Sonia Dhami is President & CEO of ArtandTolerance.com and Trustee of the Sikh Foundation. The views expressed are her own.
Eighty-seven US farm union and allied food justice advocates including the Sierra Club have expressed their solidarity with “the brave and historic protests in India from farmers”. The statement released on Feb. 20, 2021 recognizing that “India’s farmers have mobilized to create one of the world’s most vibrant protests in history”.
These protests began in September 2020, after the Indian Government passed three new Farm Laws through an ordinance notification. The farmers consider these laws pro-business and anti-farmer. They have reached this conclusion by carefully reading, understanding and debating the laws themselves as well as the role of the WTO in the Indian economy.
On May 4, 2018, the US and Canada filed a counter notification in the WTO on India’s Minimum Support Price (MSP) system under which the government procures wheat and rice for subsidized food distribution to the public.
The US argued that the MSP for wheat and rice should be only Rs. 354 and Rs. 235 respectively as per the WTO Agreement on Agriculture to which India is a signatory. Remarkably this calculation was based on dollar rates and fuel prices of 1984, not taking into account the steep rise in these benchmarks since then.
The farmers in India understand this American policy and its dynamics, which they believe is an important force behind these 3 new Farm Laws.
The statement by the US farm entities clearly states – “We recognize the role of the U.S. government in creating the conditions that have led to these repressive laws. The U.S. has been a key opponent of India’s limited use of MSP at the World Trade Organization (WTO). The U.S., with Australia, Canada and European allies, has claimed that India’s MSP distorts trade.”
The petition further calls on the US govt. to – “stop prioritizing the interests of agribusiness over small farmers”. The tragic statistic that the suicide rate in rural America is 45% higher than the rest of America, is a pointer to the economic dynamics that has played out in the 40 years since the “Get big or get out” slogan of the Reagan era.
Successive American governments have forwarded the agenda of giant American corporations who have been investing heavily to get genetic codes of Indian varieties, patent them and control the seed itself making the farmer fully subservient to them.
These are certainly complex matters explained best by experts. However, the far-reaching impact of these policy decisions on our everyday lives make it imperative for these conversations to happen amongst the general population.
We have to try and unravel these knotted issues and see through the politics. Only then can democracy be meaningful. It is also our civic duty to weigh in with our elected representatives and let them know where we stand on these issues.
Indian Americans have a unique voice and we must do our part to ensure a just and equitable American agriculture and trade policy around the world.
We must ask ourselves – As a nation, do we progress by stepping over others at any cost or do we become a tide that raises all boats. I believe that America must lead by its stated values.
Indignant Indian Americans have raised their voices (and rightly so) against the authoritarian responses to the farmers protest, and American leaders have called out the Indian authorities on human rights violations.
To find long-term solutions, we have to look beyond the theatrics that seemingly consume our attention constantly.
Perhaps when we will look closer, we will find the wolf hiding in grandma’s clothes.
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[I am thankful to Amandeep Sandhu for his regular updates on the farmer protests.]
Photo courtsey: Randeep Maddoke (email@example.com)