by Lucy Holland
Tens of thousands of farmers line the streets surrounding the Indian capital New Delhi in massive protests against new laws. Protestors prepare to block access to the city for months on end until their demands are met by sleeping in the backs of trailers padded with mattresses and straw while pooling resources to feed thousands. The protests’ leaders met twice with government officials, but neither side is willing to concede, and protests continue to escalate.
The three laws passed in September encourage farmers to sell directly to buyers, forgoing the government middle man, which has long guaranteed a minimum price for crops. Farmers worry that they will be at the mercy of the free market, and large corporations will take over historically family-run farms. More than half of India’s 1.4 billion residents live on farms, representing 44 percent of the workforce. The system of small, independently-run farms dates back to Mahatma Gandhi’s approach of “production by the masses, not mass production.”
Fifty-five-year-old farmer Sukwinder Singh Sabhra’s family has cultivated his land for generations. He recently traveled over 300 miles to attend the protests in New Delhi, bringing with him months’ worth of supplies. Sabhra frets that the new laws will result in corporations controlling farms like his, stating, “We will live at their mercy and eat only when they want.”
Despite the massive demonstrations from his citizens, Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who built his platform on industrializing India, stands firm that these laws will free farmers from a state-run system’s constraints.
These protests come as India enters into the largest recession due to the pandemic since gaining its independence. As India dramatically loses the economic gains it has produced over the last few decades, critics believe that now is not the time to attempt to remove the farmers’ state support.
Tensions rose between India and Canada after Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau voiced his support for the protestors outside of New Delhi in a Facebook Live post. Trudeau called images of police using tear gas and water cannons on the thousands of protestors “concerning,” and stated that Canada will “always be there to defend the rights of peaceful protest.” The Indian Ministry of External Affairs called Trudeau’s remarks “ill-informed” and warned that continued “interference” could harm the two countries’ relationship.
(Sources: NPR, NY Times, The Guardian, The Washington Post, BBC, CNBC)