An uproar over the three Indian farm bills has been boiling since September. Recent protests with many farmers from Indian states, Rajasthan, Haryana, Punjab, and Uttar Pradesh marching to India’s national capital Delhi against the new legislation has shown the situation escalate.
Indian farmers have failed to get support from their respective state governments which propelled them to march towards New Delhi. While India’s ruling political party Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP), which rules in Uttar Pradesh and Haryana, have failed to strike a chord with farmers, but the governments in Punjab and Rajasthan have expressed their solidarity and support to the farmers against the new legislation.
In order to control the massive protest that may turn the situation more complicated, the Indian government has deployed security personnel to safeguard the border in order to stop farmers from coming to New Delhi and stage demonstrations against the ruling party for revocation of farm bills.
Meanwhile, the farmers agitation has been criticised by people around the world, accusing the Indian government of behaving like an oppressor. Many charity groups and Sikh organisations in the UK have also come forward and expressed their displeasure over the farmers’ agitation and the way Indian authorities have been handling the entire row.
Indian farmers want the central government to either scrap the three new legislations or ensure them the minimum support price (MSP) for their crops by establishing a new law.
Farmers are objecting against two Farm Bills which India’s Rajya Sabha (Upper House) has recently passed. The first bill is the Farmers’ Produce Trade and Commerce (Promotion and Facilitation) Bill, 2020. This enables the farmers to sell their crops and other productions outside the Agricultural Produce Market Committee (APMC) controlled markets. The APMCs are controlled and operated by the government market yards (mandis). This gives farmers myriad choices about who they want to sell their food productions.
The second bill is the Farmers (Empowerment and Protection) Agreement on Price Assurance and Farm Services Bill, 2020, which creates conditions for the establishment of a structure for contract farming. The farmer and an appointed buyer can reach a deal before the production takes place.
Both bills have already been passed in India’s Lok Sabha (Lower House), however, there was massive uproar when these bills were introduced in the Rajya Sabha, where later the bills were finally passed via voice vote.
Why are Indian farmers angry?
Indian farmers across states such as Uttar Pradesh, Punjab, and Haryana are infuriated due to the provisions of these bills. They are apprehensive that these bills could be the platform that the government (at the centre) is establishing for the auxiliary or removal of the otherwise strong support system that is existing in their states for the buying of their crops.
Farmers feel that the Minimum Support Price (MSP) assurance that was their safety net since the Green Revolution of the 1960s started, could be taken away under the garb of offering farmers more playing ground and improved platforms.
Also, the state-government powered crop produces a purchasing facility and infrastructure in these regions is very good. Procurement through the Food Corporation of India promised MSP to farmers, which is declared before every agriculture season, encourages farmers to focus on taking more yield.
Nearly 23 agricultural crops have MSPs though the government mainly purchases only wheat and rice. Now, farmers think that the two bills will crumble government purchasing procedure and the MSP. States like Punjab and Haryana are the biggest recipients of this safety net and this is the reason that most of the farmers who protest are from these two states.
UK Support growing for Indian farmers
Amid the Indian farmers’ protest against the new bills, there have been voices from various national and international diasporas in favour of the Indian farmers and here in the UK it has even reached politicians such as Preet Kaur Gill, Labour MP from Birmingham Edgbaston and chair of the All Party Parliamentary Party for British Sikhs said: “This is no way to treat citizens who are peacefully protesting over the controversial Farmers Bill in India”.
“Shocking scenes from Delhi. Farmers are peacefully protesting over controversial bills that will impact their livelihoods. Water cannons, and tear gas, are being used to silence them,” she added.
Similarly, Tanmanjeet Singh Dhesi, Labour MP from Slough, posted pictures from the protests on social media and said: “It takes a special kind of people to feed those ordered to beat and suppress them. I stand with farmers of the #Punjab and other parts of #India, including our family and friends, who are peacefully protesting against the encroaching privatisation of #FarmersBill2020”.
The Indian farmers’ protest also saw support from the Lord Indrajit Singh, who raised the issue during a debate in the House of Lords entitled ‘Summit of Democratic Governments’. Lord Singh questioned why India should be considered as one of the 10 prominent democracies in the world since its government is trying to make Punjabi farmers serfs on their own soil.
Among other famous UK-based personalities who voiced their support in favour of Indian farmers’ protest includes filmmaker Gurinder Chadha and former England team cricket Monty Panesar. Interestingly, both are from a Punjabi origin.
While posting a farmer protest image on her Twitter account, Chadha said: “India is proud of being the biggest democracy in the world, that’s how it is described in the west. Let’s hope that valiant title remains true today”.
Echoing a similar sentiment, Panesar posted a video message and urged other Indian farmers belonging to the different states of India to join Punjabi farmers’ protest against the new legislation.
Rallies have also been held in Birmingham and Southall to express support and solidarity with the Indian farmers.
Not only that but several charity groups and humanitarian organisation such as UK-based global Sikh charity body KhalsaAid and Punjab Kisan Support Fund have been rallying in order to raise funds in support of the farmer’s protest.
Moreover, in an attempt to support the farmers’ movement in India, the UK’s KhalsaAid has agreed to provide free food items and other necessary supplies to farmers protesting at Singhu and Tikri borders of the New Delhi. In fact, the Sikh charity organisation has been working in close-knit cooperation with Indian farmers in the ‘Dilli Chalo’ movement for the last two months.
In a statement, Amarpreet Singh, the director at KhalsaAid, said the charity’s helpers are offering a community free kitchen (langar), tea and refreshments and even medical assistance to the needy ones around the clock to the protesting farmers. It has also ordered nearly 50 portable washrooms for women who were facing difficulty.
Also, there has been a largescale social media campaign #Standwithfarmerschallenge doing rounds in support of the Indian farmers’ agitation. The campaign has been joined by diverse people from across the world in order to support the farmers in their fight against the new farm bill.
India’s central government view
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the country’s cabinet ministers have attempted to have a dialogue with farmers, ensuring them the new legislation won’t scrap the government procurement system nor the MSP policy, however, there has been fear among Indian farmers which can end only with a fruitful and meaningful dialogue.
Though it can be said that few Indian political parties are cashing on the farmers’ protest in order to stay relevant and garner people support for future elections. Likewise, some leaders are acting as per the convenience and seeing vested interest out of this agitation.
Whatever the outcome of talks between the Indian high authorities and its farmers about the new legislation, the government of India needs to have compassion for its farmers who feed millions of Indians irrespective of caste, religion, race and creed.