Indian farmers’ fight to defend livelihood grows

By Roy Landersen
March 22, 2021

“Now the farmers in India are doing ‘mahapanchayats’ — really big gatherings in different villages for discussions on what they’re going to do now,” Gurcharan Singh, a construction worker in Montreal, told the Militant Feb. 28. His father, Kuldeep Singh, farms 18 acres in Ropar, Punjab. The goal of the mass meetings is to broaden and build the farmer protest movement.

Tens of thousands have camped in protest for the last three months around New Delhi, the capital, demanding the revoking of three laws imposed by the government of Prime Minister Narendra Modi that threaten family farmers’ livelihoods.

These “black laws” would eliminate government price supports and undercut state-organized wholesale produce markets that help ensure farmers’ income. This would benefit the country’s big agribusiness firms by allowing them to dictate prices to small farmers, increasing their debt burdens and forcing many off the land.

Farmers instead want to extend state-backed minimum prices, which currently cover some staple crops in just a few states, to all farm produce. This would help cover their costs of production — including their family living costs — against rising expenses for diesel, fertilizers and other farm inputs.

At the end of December, Kuldeep Singh went to the Singhu protest outside New Delhi, a trip of about 170 miles. “Because of all the protesters on the road [the drive] took him 10 hours,” Gurcharan Singh said. And then he had to walk 6 miles through the camp.

Begun by largely Sikh farmers from Punjab, the movement has spread across the country’s northern and western farm belts to Hindu and now Muslim farmers. Sugar cane farmers from Uttar Pradesh state, facing lengthy delays in crop payments, have joined the protests. Village assemblies are being organized across Madhya Pradesh in central India this month.

In an action marking 100 days of mass protests, farmers in cars, tractors and trucks blocked an expressway outside New Delhi for several hours March 6.

Gurcharan Singh said the village assemblies are drawing in landless farm laborers as well. Many of the farmworkers are Dalits, the so-called untouchable caste. “And now it’s not only farmers and farmworkers,” he said. “It’s other workers and labor protests too, because 80% of labor in India is directly linked to farming.”

The farm protest movement in India is inspiring fellow farmers to take action around similar demands across the border in Pakistan. “We are launching an India-like movement in March against this anti-farmer government,” Pakistan Farmers’ Unity President Zulfikar Awan told the Feb. 25 Diplomat.