Some 125,000 farmers and farmworkers gathered in a grain market in Barnala, in Punjab, India, Feb. 21 to discuss and protest three new laws enacted by the Indian government that threaten their livelihoods.
The government’s laws would end state-backed minimum prices for crops, opening up agricultural production and distribution to greater exploitation by agribusiness conglomerates. Millions of farmers fear being driven into greater debt, or off the land altogether, as a result.
Rally speakers called on participants to join the tens of thousands of farmers who have set up protest encampments on the main roads into New Delhi, India’s capital, since Nov. 26. “The sea of supporters, including tens of thousands of women, began gathering in Barnala early in the day, riding in on buses, tractors, trailers and cars,” Reuters reported. Farmers’ union leaders called for a mass mobilization outside the capital Feb. 27.
“Special assemblies are being held to discuss the fight,” Gursimran Singh told the Militant by phone Feb. 20 from Mandiani in Punjab. People from his village attended one in Jagraon Feb. 17, he said. “They are not giving up.”
Singh said he just got back from a visit to the Punjabi city of Amritsar. “There are trolleys full of people on the road to Delhi,” he said. “Every 5 kilometers [3 miles] there is food. I can tell you, people are fully confident.”
“If we remain peaceful, we will win,” Balbir Singh Rajewal, president of the Bharatiya Kisan Union, told a mass meeting in Jagraon Feb. 18. But “if any violence happens, Modi will win.” He noted that provocations at the last big tractorcade in New Delhi Jan. 26, India’s Republic Day, were a “setback.”
The Modi government and bourgeois media tried to divide and weaken the movement by focusing on acts of violence that occurred there and flags raised by some Sikh separatists. But “it took just two days for people to understand,” Singh Rajewal said, and again return to the protests “on the Delhi borders.”
Modi, he added, “still says it is a morcha [demonstration] only of Punjab,” which is majority Sikh. But, he said, the protests are much broader than that.
Farmers held a nationally coordinated four-hour-long “rail roko” protest across the country Feb. 18. Hundreds sat on the railway tracks in Delhi, Haryana, Punjab, Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Bihar, Maharashtra, Karnataka, West Bengal and elsewhere.