This news article describes the impact of corrupt legislation on ordinary working people. The organised protests and solidarity of the public with farmers is an excellent example of how coordinated resistance can enable change.
Editor’s note: DGR strongly opposes the three new farm laws that have inspired the farmer’s protests in India. However, we do not necessarily agree with all of the demands of the protestors.
On 12th January, 2021, the Supreme Court of India suspended the ‘Three Contentious Farm Laws, amidst large scale protests from farmers in India. The three farm laws continue to be hailed by the ruling party as a means on giving farmers more autonomy over selling of their crops and will break big monopolies. Yet, it is the farmers who have mobilized and organized the mass-scale protests against the laws.
Resistance against the farm bills has been mainly organized by farmer’s unions, ongoing across different areas of the country, since the bills were first introduced. The protests intensified after the bills were passed by the parliament and signed by the President in late September. At the time of writing this, thousands of farmers are on the streets, demanding central government repeal the three acts. In the past five months, about 70 protestors have lost their lives to heart attacks, cold, accidents and suicides.
What does the laws mean for the farmers?
State governments in three states of India – Punjab, Haryana and Rajasthan – have established a marketing board (APMC). Under this system, the first sale of agricultural produce (i.e. from the farmer to the middlemen) could happen only in the mandis (market yards) of APMC. The mandis in turn operate under a Minimum Support Price (MSP) system that ensure certain crops are sold at a minimum price set by the government at the beginning of the season.
By ensuring a minimum price for their produce, The APMC and MSP system act as a safeguard for farmers, against unexpected price drops, as well as exploitation by large retailers or local moneylenders.
Farmers’ Produce Trade and Commerce (Promotion and Facilitation) Act, one of the new laws, remove the APMC system, and allow for sale of agricultural produce to private buyers without any government oversight. While the ruling party claims that this would liberate the farmers to sell their produce to the highest bidder, the farmers fear otherwise.
The direct dealings of farmers with large retailers will put the farmers in a vulnerable position No laws in India or any of the states consider the MSP system to be legally enforceable. The new laws also do not mention MSP in regards to direct dealings with retailers, and will likely dismantle the MSP system. Although the members of ruling party have verbally assured that the system will be intact, the farmers have demands a more formalized pledge to the continuity of MSP.
What if farmers are exploited?
On top of that, certain sections of the laws strip citizens’ right to legal recourse. One law grants complete immunity for any act performed in the process of implementation of the law as long as the act was performed in “good faith.” Another strips civil courts of jurisdiction over proceedings related to the laws. The judicial power is transferred to new institutions created by the laws, which will remain under the executive control.
In effect, anyone who can claim to be acting in “good faith” in their implementation of the rules could easily acquire legal immunity, with little to no consequences for their actions. A study of the impacts of deregulation policies across the world clearly demonstrate that it is the corporations who will enjoy this impunity, while the so-called beneficiaries of the policies (in this case, the farmers) will be further repressed under corporate control. It is clear for everyone to see that this ‘gift of legislation’ offers working people zero protection and could cause significant harm.
Responses to the protests
The protests have received overwhelming support from the public, celebrities, and even opposition parties. Whilst the motives behind the latter’s support are, of course, contentious, it is at this time welcome given what is at stake. Incredibly, approximately 250 million people participated in a nationwide general strike organized by farmer unions on November 26, 2020.
Unsurprisingly, from the governmental side, the peaceful protests have been met with water cannons, batons, tear gas, barricades and sand barriers to stop the protestors from crossing state borders. A youth who turned off a police water cannon, being used against the protestors, was later charged with attempted murder.
The members of the ruling party have used a number of tactics to discredit the organizers. Baseless accusations that the movement is led by “privileged” farmers, or secessionists, or even terrorists have been made and reported by the mainstream media.
Need for radical changes
The new laws will render the farmers vulnerable to big businesses. However, these are not the only problems that farmers in India have faced. It is estimated that ten farmers kill themselves everyday.
Majority of the problems that the farmers face can be traced back to the 1960s when India became an experimental ground for the Green Revolution, which introduced hybrid seeds, monoculture, chemical fertilizers and pesticides in India. The results of the experiments are horrifying.
In Punjab (ground zero of the Green Revolution in India), pesticide residues were found in a quarter of breast milk samples in 2014. “Cancer trains” carry pesticide related cancer victims from Punjab to Rajasthan. Farmers’ suicides (considered a national catastrophe) is a result of the increasing spiral of debt that the farmers cannot escape from. Testimonies of a few of the protesting farmers shows that a majority of their expenses is spent on pesticides and fertilizers.
The movement against the new farm laws are a significant blow to the exploitative and oppressive system. The farmers can build on this movement to reverse the devastating effects of the Green Revolution.
The food sector of India (as it is now) serves no one in the longer term. The food producers are trapped in inescapable spirals of debt. The consumers are ingesting toxins in their bodies. The landbase upon which we depend is getting poisoned by chemical toxins. Aquifers have started drying out. The diversity of crops and plants in India have been lost
This should be replaced by a system that serves both the ecology and the local communities should be established, through reindigenization of agriculture practices` and localization of food production.
For more information on the protests, check out the official website of Ail India Kisan Sabha, and this open letter of solidarity` for the farmers.
Salonika is an organizer at DGR Asia Pacific and is based in Nepal. She believes that the needs of the natural world should trump the needs of the industrial civilization.
Featured image: Ted Eytan