The Government of India’s move to undermine the rights of the farmers by passing three new farm laws has sparked a massive farmers’ movement. Legislation that would give corporations more control over the food system—in line with the neoliberal restructuring of agriculture—has pushed Indian farmers, their families and supporters to flock to state borders, staging protests and sit-ins, reportedly the biggest in history, as they try to enter New Delhi, India’s capital.
The farmers’ movement in India has been gaining wide support from the international community, including in the Asia Pacific region where food producers suffer from the same situation. Last January 8, a solidarity forum was hosted by the Asian Peasant Coalition (APC), National Alliance of People’s Movements (NAPM), Socialist Kisan Sabha, Socialist Party (India), Citizen News, and moderated by Sarojeni Rengam, PANAP executive director.
Recently, the Supreme Court of India suspended the implementation of the new farm laws and said that it will form a committee of experts to try and resolve the dispute. The high court’s move shows how effective the farmers’ protest movement has been; however, it also necessitates increased vigilance until the anti-farmer laws are completely repealed.
Straight from the border protests
At the border protests, clashes between farmers and state forces have intensified in recent weeks, according to Richa Singh, leader of Sangatin Kisan Mazdoor. The Indian government is undertaking bolder actions to quell the movement, such as putting up barricades to stop protesters from entering Delhi, placing protesters on house arrest or taking them into custody.
Galaxy Brar of Ganganagar Kisan Samiti GKS, who constantly joins the border protests, narrates that farmers have been bombarded with water cannons, batons, and tear gas.
He claims, however, that state propaganda has dominated the media, misleading the public into believing that protesters are the ones who instigate violence.
The intensity of social conflict reveals the depth and gravity of the impact of these farm laws, not just on farmers but also on consumers in India, said Dr. Sandeep Pandey of the Socialist Party.
The first farm law abolishes the Minimum Support Price, or the price at which government buys local farmers’ produce at government procurement centres. The Indian government claims that farmers are now free to sell their products anywhere. But the reality is, private buyers do not purchase agricultural produce at the MSP or higher. “Sending farmers to private markets will remove the guarantee of a minimum support price, leaving farmers at the mercy of private buyers,” Dr. Pandey said.
Already, some government procurement centres have closed, forcing farmers to sell their produce at much lower prices.
The second law will allow private companies to directly engage in contract farming with small farmers, which makes them more vulnerable to exploitation. “India has a great memory of Champaran Satyagraha movement. Farmers are not comfortable with private companies dealing directly with them,” according to Dr. Pandey.
He is referring to the historic movement Mahatma Gandhi led in 1917 against British colonisers who were forcing farmers to grow indigo at a very low price. The said movement is said to be the historical basis of the current farmers’ movement.
Critics also say that the law on contract farming will increase corporate control over land and favour the growing of cash crops over food crops.
Finally, the third law is an amendment to the Essential Commodities Act. This effectively removes price control and storage restrictions on foodstuff—including essential items such as beets, rice, potato, onion, grains and pulses, and vegetable oil—which may result in hoarding by big businesses and price increases.
Meanwhile, Medha Patkar of NAPM said that they are demanding the optimum support price for agricultural products to prevent farmers from committing suicide. “One Indian farmer commits suicide every 17 minutes. In fact, these should not be considered mere suicides but the consequence of murderous attacks on farmers’ rights to lands and natural resources, and the devaluing of their produce.”
Solidarity from the Asia Pacific
From Indonesia, New Zealand, Pakistan, Philippines and Sri Lanka came an outpouring of solidarity and unified opposition to neoliberal policies in agriculture that impacts farmers not just in India, but the entire region.
Rafael Mariano, chairman emeritus of Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas (KMP, Peasant Movement of the Philippines), said that landlessness continues to push rural communities into poverty, with 800 million people suffering from hunger annually. “In 2020, a total of 160 million hectares of land were sold and leased to foreign and domestic investors. A fifth of these documented land grabs are deals for intensive crop farming,” he said.
Mariano added that these neoliberal policies ultimately benefit agribusinesses, including agrochemical corporations whose products are used intensively with cash crops. “It is important to build a strong people’s solidarity to defend the right to land and other fundamental freedoms, and junk the insidious neoliberal policies of free-market globalisation,” he said.
Triana Wardani, secretary-general of SERUNI, a national organisation of grassroots women in Indonesia, also expressed solidarity with the peasant movement in India. “Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s reforms would monopolise farm lands while landlords and compradors would easily control the small agricultural production of peasants,” she said.
Meanwhile, Herman Kumara of the National Fisheries Solidarity Movement (NAFSO) in Sri Lanka said that Indian farmers are inspiring other food producers around the world. “I congratulate our Indian comrades who are fighting in this struggle. We are the ones who feed our nations but sadly, our rulers do not care about our contributions. But we hope to defeat them through our collective actions,” he said.
The fisherfolk leader shared that on January 26, they will go to the Indian High Commission in Sri Lanka to hand in a petition of support to Indian farmers and fishers.
Asif Khan of Pakistan Kissan Mazdoor Tehreek (PKMT) expressed that the farmers’ movement in India today is “unprecedented” because it brought together the plight, emotions and sentiments of farmers across boundaries. “The plight of farmers and agro-based economies in Asian countries are very much the same: they are all exploited by private companies with support from the government. Land has been taken away, and farmers end up working as labourers in the hands of capitalists, which just not affects their source of living but also their dignity of living,” he said.
The Indian migrant community in New Zealand also conveyed solidarity. “We are proud of you for holding your ground and keeping your demands clear,” said Mandeep Bela of the Indian Workers’ Association, First Union in New Zealand. “I encourage everyone to support the farmers and their demands. Everyone is connected to the farmers, one way or another, since they grow the food we eat,” she added.
On January 26, India’s Republic Day, farmers in the borders will try to force their way into New Delhi and stage a tractor rally. The Asian Peasant Coalition encourages supporters around the world to hold their own solidarity actions on that day to pressure the Modi government to scrap the said laws.###