It’s a protest that has already claimed hundreds of lives, torn families apart, shattered hopes, and spread disharmony throughout a country already coping with so much adversity. Yet few people outside of India know about the crisis gripping its farmers.
“I have never seen such heartless approach of the government. Farmers are sitting at the doors of the Delhi Government for more than four months, but the government has not paid any attention to the needs of the farmers,” Amreet Inder Singh Dhillon explains.
Amreet Singh Dhillon is a farmer and a law graduate who has first hand knowledge and experience of the powder keg in India that would still be a front-page news if not for the pandemic. Already more than 400 farmers have lost their lives in the often-violent protest, which has seen police use water cannons, teargas, and wooden sticks to prevent the farmers from entering New Delhi.
The farmers are angry about the three farm bills, introduced by the central government in 2020, which collectively erode their ability to sell their produce at a fair price. Traditionally, this area fell under the state jurisdiction as the state is more aware of the interests of people than the central government.
Mr Singh mentions Indian states like Punjab and Haryana have a proper marketing channel which is governed by Agricultural Produce Marketing Committee (APMC) Act. According to this act, buyers apply for the license and then, farmers sell their agricultural produce to highly verified buyers in the APMC yard.
“The new laws take farmers out of the secure system and expose them to uncertain variable market,” Mr Singh says.
“In India, 67 per cent of the population is dependent and employed in the agricultural sector. India is still a developing country. Privatisation may suit some economies, but it does not guarantee our agriculture-based economy.
“There are only 23 agricultural crops in which government provides MSP (Minimum Support Price). These bills will further erode the guarantee for MSP.
“Traders can store harvest without any limit, so it will impact the demand-supply of crops.”
If the traders manage the supply chain, it will subsequently lead to an increase in the prices.
This protest has also taken a great toll on the mental health of the Indian farmers.
Agricultural scientist Dr Varinderpal Singh who runs an NGO, Atam Pragas Social Welfare Council, is trying to support the families of the farmers who have sacrificed their lives during the protest by providing them mental and monetary support.
“We are losing so much energy, time of the nation, and resources which is not in the interest of our nation, citizens and the ruling party,” Dr Singh says.
“We cannot grow our country unless we ensure the livelihood of farmers.
“As an agricultural scientist, I have clearly conveyed to the PM Narendra Modi that repealing these farm laws will be in the interest of farmers.
“The government is not interested to resolve the issue.”
Dr Singh refuses to receive an award for excellence from Union Chemicals and Fertilisers Minister of India to stand in solidarity with the farmers.
“My conscience does not allow me to accept this award when the farmers are sitting on roads. I want the voice of the farmers to be heard.”
But not everyone supports the farmers in what has become a bloody fight against the government.
Opponent Pawan Kumar Bhardwaj supports the violent approach of police in handling this issue.
“Deaths are a part of a protest,” Mr Bhardwaj says.
“This protest has disrupted the normal functioning of society. Roads were blocked and supplies were delayed. Farmers themselves have suffered because of this agitation.
“The government makes laws for the benefit of its citizens. If government will repeal these laws, then people will start protesting against every law passed by them.”
He believes farm laws are beneficial for small and middle-income farmers.
“Forty per cent of crops are wasted every year because of inappropriate storage arrangements by low-income farmers. Food products like onions and potatoes need proper cold storage and these farmers can’t afford to store.
“Big corporates are helping farmers to create food storage hub.”
But Mr Amreet Inder Singh disagrees. “A farmer is a very small person in front of big corporates. The inequalities that these bills will promote remain unnoticed. These laws will lower the income and produce of farmers.”
There seems to be no quick-fix, no easy or bloodless way to resolve the Indian farming crisis. More lives may be lost, more dreams washed away.
Indian author Amit Kalantri once said, “A farmer is a magician who produces magic from the mud.” In India today, there is no magic – just cruel sleights of hand and a government that won’t budge.