Sonia Dhami is trustee, Sikh Foundation; president, ArtandTolerance.com; and commissioner, Fine Arts, City of Cupertino, California. The views expressed are her own.
Indian farmers are protesting against 3 new farm laws hastily passed during the COVID 19 lockdown, by the Government of India via ordinance (similar to an American Presidential Executive order) on 22nd September 2020 and want them to be repealed.
To understand how these laws impact Americans and why and how America can raise its voice in the world, a brief recall of the timeline will be helpful.
The farmers started their protests first in their home states and later peacefully marched to Delhi to take their demands to the Government. The police instead met them with tear gas, water cannons and batons.
They were stopped at Singhu, Tikri and Ghazipur – towns bordering Delhi. By 30th November 2020, an estimated 200,000 and 300,000 farmers had gathered at these 3 camps. They organized under the banner of an umbrella organization called the Samyukt Kisan Morcha (lit. ‘Joint Farmers Front’ SKM).
Eleven rounds of unsuccessful talks have been held with the government. On 26th January the farmers took out a peaceful Tractor March. A small group of protesters reached the Red Fort causing the SKU to call off the march midway. There are reports of this being a preplanned diversion to scuttle the protests by agents detrimental to the farmers.
The government aggressively responded by suspending the Internet in the camps and large parts of the state of Haryana. Basic utilities of power, water, and sanitation were also cut off. Goons backed by the police attacked the farmers. Multi-layered barricades were raised around the camps. The world was shocked by images of nails dug into roads to reinforce these barricades.
The farmers are unanimous in their demand to repeal the 3 farm laws and the protests are spreading to all parts of India. They appear determined to fight this for as long as it takes.
Americans can no longer stay silent since this is an issue, which not only affects India but also will have long-term consequences for America and the world at large.
- Illegal Immigration
First, the Indian farmers believe that these Farm Laws are a pro-big business and anti-small farmer. “Go Big or Go Home” is the impending reality. They understand this clearly after reading and debating these laws. The average Indian farmer owns less than 2 acres of land is already stressed by mounting debt. Left at the mercy of the big corporations, most will have no option but to sell their farms.
America in the 70’s went through a similar change when small family farms were forced to sell out and find jobs in the cities. While China has absorbed its rural populations in its mega factories –India has no such plan B. 50% of India’s workforce is employed in agriculture and will face catastrophe.
With increasing unemployment and large-scale loss of farming jobs and livelihoods, this will soon become a humanitarian problem. Western nations particularly the US and UK, might face situations reminiscent of the tragic refugee crisis in Europe.
The youth, especially from Punjab, will be forced to migrate to western countries in ever-increasing numbers. While legal migration is not available to them, perhaps the few acres of their land will only finance this dangerous journey to the US, facilitated by smugglers.
America should use its goodwill to come to the aid of the struggling farmers who are fighting for their land and livelihoods today. As they say, “A stich in time saves nine”.
- American Role in the Green Revolution
Second, the US has a special responsibility towards India’s farmers due to its role
in the much-lauded Green Revolution of the1960’s, which has now been proved to be major cause of the continued economic stress of farmers.
During British rule, India suffered from food shortage, since large tracts of land catered to cash crops like Indigo, to feed the factories in the UK. After independence, this land was freed to grow food grains. The US stepped in with aid and introduced newly developed wheat varieties. The combination of improved high-yielding varieties but demanding high inputs of fertilizers and pesticides soon turned India from a food shortage to food surplus situation.
In Punjab particularly, the vicious monoculture cropping pattern cycle of wheat and rice has depleted the water table and increased toxicity of the soil and water. This problem is further compounded since the waters of the rivers that lend their name to Punjab, as the land of five rivers, has been diverted to other states leaving it dependent on groundwater. Today potable water can only be accessed by digging to 350-500 ft. Experts say that Punjab is heading to desertification in 25 years due to these reasons.
America must do its part in taking responsibility and assist in rectifying this grave problem by coming to the aid of the already stressed farmers. It should not stand by while corporations devour their lands in the name of free-market and privatization.
- America-Leader of the Free World
Third, America inspires democracy and freedom the world over. President Biden himself proudly announced to the world “America is back”.
The farmer’s protest is now the largest in history and their voices are increasingly been suppressed through draconian measures by the authorities. Peaceful protest sites have seen blanket internet cutoffs, taking down of social media accounts, police barricading with barbed wire and metal spikes in the roads making it difficult to reach for both citizens and especially journalists.
Human & civil rights as well as the freedom of the press, academia and activists are increasingly under threat in India. Strong voices around the world have caused social media storms. Leaders from around the world including the UK, Canada, Australia and New Zealand have come out strongly in support of the farmers.
233 people have already lost their lives and 112 farmers have been imprisoned. It is for President Biden now to demonstrate that America is “truly back” by issuing a strong statement to India to upload basic democratic rights of its citizens including the freedom to peaceful protest by the farmers and their supporters.
It is my hope that we Americans realize that as connected as the world is today it is no longer possible for us to live in silos.
[Above photo:Women farmers protesting at Tikri Border-Pic:Himanshu Dua]