Protest in NY backs India farmers’ fight for their land

By Roy Landersen
January 25, 2021

NEW YORK — “The Indian government is unjustly supporting the large corporations, which will eventually lead to the downfall of small farmers,” Kulwinder Kaoner Singh told this Militant reporter at a Jan. 9 protest. Over 120 people attended to support the ongoing mass actions by farmers in India. Caravans of cars converged from parts of New York City, New Jersey and elsewhere at the Times Square solidarity rally.

Hundreds of thousands of farmers remain camped along four main roads into New Delhi, the Indian capital, at the largest sustained protests in the country for decades. They are demanding Prime Minister Narendra Modi end his threat to their livelihoods by repealing new laws that would remove state price supports for staple crops and drive more indebted family farmers off the land.

The action by family farmers, mainly from the northern states of Punjab, Haryana and Uttar Pradesh, won support from millions of other farmers and workers across India and many thousands around the world.

When farmers’ protests started “police tried to block the roads,” Chaitanya Bathla said at the New York rally. But “farmers in Haryana let the protesting Punjabi farmers drive through their fields to go around the barricades.”

“The farmers are fighting for their land,” Samposh Bathla, Chaitanya’s mother said. “They won’t give up until Modi backs down.”  

Small and medium farmers in Punjab, a majority of whom are Sikh, are among the most affected by the new law, which would abolish government-guaranteed prices, mainly for wheat, rice and other grains. While often inadequate, it helps protect many small farmers from harvest failures after droughts or heavy monsoon rains or from price collapses when bumper harvests flood the market. It also keeps down food prices for millions of working people.

The market regulation was established during the 1960s after widespread famines. Since then higher yield crop varieties, mechanization, irrigation, fertilizer and pesticides became more widely available. Agriculture, which still supports over half the country’s population, was transformed, turning India into one of the world’s largest food producers. But millions of small family farmers were forced into heavy debt to pay for the rising costs of agricultural inputs. Under this burden thousands have committed suicide.

India now has a large rice surplus to sell “to the entire world,” Nitin Gadkari, a senior member of Modi’s government and his Bharatiya Janata Party, told the press Jan. 5. The higher prices market regulation sets are “the problem,” he said.

“The Indian food industry is poised for huge growth,” the Indian government says. It is this source of booming profits — derived from the exploitation of farmers and workers — that the government is driving to place in the grasp of India’s billionaire ruling families.

“For distressed farmers, there is not much land. Modi is looking after Ambani and Adani,” Kulwinder Kaoner Singh told the Militant at the New York action. He was referring to Reliance Industries Chairman Mukesh Ambani and Adani Group Chairman Gautam Adani, two of the country’s richest capitalists with ties to the BJP government.

With the capital under siege for the past six weeks and talks between farmers and the government stalemated, the country’s Supreme Court intervened to try to get farmers and their supporters off the streets.

“Many states are up in rebellion,” complained Chief Justice Sharad Arvind Bobde Jan. 11. The court suspended implementation of the laws, urging farmers to return to their villages and wait two months while a panel set up by the court holds separate negotiations with farmers and the government.

Many protest leaders say the court’s move doesn’t solve farmers’ problems. “We don’t agree with the committee that has been formed,” Darshan Pal, a leader of the farm organization Samyukta Kisan Morcha, told Bloomberg News. “We are clear about our demand that the laws must not just be suspended, they should be repealed.”

Jap Singh, who chaired the New York rally, urged protesters to reach out to explain the issues to wider layers and to build the next action they are planning on Jan. 26, as a global day of solidarity with the farmers’ fight. On that day farmers in India are planning to drive their tractors into the capital during India’s Republic Day celebrations.

The action in New York will be in front of the U.N. headquarters at 11 a.m.