Thousands of farmers in India march on New Delhi

By Janet Post
March 25, 2024

Thousands of farmers in India are marching toward New Delhi protesting government attacks on their livelihoods. They’re encamped at multiple points along the way, with armed forces deployed by Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government to block them from reaching the capital.

Farmers are demanding a minimum price support for all crops, a pension for farmers and farm laborers at the age of 60, cancellation of farmers’ debts, no hikes in electricity costs and the dropping of charges against farmers involved in previous mass protests.

Facing government roadblocks, the farmers’ unions are urging sit-ins wherever marchers are stopped. Marches began Feb. 13, but paused Feb. 22 after Shubhkaran Singh, a 22-year-old farmer, was killed by police during a protest at the border between Punjab and Haryana states, on the way to New Delhi. The marches were relaunched at his funeral. He had been trying to get a waiver for his family’s farm debt repayments.

“It is our fundamental right to agitate for our demands, and we are being browbeaten, not being allowed to reach Delhi,” Singh Ghumana, national president of the Bharatiya Khet Mazdoor farmers union, told the Financial Times.

“Until our demands are met we are sitting,” said Juzhar Singh. He is traveling in a cart from Amritsar in Punjab decorated with a sign declaring, “We are farmers, not terrorists.” To smear protesters, the government accuses Sikh farmers, who are the majority of small and medium farmers in Punjab, of links to a terrorist Sikh separatist group.

The farmers’ unions organized to block rail tracks for four hours March 10, leading to train delays or cancellations in Punjab.

The current protests follow actions in 2020-21 when hundreds of thousands camped around New Delhi for over a year, forcing Modi to withdraw laws that would have halted state-guaranteed minimum prices for staple grains.

In recent negotiations the government offered a five-year subsidy on five crops. But farmers turned that down, demanding an ongoing subsidy for all crops, which would allow them to cover their costs of production against rising expenses for diesel, fertilizers and other farm inputs.

While inadequate, government-guaranteed prices help protect many small farmers from harvest failures after droughts or heavy monsoon rains, or from price collapses when bumper harvests flood the market. And they keep down food prices for millions of working people. Eight hundred million Indians rely on a government food welfare program for wheat and rice.