Thousands of Indian farmers gathered on Friday once again for the 9th consecutive day to block a highway between India’s capital of New Delhi and the Indian state of Haryana, protesting what they tagged as new exploitative agricultural laws that will impoverish further farmers.
New agricultural legislation was passed back in September that removed the government as a middle man, allowing the farmers to sell their produce directly to the companies. While the new law assures the farmers that a fair market rate would still be maintained for their produce, they are not convinced. They feel the government is leaving them at the mercy of the companies.
Harinder Singh, the general secretary of a Punjabi farmers union, said that the farmers were worried that no one would buy their produce anymore. Even if they did, the farmers would be placed at an unfair disadvantage. The government and union representatives had gathered for negotiations on Thursday; however, a stalemate occurred, with no agreement reached.
The protests have spread to other cities in India and may have gained international traction. Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau expressed support for the farmers. For this, the Indian foreign ministry summoned Canadian diplomats in the country. There were also protests held at the Indian consulate in San Francisco, NY Times reports.
Agriculture is the main source of livelihood in India, a country of about 1.4 billion people. Many other advocacy and rights groups have expressed solidarity with the farmers, citing a lack of the government’s support and respect for a group that provides food for the nation.
Medha Patkar, a social activist, said the government has largely ignored a sector that has helped India thrive in food sufficiency. She explained that recent advances in large food scale production have made the government neglected the farmers that helped begin the food revolution.
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi has made no secret of his desire to turn India into a large industrialized country. He said the new agricultural laws are a part of that effort and would help farmers exploit new opportunities in the sector.
India, once a world poverty capital, surviving from food aids, has revolutionized its agricultural sector and has achieved self-sufficiency in food production. The country is now a global exporter of major agricultural produce. This was made possible largely through mechanized farming and a modern approach to agriculture, relegating the farmers to the backseat.
Sadanand Dhume, a fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, said that Indian farmers are yet to come to terms with what the new laws may mean for their means of livelihood. While the government may be trying to open new opportunities for these farmers, the farmers themselves may not view it that way.
Dhume explained that the government did not consult properly with the farmers before taking the steps they did. With no one to explain to them the consequences of the new laws, the farmers felt left to their fate. According to Dhume, the timing of the enactment of the new laws was also poor – coming in the midst of a pandemic when the wholesale markets were shut down.
The fact that India has officially entered a recession did not help matters. The farmers are afraid that their support system may be eroded.
Jayati Ghosh, a development economist, said that the country is not developing industrially at a pace fast enough for alternative occupations to be created for the numerous farmers that India possesses. She said that if other sectors are made attractive enough, subsistence farmers will take up new ventures.