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Monday, September 27, 2021

Farm workers in India protesting to retain control of produce and sales

A look into how the controversy began and escalated

For the past few months, farm workers in India have been protesting against three pieces of legislation that threaten the livelihoods of farmers and exploit their labor.

In general, what these laws do is transfer farmers’ powers into the hands of corporatized or private buyers by compelling farmers into the free market rather than continuing to assure floor prices through government-run wholesale markets.

Some arguments in favor of the bills suggest that they allow these farmers to become “independent”—rather than go through an intermediary to sell their produce, they can deal directly with the buyer and procure a bigger share of the profit. Another argument is that the assured floor prices offered through the wholesale markets have only benefited a handful of farmers.

The government-run wholesale markets, or mandis, are run by committees of farmers who act as the middlemen for sales, storage, transport and brokering of deals on behalf of the individual farmer. Under this system, farmers already had the option to sell to private agricultural businesses, supermarkets or online grocers, but farmers are concerned that the new laws will put an end to mandis and force them to work with private businesses that can exploit them. 

The reason why many find the legislation so concerning is because this impacts smaller, more marginalized farmers that will not stand a chance against corporations. Although the government has promised to continue the Minimum Support Price (MSP) and the mandi system, farmers understand the harsh reality of what these bills will do: squash out the smaller farmers and leave their land up for grabs. 

Many of the protestors are wary of the government because of the way in which the legislation was passed, the historic injustices that have occurred regarding land and the mistreatment of farmers. What protestors need from the government is legislation that will ensure that both the MSP and the mandi system will not be withdrawn. 

On Jan. 26, a day meant to celebrate India’s establishment as a republic, the protests turned for the worse, with a violent showdown between the protestors and the government in New Delhi.  

Because of this escalation, the country’s Supreme Court has implemented a suspension of the new legislation in an attempt to allow the government and the protestors to find some middle ground without inciting more violence. However, this did not appease the protestors who are now calling for a full-on repeal of the laws.

The government, under direction of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, has also begun censoring many of the protestors by unlawfully arresting citizens, cutting the internet in areas where protests are high and suspending accounts on social media. This has led to Indian nationalists, including beloved Bollywood celebrities, to declare these protestors as national terrorists

When the strikes caught the attention of big names like Rihanna and activist Greta Thunberg, Modi condemned them for sensationalizing the issue without being educated enough to make a real assessment of what is happening.

This led counter-protestors to burn images of the two women, claiming that they were planning attacks against India based on a toolkit that Thunberg posted on how to support these farm workers. 

While these events may seem removed from what is going on in our own country, many Indians and Indian-Americans follow the news in dismay and anxiety. Yuba City’s “Mini Punjab” has one of the largest concentrations of Punjabi Indians and Sikh farmers in the U.S.

As rallies and protests for these farm workers increase in the U.S., the support around the world shows that people will continue to watch what India’s government will do as farmers fight to maintain control over their livelihoods. 

Written by: Mariah Viktoria Candelaria –– arts@theaggie.org

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