Heart wringing images of makeshift tent cities that have sprung up for the length of 20 kilometers along Delhi’s Singhu border have flooded the internet, YouTube, and the Indian and international media. The images show how massive communal kitchens have sprung up where volunteers serve ‘langar,’ or, ‘prasad’ along with piping hot tea all day long, and how huge temporary wood stoves heat up water for baths.
Hundreds of Indian farmers, mostly in their sixties, seventies and even eighties, have been braving the bitter cold, protesting the three new farm bills that the Government of India has instituted. The farmers are mostly from Punjab, Haryana and Uttar Pradesh, considered the ‘Bread Baskets of India.’
They are all part of a ‘Delhi Chalo’ movement that began its journey Nov. 26 towards New Delhi. Along the way they were stopped by the police with barricades, tear gas and water cannons. Yet, the farmers marched on protesting the three bills: The 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.
A breakdown of the laws is as follows: These laws allow the farmers to sell directly outside the APMC (Agriculture Produce Market Committee) mandis (markets) and allow the private sector to enter into contracts and essentially place orders with farmers on what they want the farmers to grow so that they can buy from them.
The new laws also remove all regulations on hoarding, so this allows the private sector to hoard produce. The government’s stance is that these laws will liberate the farmer into the open market and eliminate the corruption the APMCs have become known for. The farmers, however, say that this allowance to hoard will give the private sector the authority to manipulate the price of produce such as rice and wheat. Farm produce was primarily sold in the APMC mandis which were state government regulated and only licensed traders could buy the farm produce.
The government brought in the new laws to allow the private sector to set up mandis of their own which the farmers say would drive out the APMC mandis, and the private sector, with its mighty negotiating powers, would drive down prices. Before these laws were passed, the farmers were assured of an MSP (Minimum Support Price) and that guaranteed the farmers a price point even when there was a crop abundance and prices dropped. The new laws wipe out the MSP entirely.
The protests have taken on an international flavor and many members of the Indian American community and the larger Indian diaspora have begun to support the farmers by holding peaceful protests in front of Indian consulates and embassies. Others have procured the support of ministers, senators and city council elected representatives.
Bringing attention to this issue via the international media and getting their support for the farmers is key, said Sandeep Singh, a member of the Sikh Youth of America organization. “Farming is under state jurisdiction and the Central Government of India has no right to bypass the state government and enforce these laws. The Indian government is trying to create a monopoly by handing over the reigns to the rich corporations that can manipulate not only the crop prices but can also eventually take over the supply of seed, fertilizer, and farm equipment. Small farmers will be crushed by the high prices and will end up selling their farms to the very same private corporations.”
Those supporting the farmers have been winning the support of U.S. state senators, elected city council representatives and other influencers to voice their support for the farmers to the Indian government. “Additionally,” said Singh, “We have also been organizing huge peaceful protests, with the largest being held in Oakland, Calif., Dec. 5, with close to 50,000 in attendance; this was followed by a protest in Sacramento, Calif., and multiple protests Dec. 19 in Los Angeles, Calif. East Coast cities and Canadian cities have also held rallies.”
When asked about how these protests have been given a Hindu vs Sikh slant, Singh said: “We need to see who is supporting the central government and who is behind Prime Minister Modi. The Indian Government in this case is the oppressor and the farmers are the oppressed. The Sikh community is the farming backbone of India and it is not one religion against another religion, but the Sikh community is the one that is being hurt the most. Hindus from nearly every Indian state are also protesting these laws. As far as next steps—hunger strikes will follow.”
What has been the response from the Central Government of India to the opposition to the farm laws?
The Indian Consulate in the U.S. provided a statement of clarification to this publication. In an open letter addressed to the Indian farmers, Union Agriculture Minister Narendra Singh Tomar sought to offer clarification on some of the misconceptions regarding the newly enacted farm laws in India. The letter, written in Hindi and directly addressed to farmers, underlined that the new laws are solely intended to increase income and to bring prosperity to farmers. The laws are an extension of the government’s resolve for overall progress as committed under its motto of ‘Sab Ka Saath Sab Ka Vikas Sab Ka Vishwas.’
Following are the main points highlighted in Tomar’s letter offering clarification on the law:
The MSP system is ending.
APMC mandis are being closed.
The MSP system in operation and will be operational.
APMC mandis will be continued. This law will not be applicable on APMC mandis.
Farmers’ land is in danger.
Agreement will be only for crop, not for land. There will be no agreement for any transfer of land, including sale, lease and mortgage.
Contractors can acquire land of the farmer against any due.
Whatever be the situation, the land of the farmers is safe.
There is no price guarantee for farmers in the case of contract farming.
The procurement price of agricultural produce will be mentioned in the farming agreement.