As tensions rise in India due to three new farming bills, farmers continue to stand their ground by peacefully protesting. They were joined alongside thousands of people around the world, making this one of the biggest protests in history; rallies in support of farmers were even held in Kelowna throughout December. Millions of farmers are concerned that the three bills that are being enacted by the Indian government will negatively impact their livelihoods as well as leave them vulnerable to corporate exploitation.
The first bill, the Farmers’ Produce Trade and Commerce (Promotion and Facilitation) Bill, will open farmers to do business outside the Agricultural Produce Market Committee (APMC) mandis and directly with private buyers and corporations, instead of doing business through the government. This prohibits State governments from collecting market fees, cess or levy for trade outside the APMC markets, thus endangering both small farmers and middlemen who constitute a significant market share in Punjab’s agronomy. The second bill, the Farmers (Empowerment and Protection) Agreement of Price Assurance and Farm Services Bill, deals with prices. With this bill, farmers, corporations and private buyers will have to negotiate contracts with each other with predetermined price assurance rather than a price set by the government. These two bills raise the concern that the government will pull out of the Minimum Support Pricing system as farmers deal directly with private buyers. Minimum Support Pricing (MSP) ensures that farmers will receive the minimum price for their goods regardless of market conditions. Without the MSP, many farmers worry that they will be offered extremely low prices for which they cannot bargain the price. The third bill, the Essential Commodities (Amendment) Bill, will attempt to reduce stockpiling and will remove commodities like onion, potatoes, cereals, and so on from the list of essential commodities. Therefore, not only do these bills take away financial security from an already marginalized and majority poverty-stricken group of people, but it also creates the additional fear that these bills will eventually push farmers off their ancestral farmlands in a land grab by private buyers.
One farmer in India outlines his plight with these bills while talking to journalist Nikita Jain who has been reporting from the Singhu border, “I am already in debt, these laws will leave me with nothing. Our land won’t be ours and we will have to pay huge amounts of electricity bills. We don’t want to sit like this but what choice do we have.”
For these reasons, farmers from the regions of Punjab, Uttar Pradesh, Haryana, and more are currently marching or have gathered outside of New Delhi to protest. An overwhelming number of these peaceful protestors are Sikhs. As a democracy, these farmers have the right to peaceful protesting in India, however, their basic human rights are being denied as these peaceful protesters are met with tear gas, barricades and water cannons. Some officers have even physically beaten these farmers.
Bajender Singh, a 27 year old from Sangrur district of Punjab recounts how he was hit by a tear-shell at Singhu border. He tells journalist Rohit Lohia “I was standing in the front line when tear shells were fired, one of those hit me on my leg. My leg has been swollen and I have not been able to walk since, so I am lying in my tractor. But I won’t go back.”
Additionally, journalist Nikita Jain, captured a historic photograph while the police were firing tear shells. Within this photo, a 70 year old man was hit by a tear gas shell below his left eye. As Nikita Jain asked him to go with her to the ambulance, he refused and said, “The most important thing is happening in front of us. I will look after this injury later. It is time to help my brothers.”
A 70 year old farmer was hit by a tear gas shell below his left eye. (Image Source: Nikita Jain)
Despite the violence being enacted against farmers, protests continue to advocate for these reforms to be removed. Currently, many farmers are sleeping in the cold streets braving the winter, while organisations like Khalsa Aid have constructed water-proof camps, and farmers have come equipped with quilts and other resources. However, these hardships have not prevented farmers from providing langar (free community kitchen that serves food) to those around them. The Sikh tradition of Langar or community kitchen is the backbone of these protests as free food is cooked and served by the farmers for each other and everyone else who wishes to eat.
One of the farmers while cooking tells Fatehveer Singh about Langer, “People do not understand the significance of Langar. We cook together, sit together, regardless of caste, class, creed, gender, religion and share our joys and sorrows and optimism about the movement with each other. It has brought together different individuals and converted them into a mass movement.”
And a mass movement it has become, as this protest is one of the largest in human history, with an upward of 250 million people participating in the span of 24 hours in India. In addition, there are also mass protests happening around the world in solidarity with Indian farmers. These are being conducted by mainly Sikh diaspora overseas in countries like Canada, the UK, USA, Australia, and more who still retain strong ties to their native country. In Canada in particular, this protest has garnered a lot of attention with individuals taking to the streets in support. Furthermore, the Canadian government itself stands in solidarity with the movement with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau stating, “Canada will always stand up for the right of peaceful protest anywhere around the world.”
Despite not being in India, these protests and bills have deeply impacted the lives of many Indians abroad. In a statement written by UBCO’s Punjabi Student Association, they highlight the relevance of the movement to students at our campus:
“UBCO has many international students, including from India. Furthermore, there are many students who attend the university that have ethnic roots in Punjab, with family and friends who live there. Many of these Punjabi students have family who are or were Kisaans (farmers) in India, so this issue directly affects them. For many Canadian-Punjabi students, our parents and grandparents were farmers that immigrated to Canada with zero belongings, allowing us the opportunity to grow up in Canada and attend a world renown university. UBCO is an inclusive community, and we believe that more students should be aware of the struggles of their peers. Afterall, the Farmer’s protest in India is not only an Indian issue, but a humanitarian issue. The protest is peaceful, yet the Indian government has turned to using water cannons, tear gas shells, pellet guns and more against these protestors. These farmers not only provide food locally, but are the people who provide the world with spices etc.! After all, farmers are the backbone of our society, providing us with food on our tables. Kisaan lives matter. Farmers' lives matter.”
However, despite farmers' concerns and the mass worldwide protests, Modi [Prime Minister of India] still defends these reforms believing they will ensure greater prosperity. At the moment, talks have reached a stalemate and although Modi is hopeful that this issue can be resolved by New Years, it is unlikely that this mass movement can be quelled that quickly. As a farmer sitting on his tractor tells freelance journalist Fatehveer Singh at the protest site, “I will not go back till the time Narendra Modi does not do away with [get rid of] his anti-farmer laws.”
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