India’s Farmer Protests: The International Media Outcry has Slowed Down, but the Protest Still Rages On

Farmer's Protest
Photo Credit : Anindito Mukherjee - Getty Images

The world’s largest on-going protest taking place in India and led by farmers, has passed its 100 day mark. As international media attention has been drawn elsewhere, one member of One Young World's Indian community shares his personal perspectives on the issue.

Views reflect those of the author(s).

Despite the severe cold since November 26th of last year, millions of farmers in India have been protesting in the nation's capital, New Delhi, against the three newly established farm laws: Farmers' Produce Trade and Commerce (Promotion and Facilitation) Act, 2020; the Farmers Empowerment and Protection) Agreement on Price Assurance and farm Services Act 2020 and the Essential Commodities (Amendment) Act, 2020. The Bills were passed in the upper house of the Indian Parliament by a voice vote despite opposition MPs asking for a division, i.e. a recorded vote – which the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) clearly was not in a position to win.

Farmers fear that under these new laws, smaller private traders will be replaced by larger corporates, significantly diminishing their ability to negotiate prices on equal terms. They fear they would have to sell goods and make contracts with independent buyers outside of government-sanctioned marketplaces, which have long served as the primary locations where farmers do business. However, the government says that the law does not dismantle the government-sanctioned marketplace system (known as APMC). The APMCs are not going to shut down and will continue to be available as an alternate option for the sale of farmers’ produce. According to them, the law has only given the farmers the freedom to sell outside of the APMCs. The farmers also fear that the new laws will end the system of MSP or minimum support price. MSP is a minimum price for any crop that the government considers remunerative for farmers, leaving them at the mercy of corporates. But the government says that it won't end the MSP system.

So far, 13 rounds of negotiations have been held between the government and the farmers, but all have remained inconclusive. Those in favor of the law said that MSP was given to the farmers as an incentive to prevent them from exploitation, it cannot be mandated as a right.

The protesters point to the state of Bihar in the east of the country, where similar laws were enacted 15 years ago. Those laws led to the dismantling of the government marketing infrastructure, with the number of sales centers declining by 87 percent. The markets never offered the better remuneration for the produce as promised. The government said that they were ready to make amendments to the laws but the farmers are demanding them be repealed altogether.

Currently, the government is trying to suppress this movement. Farmers are being sent to jail for agitating, young climate activists who are trying to draw international attention towards this movement are being gifted with sedition charges, the government has cut internet and phone network connections in protest areas, leaders of the ruling party and a section of Indian media are calling farmers terrorists, traitors, Khalistani.

After months of sustained but peaceful demonstrations, the farmer's unions decided to up the ante with a tractor march into the capital on India’s Republic Day. The march turned violent, clashing with the police, destroying barricades, and storming the Red Fort, a 400-year-old historical landmark. In addition to the police officers, many protesters were injured as well. At least eight leading journalists and politicians have been charged with sedition after reporting on the farmers' protests. They have been charged with misreporting, spreading disharmony, and inciting riots via their tweets on Republic Day.

Soon after the violence, there was no electricity, no water and no internet. There were concrete barricades, concertina wire, and nail-driven roads in the protest area. The government took these steps to suppress the movement.

Condemning the Modi government, Human Rights organization Amnesty International said that the government must stop crushing farmers’ protests and demonizing dissenters. The International Commission of Jurists said the ‘suppression of peaceful protests has become a pattern’ in India. All of this is happening in a democratic country whose more than 50% workforce depends on the agriculture sector.

Global celebrities Rihanna, Greta Thunberg and Amanda Cerny, when tweeting about the Indian government’s atrocities were inundated with hate. The Indian government issued a statement calling the tweets in support of the farmers as a “sensationalist” attempt by “vested groups” to intervene in its internal matters.

After the tweets from these international figures, the international media finally took notice. However, as the media outcry has slowed down the protest still rages on. The farmers are an integral part of the country, their interests must be preserved and their issues must be considered. In this case, adopting a middle path is the best and wisest way forward.

Written by Siddhant Sarang, One Young World Ambassador

To support the Indian farmers in protest, we urge the global community to continue to follow the story and keep informed. Access resources from the Wire, Faye D’Souza, Time Magazine and BBC.