Author: Tarannum Rehal
The Indian government passed a new set of agriculture bills on August 9, 2020. The three new bills initiated by Prime Minister Narendra Modi dismantle the control and autonomy that farmers have over their harvested crops when selling to markets and grocery stores. The previous laws allowed for farmers to be able to sell their crops at mandis (markets) at a Minimum Support Price (MSP) as established and agreed upon by the state-level government. The MSP ensures that farmers are guaranteed a minimum wage for their produce and are not taken advantage of. Although Modi and his government claim that these new laws are beneficial to farmers as it, allegedly, gives them more freedom to sell directly to buyers and large grocery chains, farmers all over the country argue that these laws eliminate any leverage that farmers have over their harvest. Farmers in India are already burdened by irrigation, water crisis, and a debt of the low price of crops compared to the cost and effort that goes into farming. This results in an average of 28 suicides committed by farmers per day. The new bills do not guarantee MSP, remove the bargaining leverage of farmers, and threaten any claims made by farmers in judicial matters. Ultimately, the privatization of the agriculture industry will exploit the farmers, destroy ancestral land, and pose a further strain on their livelihoods. Not to mention, their implementation threatens Indian democracy as these bills were not voted upon and all opposition to the bills was ignored!
The announcement of these bills resulted in unrest in farmers all over the nation. Since September 2020, farmers all over India have thus marched to Delhi to negotiate with Modi and protest for their rights over ancestral land and MSP. With over 250 million civilians protesting in India alone, this is the largest protest in world history and has received international support from other Indians as well as celebrities and activities including Rihanna, Meena Harris, and Greta Thunberg. However, during their protest, the farmers have been tear-gassed, sprayed with water cannons, and physically beaten by government security officials and state police. The farmers have been protesting peacefully and in fact, Punjabi farmers even served “langar” (free meals in the Sikh religion) to the same people that instigated violence on them. Organizations such as Khalsa Aid, which actively works to support the Sikh community worldwide, are providing the protestors, regardless of their state of origin, with masks, necessary medication, food and water, blankets, and shelter in the form of tents with appropriate sanitation measures.
Although the farmers are using adequate protection and safety while protesting (such as by wearing masks and the use of hand sanitizers), New Delhi, where the farmers are protesting, is known as a hub for the virus in India due to the high number of cases. India has been presenting the largest single-day increase in COVID-19 cases over the past month. With an excessive strain on the inadequate population of qualified healthcare workers and lack of medical supplies and appropriate leadership from the government, the second wave of this pandemic with a more contagious variant is posing further stress on the health and livelihood of the protesters and general population.
There has been a shortage of oxygen tanks, ventilators, hospital beds, medications, vaccines, and COVID-19 testing facilities, and the government has cleverly pinned the blame for this second wave on the protestors. Modi’s government is using the spikes in infection and death rates by COVID-19 to vilify the protestors that primarily belong to minority groups as a disguise for their own poor public health response. Modi and his government claim that the farmers are blocking the transportation of oxygen tanks and other necessary medical supplies to the hospitals in Delhi to shift the anger and frustration onto the protestors. The reality, however, is that Modi’s BJP government actually halted and stopped the transportation of medical supplies from the state of Haryana to Delhi, which delayed the delivery and allowed for the government to propagate the frustration of increasing COVID-19 cases onto the protestors. The goal of the government is to forcefully evict the peaceful protestors from their protest sites and bury any possible opposition to the farm bills. As a response, the protestors, with the help of Khalsa Aid have provided hospitals in Delhi with a supply of oxygen tanks, ventilators, and medications, referring to this transportation of supplies as “Oxygen Langar”.
Although hospitals in Delhi are now receiving some of the necessary supplies to aid in the treatment of COVID-19 patients, the conditions are still critical and the government continues to fail to understand and tackle the larger problem at hand. As the Farmers’ Protest continues to go on into its 8th month despite the weather conditions and the pandemic, no solid resolution or negotiation has been reached. Not only is it negatively affecting the government’s ability to provide the necessary care and resources for its increasing population of citizens being infected with the virus and its variants, but it is also continuing to pose a further strain on the livelihood of the backbone of India: its farmers.