By – Khushi Gada
The 2020-2021 protests of farmers were mainly against the farm laws which were passed by the parliament of India in September 2020. They wanted to repeal these laws as they would minimize the government’s role in agriculture and open space for private investors.
In the 1960s, India had introduced a system of agricultural subsidies. The government assisted the farmers to boost their crop yields by providing them with subsidies. It was called the Green Revolution. Since then, India has modernized, but Indian agriculture has remained stagnant. It has helped a few farmers prosper but most of them are yet stuck in the vicious cycle of poverty. There have been many cases of suicide in rural areas. In order to help them, the Modi government, in September, passed three new agriculture laws:
The Farmers Agreement on Price Assurance and Farm Services Act, The Farmers’ Produce Trade & Commerce Act, and The Essential Commodities Act. The preamble to the first law says it aims to “protect and empower” farmers to engage with wholesalers, exporters, and retailers in a “fair and transparent manner.” These three laws allow farmers and traders to do business outside government-run wholesale markets that have dominated agriculture since the Green Revolution. The laws also allow them to do business online at prices guaranteed by the government. They say farmers must be paid within three days of selling their crops and cannot have their land confiscated by any buyer or corporation – protection to allay farmers’ fears of losing what is often their ancestral property. The laws also establish conciliation boards to mediate trade disputes. However, the farmers anticipated that the market-friendly laws would eventually abolish the regulatory support, leaving them destitute, with little hope of a different livelihood in a weaker economy.
DEMANDS FROM THE UNION OF FARMERS
The main demand from them is to repeal the three farm laws. They also demanded a legal guarantee of MSP for their crops. The farmers union believed that the recent laws that had been passed would demolish the MSP system. They also believed that they would be dominated by big corporate houses and paid less for their crops. Farmers fear that, with the mandi system effectively defunct, they will be unable to secure a guaranteed price for their products and that the “arthiyas” – commission agents who also provide loans to farmers, will go out of business. Their demands are as follows: The most important demand is that the three laws that deregulated the sale of their crops shall be repealed. Farmers’ unions might alternatively accept a legal guarantee that the MSP system will remain, ideally through legislation. They also demanded that the government should drop the proposed Electricity (Amendment) Bill 2020, which they worry will result in the end of government-subsidized electricity. Farmers argue that rules prohibiting stubble burning should not apply to them as well. Over time, additional demands came up, which included:
- Cut diesel prices for agricultural use by 50 percent.
- Release of farmers arrested for burning paddy in Punjab.
- Withdrawal of all cases and release of all the farmer leaders
- The Farmers were insistent over getting the farm laws repealed. They didn’t agree to the governments offer to let the laws stay for 18 months on 21st January, 2021.
PROTESTS AND INCIDENTS
Many small-scale protests started in August 2020 itself, when the farm bills were made public. However, it was only when the acts were passed that more farmers and unions of farmers came together to join the protests. On 24th September, the Rail Roko campaign was launched, which affected train services to and from Punjab. However, it was called off a month later. After failing to get the support of their respective state governments, the farmers decided to put pressure on the central government by marching to Delhi. The campaign was called “Delhi Chalo.” There were numerous roadblocks and border blocks. They also blocked points of entry into Delhi. This resulted in clashes with the police, which involved stone pelting and lathi charges. On Republic Day, 2021, A Kisan Parade took place in which thousands of farmers held a parade with a large convoy of tractors and drove into Delhi. The protestors also entered the Red Fort of Delhi. There was a lot of damage and many were injured in the clashes between the police and the farmers. It was planned further that 200 farmers would protest outside the Parliament every day during the monsoon session. On September 5th, 2021, a farmers’ Maha Panchayat was held in Muzaffarnagar. Several protests followed, which included stopping the screening of movies in cinema halls, Bharat Bandh, tractor March, etc.
A farmer’s union in Maharashtra, The Shetkari Sanghatana, supported the laws and believed that MSPs have actually weakened farmers instead of empowering them. They marched to Delhi in support of the laws.
In late November, 2021, the government decided to repeal the bills and thus, the farmers celebrated their victory and began removing the road blocks. The protests were finally over and they returned to their homes.
The protests took place for over a year, and throughout this period, there were many injuries and deaths that took place. The first farmer to die was Dhanna Singh of the Mansa district of Punjab. He was the leader of the Bhartiya Kisan Union. Many farmers lost their lives due to the cold and heart attacks while protesting at the borders. A few of them died due to gunshot wounds from firing by the Delhi Police. Apart from this, many farmers committed suicide during this time. Sant Baba Ram Singh, a Sikh priest, shot himself at the Singhu Border in the protests against farm laws. He left a note stating that he could not bear the pain of the farmers. A lawyer, Amarjit Singh Rai, also committed suicide by taking poison and left a note saying he was sacrificing his life in support of the farmers’ protest and urged Prime Minister Narendra Modi to listen to the voice of the people. On the 25th day of the protest, to honour the memory of all the farmers who lost their lives, the national “Shradhanjali Divas” was observed all-round the country.
REPEAL FARM LAWS
Prime Minister Narendra Modi, on November 19th, 2021, announced the repeal of the three farm laws that had triggered a year of farmers’ protests. The nationwide demonstrations were the biggest challenges faced to date by this government. The government initially negotiated with the protesters and ordered them to suspend the laws for 18 months, but the farmers continued to press for a full repeal. Over the past year, dozens of farmers died due to suicide, bad weather conditions, and Covid-19 during the demonstrations. Thus, keeping everything in mind, the government took the wise decision of taking back the farm laws. It was a big victory for the farmers’ movement and a big boost for those agitating for over a year.
The government, after having a close look at the situation and problems faced by farmers over the years, passed these farm laws with the view of helping the farmers prosper and would double their income by 2022. However, the farmers were not happy with the new laws and forced the government to repeal them. Experts say that elections are a major reason the government decided to withdraw the laws. Farmers are the most influential voting bloc in India. Thus, the government painted it as a decision that prioritized the farmers. Furthermore, even after the decision to repeal the laws was made public, the protests did not stop, which clearly showed the lack of confidence in the PM or Central government. I think the decision to make these laws was a good one by the government and support it. They were important as they would have helped transform the future of Indian agriculture. However, the government failed to highlight the importance of these laws and how they could benefit the farmers, which was the biggest reason for the protests taking place. Once we understand that creating actual, functional, village level infrastructure for farmers will transform their future much more than laws; once the government realizes that there are strong justifications for the farmers’ lack of faith in their promises; and once farmers realize that the old order will change whether they like it or not and that it is better to be part of that change than to hope for status quo ante, we might start moving towards the solution. That is the lesson we need to learn from the protests.