More than a year back, on 26 November 2020, farmers from all over north India gathered at the borders of the national capital, Delhi, protesting the three contentious new farm laws passed in September 2020, which they feared would seriously hurt their lives and livelihood.
A substantial number of protestors were Sikhs from the states of Punjab and Haryana. Farmers across the country held rallies in support of the protestors. They opposed the Modi government’s attempt to reshape Indian agriculture without any consultations with them or taking their concerns into account.
The farmers called on Prime Minister Modi to repeal the laws that would limit government involvement in agriculture and open the doors to corporate take over. In response, the government declared that the new laws would unchain farmers and spur private investment, resulting in economic growth. Farmers, however, feared that removing state protections, which they already believed to be inadequate, would leave them at the mercy of greedy corporations. According to them, investor-friendly laws would eventually eliminate regulatory support and leave them at the mercy of the corporations, with limited alternative livelihoods available in the weakened economy.
The state’s response to such legitimate concerns was to dig in its heels and heap abuses on the farmers, rather than be responsive to their concerns, as a democratic government is expected to do.
Instead, every possible effort was made to suppress the movement of farmers. The police attempted to block them from entering New Delhi when the protests first began — they fired tear gas and water cannons, dug pits, and laid nails on the road. Several media outlets and politicians branded the protestors as terrorists and supporters of the separatist Khalistani movement.
In spite of all of this, the farmers stood their ground. They had come prepared for the long haul. Farmer blockades continued through harsh winter and summer months, even during deadly Covid waves. They called for strikes across the country and dozens of people died from cold, heat, and COVID.
Initially, the government offered to put the laws on hold for two years. However, after farmers rejected their overtures, the authorities retreated, preferring to stay on the sidelines.
However, two things changed in the last few months.
In early October, the son of a federal minister allegedly drove his car into a group of protesting farmers in Lakhimpur, Uttar Pradesh. Eight people were killed, including four farmers and a journalist. This sparked outrage across the country and put the government on the defensive.
Also, Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is going up against strong regional parties in the upcoming elections in Punjab, Uttar Pradesh and Uttarakhand. The government realized that its election prospects would be seriously jeopardized, with millions of enraged farmers voting in these elections.
It is against this backdrop that Modi finally bowed to the demands of the farmers and announced on November 19, 2021, almost 365 days since the protests started!
In his nationally-televised address, Modi continued to maintain that the farm laws were meant to strengthen small farmers, a claim that the farmers had rejected: “But despite several attempts to explain the benefits to the farmers, we have failed. On the occasion of Guru Purab, the government has decided to repeal the three farm laws,” he added.
Farmers in Punjab and Haryana celebrated the news by raising banners and distributing sweets. But they say the fight is not over until the government begins talks about legislating mandated Minimum Support Price – the rate at which the government purchases crops from farmers.
[The content has been provided by the Voices of Peace team in India. The views expressed are their own.]