modi to back down on new laws. So why aren’t they going home?

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But Singh has not been to Punjab for a year, as he campaigned against the new agricultural laws with farmers at one of three protest sites in the Indian capital, claiming they would be open to exploitation.

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Sipping his morning tea surrounded by young protesters, Singh said, “When I first came here, I thought I would be here for 15, maybe 20 days, but Prime Minister Narendra Modi spent a whole year here. have make.” At a campsite in Singhu, on the outskirts of Delhi.

On Friday, numbers rose at all three protest sites as farmers gathered to mark a year of civic action that pushed Modi into a rare policy reversal last week.


On 19 November, the prime minister said he would formally repeal the law because the government had failed to convince farmers of its importance.

Modi said, “I urge all my agitating farmer companions… come back to your homes, fields and your families. Let’s make a new beginning.”

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But they didn’t go home.

Conversely, union leaders say farmers will continue to protest until the government meets their demands, including raising the minimum price for their produce, withdrawing legal action against some farmers and compensation to hundreds of families. . Farmers who died as a result of civil action.

planting damage

Singh slept for 12 months on a blanket-wrapped wooden cot inside one of the hundreds of huts, the main protest site, Singhu.

Since last November, she and thousands of others have been living rough lives through severe winters, scorching heat and a global pandemic.

Modi’s ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) had insisted that the reforms would fix the problem-ridden system. Earlier, farmers had to sell their goods at auctions, where they would receive the Minimum Support Price (MSP) by the government at least for some of their crops.

Agricultural laws aim to loosen rules for the sale, pricing and storage of agricultural produce, which have protected farmers from a free market for decades. However, farmers said market forces could push prices down even further, and small farmers may find it difficult to negotiate favorable deals with the corporate giants.

According to a report by the India Brand Equity Foundation, agriculture is the primary source of livelihood for about 58% of India’s 1.3 billion citizens. The country is the world’s second largest producer of rice, wheat, sugarcane, cotton, groundnut, fruits and vegetables.

But according to government data, farmer households earned a median income of only Rs 10,218 ($137) a month in 2018-19 – Rs 316 less than the country’s average salary that year.

Economist Devinder Sharma said that most of the farmers do not give enough land to earn profit, which makes the credit weak.

“When farmers sow their seeds to grow crops, they are already making losses,” he said. “They sacrificed their income for the sake of consumers, and it is the small farmers who have been exploited the most.”

The abject poverty and debt faced by many farmers of India have forced some to take extreme measures. According to government data, more than 10,000 people ended their lives in the agriculture sector in 2019.

“The performance ends with mixed rage,” Sharma said. “Farmers know that this may be their last chance to secure a stable future for themselves. It is a do or die situation.”

The Delhi Police on Friday put up concrete blocks along the Delhi-Ghazipur border ahead of the farmers' protest.

what do farmers want

Delhi Police imposed a blockade on Friday to limit access to three protest sites, but turnout was low at the peak of the protest.

The time to celebrate was over – despite their small numbers, thousands still turned out with clear demands.

Rakesh Tikait, national spokesperson for the farmers’ organization Bharatiya Kisan Union, urged the government to talk to farmers to find a solution – which he suggested was more government support.

“They can support us with electricity, by providing fertilizers, with other tools used in agriculture. They can help us increase the rate of crops,” he said. “Government can support us by providing medical, health benefits to people in villages, education to their children.”

For 15 years, farmers say that the so-called father of India’s “Green Revolution”, Prof. M / s. Successive governments have ignored the recommendations made by the National Commission for Farmers under the chairmanship of Swaminathan to reduce the stress of farmers.

From 2004 to 2006, Swaminathan published five reports suggesting measures, including raising the Minimum Support Price (MSP), to give farmers greater financial stability and control over their income.

The government claims it has implemented 200 of the 201 recommendations, but farmers say land ownership and food distribution still need to be improved, and they want all farmers to be legally entitled to their full crop. be entitled to MSP.

The unions have made more specific demands regarding the protest. For example, they are demanding the arrest of junior home affairs minister Ajay Mishra Teni, whose convoy he accused of attacking protesters at Lakhimpur Kheri in Uttar Pradesh in October.

The farmers also want a permanent “martyr memorial” to be erected at the Singhu border in memory of 700 farmers who union leaders say died while calling for reforms.

Paramjit Singh Katyal, media representative of Samyukta Kisan Morcha (SKM), an umbrella body of farmer unions, said most of the deaths were due to severe cold and road accidents.

Modi’s ‘rare’ backdrop

Giles Verniers, an assistant professor of political science at India’s Ashoka University, said Modi’s reversal on agricultural laws was an obsolete departure from his usual fanatical style.

“It contradicts the brand of leadership that Modi has been building since he was in power – the image of a strong leader, decisive, tough decision-making, impervious to criticism,” Verniers said.

In 2016, Modi stuck to his decision to ban most of India’s paper money after deeming the Rs 500 and Rs 1,000 notes “waste pieces of paper”.

Three years later, he faced the fury of angry protesters after introducing the controversial Citizenship Amendment Act – a law that promised to fast-track Indian citizenship for all religious faiths from Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan except Islam Was.

And more recently, India faced a public backlash for its alleged mismanagement of the pandemic, after facing a brutal second wave, with cases skyrocketing and cremations running out of space.

“It is rare that (BJP) will admit that they need to change course,” Verniers said. “It makes this decision all the more important.”

A few points point to a major state election next year.

Elections will be held in seven Indian states to determine whether the BJP will retain power. Modi’s ruling party currently governs six of the seven states, which include predominantly agrarian Uttar Pradesh.

57-year-old Paramjit Kaur says the government is "Stealing from the poor"

At the Singhu dharna site, 57-year-old farmer Paramjit Kaur said Modi’s return was politically motivated.

“Uttar Pradesh is passing through their hands, Punjab is going through their hands… so they withdrew the law,” he said.

In May, the BJP suffered a defeat in West Bengal – a state it considered a guaranteed victory. Meanwhile, polls show that the BJP’s lead in Uttar Pradesh has weakened.

Angry farmers could see Modi losing a large number of votes.

“Had the elections been held later, he would have delayed it further. He only works for the elections, he does not care about the people,” Kaur said.

Now, she sees the repeal as an opportunity to put more pressure on Modi to meet his remaining demands.

“These are our rights, we will not go without our rights… If he accepts our demands, we will leave, otherwise we will stand,” he said.

‘If you die here you will die’

To some experts, Modi’s agricultural laws were one of India’s “biggest reforms”, with the power to transform its damaged agricultural sector.

Economist Gautam Chikarmane, vice president of the Observer Research Foundation, said his repeal would make it difficult for other governments to propose similar reforms.

“Farmers’ future is sealed for the next quarter – no political party would dare touch on these reforms,” ​​Chickermane said.

It is too late now for some farmer families.

At the Singhu protest site, 45-year-old Harjinder Singh says he is among the last generation of farmers to work on his one-acre land in his village in Punjab. Her children have gone elsewhere.

“He saw no merit in living in agriculture,” he said. “But I’m fighting to preserve an industry that I can’t see ruined.”

Santosh Singh has a dagger, as do many Sikhs, but for him it has been a resistance to patience and calmness.

For generations, his family has worked the land, and he hopes his grandchildren will carry on the tradition.

So he is committed to fighting for the entire farming community of India – no matter how long it takes.

“We will not leave. If we die here, we die,” he said.

“We know it will be a long struggle.”

How to get help: Aasara’s Suicide Prevention Helpline Directory Provides contact information for crisis centers across India.

Granthshala’s Vedika Sood contributed reporting.


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