On March 26, Professor Avinash Singh (HIST/IGS/SAS) gave a talk on the farmers’ protests in India to raise awareness of the ongoing issue. He explained that India has had many farmers’ protests, and the majority of farmers who protest are from Punjab and are Sikh. The protests date back to the British rule over India. After independence, the movement was led by left-leaning organizations. There was a sense that the government did not understand identity issues that were important to farmers.
Singh illustrated that the farmers’ protests in India began in September 2020 when various bills were passed in India. Some of the new laws allowed private buyers to hoard commodities that were essential for future sales. Others related to contract farming. One big change was that farmers were allowed to sell their products directly to private buyers such as supermarket chains or online grocers. Previously, farmers would sell their produce to the government through markets operated by the government, and the government would set floor prices.
The farmers are now scared that this will eventually lead to the demise of wholesale markets. In addition, if farmers are not happy with the prices of the private buyers, the government market is no longer able to pick up slack using a minimum price. The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government indicated that old markets will still be present. However, farmers are skeptical. The agricultural part of the market has had many difficulties for a long time, and around half of Indians work on farms. However, farming is only one-sixth of the country’s gross domestic product (GDP). Only six percent of farmers receive the guaranteed price.
In Punjab specifically, land holdings are decreasing and debt is increasing. Because of this, farmers have been committing suicide at high rates, according to Singh. Farmers’ unions have been asking the government to repeal laws and will not accept anything else. The government has offered to have an 18-month suspension of laws. There has been no progress in negotiations between the government and farmers.
In September of 2020, peaceful protests were held by farmers. However, on Jan. 26, 2020, the protests turned violent when farmers stormed the Red Fort, a historic fort in the city of New Delhi, India. After this incident, the central government barricaded New Delhi. Farmers have been camping outside of Delhi in protest.
Singh explained that it is difficult for the government to deal with this due to the fact that BJP is currently a Hindu nationalist government while many farmers who are protesting are Sikh, so it is hard to find a common ground. The lecture was followed up by a Q&A session with the audience. This event was intended to bring awareness to the farmers’ protests in India throughout Brandeis and throughout the world.