Protests led by Punjabi farmers in Delhi, India have been escalating in recent days. According to BBC News, thousands of farmers marched to Delhi, where barricades at the border led to clashes with police. Last week, the government deployed hundreds of police and paramilitary forces to the city, specifically the Singhu border between Delhi and Haryana, reports Reuters.
The Punjabi farmers started protesting in late September in response to agricultural reform laws instituted by the Indian government on September 20. The three laws are designed to loosen regulations surrounding the sale, pricing, and storage of farm produce, which have protected local Indian farmers in the free market for decades.
According to Foreign Policy, the Farmers Agreement of Price Assurance and Farm Services Bill claims to “empower farmers for engaging with processors, wholesalers, aggregators, wholesalers, large retailers, exporters … on a level playing field” and guarantees price assurance to farmers. The Essential Commodities Act aims to “drive up investment in cold storages and modernization of the food supply chain” and creates a “competitive market environment.” The Farmers’ Produce Trade and Commerce Bill is meant to “act as a catalyst to attract private sector investment for building supply chains for supply of Indian farm produce to national and global markets, and in agricultural infrastructure.”
According to the National Public Radio, the farmers are nervous about losing government support due to the ambiguous language of the laws. According to the Associated Press, the farmers believe the laws could allow the government to stop buying grain at guaranteed prices, forcing farmers to sell to corporations that would exploit them for cheaper products. The government, however, claims the legislation brings about much needed agricultural reform that will allow farmers the freedom to market their produce and boost production through private investment.
While the protests against the legislation have been mostly non-violent, there have been reports of police using tear gas, water cannons, and baton charges in an effort to disperse the protestors, according to the AP. These efforts are reportedly in response to some protesters burning an effigy of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and shouting “Down with Modi.” These violent clashes lasted a full day and forced the Delhi Police Commissioner to allow protestors into the city of Delhi, as long as they continue to protest peacefully.
The farmers are prepared for a long sit-in, according to Reuters, and BBC News furthers that they are travelling with trolleys full of rice and grains. Harbhajan Singh, a farmer from Amritsar, Punjab, told Reuters others and himself were carrying provisions and were prepared to camp out for as long as necessary.
The Agriculture Minister of India, Narendra Singh Tomar, told the AP he had invited the farmers to negotiate on December 3, but the protestors were unwilling to participate. They have simply declared that they will not leave until their demands are met. Majhinder Singh Dhaliwal, one of the leaders of the protest, said, “We are fighting for our rights. We won’t rest until we reach the capital and force the government to abolish these black laws.”
The protests have seen an international response, reports NPR. American followers of Sikhism, a faith founded in Punjab, joined a car caravan near the Indian Consulate in San Francisco in a show of support, and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau also voiced his support for the protestors.
Prominent figures in India have opposed the laws as well, including Rahul Gandhi, leader of the opposition party. According to Reuters, in a tweet reacting to an image of a policeman attempting to hit a farmer, Gandhi said, “Our slogan was, ‘Hail the Soldier, Hail the Farmer,’ but today PM Modi’s arrogance made the soldier stand against the farmer. This is very dangerous.” Medha Patkar, a social activist on the forefront of the protests in Delhi and Indore, said in an interview with NPR that the agricultural sector “is not just neglected, but deliberately ignored and underestimated.” She added, “We want production by the masses – as Mahatma Gandhi said – not mass production.”