Written By: Chao Fangning, Nicole (20-U5), Lim Junheng, Jovan (20-O5), Martha Henrietta Soetedjo (20-U2), Ng Teck Zhong (20-E5), Soh Iwin (20-E5), Young Wai Ming, Nicholas (20-E5)
Designed By: Kothandam Anusha (20-I1)
Ever since the start of August 2020, Indian farmers have been protesting against the Three Farms Act that was passed by the Parliament of India in September. The three acts are: The Farmers’ Produce Trade and Commerce (Promotion and Facilitation) Act, the Farmers’ (Empowerment and Protection) Agreement of Price Assurance and the Essential Commodities (Amendment) Act. To break it down for you, here are some brief summaries of what each act entails.
The Farmers’ Produce Trade and Commerce (Promotion and Facilitation) Act allows farmers to sell their produce outside the Agriculture Produce Market Committees, where they would have to pay the Mandi Tax imposed by state governments.
The Farmers’ (Empowerment and Protection) Agreement of Price Assurance allows farmers to form agreements with buyers and sell produce at a predetermined price (also known as contract farming) and to market their produce freely.
The Essential Commodities (Amendment) Act amends the initial 1995 act by freeing up the production, supply and distribution of items such as food grains, pulses and edible oils that were originally controlled by the government. However, this will be overruled in extraordinary (crisis) circumstances.
According to the Indian government, the Bills are aimed at accelerating growth in the agricultural sector through private investment in supply chains and building infrastructure. Furthermore, the Bills are meant to help small farmers who are unable to invest in better technology to increase productivity or bargain for better prices through competition and cutting transportation costs.
What are their Demands?
Now, onto the big question: Why have the farmers been opposing the Bills? Simply put, it is because they worry that the Bills proposed by the government will replace the presently successful Minimum Support Price (MSP) System. The MSP is a minimum price guarantee that acts as a safety net for farmers if crop prices fall drastically. This engenders stability in the farmers’ decision-making process, as it affects their decision making on when to invest and plant their crops. As farmers from Punjab and Haryana are the biggest beneficiaries of the MSP, they are the key stakeholders in the uproar.
Furthermore, more than 80% of the rice produced by farmers in Punjab and Haryana are procured by government agencies. With the rice plantations, these states are experiencing a depletion in groundwater and deterioration in soil quality in recent years, thereby threatening the sustainability of their plantations. Hence, the farmers in these areas need the MSP to support the sale of their crops.
Lastly, with the new bills, anyone can purchase the farmers’ goods at any price. Federally, this is deemed as an extension in autonomy for the farmers to sell their goods to any buyers and major grocery chains without the intervention of a middle man that slows down the process. However, the farmers asserted that the laws spur big companies to lower the prices of the farmers’ crops, leaving them to grapple to earn the minimum price. This dire issue is aggravated when the farmers have a surfeit of crops and a limited demand.
In response to the farm bill, small protests and demonstrations began cropping up in Punjab around August last year, demanding the bill be repealed. However, after the passage of acts, the protests gained momentum as more farmers joined in against the government’s bill. The first large-scale protest occurred last September. Called a ‘Bharat Bandh’ (literally meaning ‘nation-wide shutting down’), farmers gathered across Punjab and Odisha, among other places. These protests carried on starting October, disrupting transport services for over a couple of months.
By then, farmers already took to India’s capital territory, Delhi. An organised march of farmers from a number of states, gathering to protest against the bill, had now parked outside the capital for over three months. Some of these gatherings had amassed over 100,000 farmworkers along Delhi’s outskirts – though the number is likely to swell further. Union leaders called upon more supporters against the government, demanding for the laws to be rolled back. Despite the many failed negotiations, union leaders vowed to keep their protests strong until the laws were repealed.
Though mostly peaceful, some of these demonstrations have caused collateral damage, as well as endangering the lives of these farmers. Apart from blocking railways and highways, a number of these protesters have since been detained by authorities. The media was also criticised for misrepresentation of the situation, causing further confusion and outrage. For now, it seems that the farmers have been unwilling to back down or compromise.
One notable event was the Republic Day tractor parade on 26th January 2021, which swiftly turned violent as protesters fought with police, overturned vehicles, and hoisted a religious flag on the ramparts of the iconic Red Fort. As it dragged on, tensions rose and spiralled uncontrollably, leading to clashes in landmarks of Delhi and its suburbs.
India’s political spectrum ranges between the current majority-ruling right-wing Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and the second-favourite centre-left Indian National Congress (INC), and the country is run by a coalition government. In a large country where race, residence and religion are diversified, the government bears a heavy burden in ensuring harmony between citizens as much as possible.
Notable governmental responses include Food Processing Industries Minister Harsimrat Kaur Badal of the Shiromani Akali Dal party resigning from her post in protest against the bills on 17 September, and some negotiations have been made in the Centre-Farmer union talks that led up to January.
However, a large spread of misinformation had been pervading this episode. Politics is often known to be a dirty game, and any side will find methods to discredit their rivals and pander to certain groups of people more than others.
In the situation’s infancy in late November, Prime Minister Modi stated that lies and rumours commonly mislead people into assuming things that are not true, he reaffirmed the policies’ stance that the new system would not replace farmer’s previous ways of life, but rather give them more options to choose from.
Meanwhile, news from unverified sources was rampant on the Internet, and these were aimed at causing further dissent in farmers and government officials alike. As the BJP is a large party, there was even internal rife about whether the protests were conspired by external influences. Nevertheless, key leaders were unanimous in urging ministers not to jump to conclusions so quickly, as the situation at hand is a delicate one.
Maharashtra Chief Minister and Shiv Sena leader, Uddhav Thackeray had voiced opposition to the labelling of protesters as “anti-national”, and put pressure on the BJP to “decide who farmers are – are they Leftist, Pakistani, or they have come from China.” Former BJP leader Surjit Singh Jyani advised that “This type of language should be avoided. We know many farmers groups are Left-leaning but branding them tukde tukde gang and anti-national will not end the deadlock.”
Originating more in the West, the promulgation of support for the farmers has been more and more evident. One such example was when more than a dozen Indian American groups came together to extend their solidarity with the protesters. Almost replicating the state of affairs in India, though on a smaller scale, thousands of people protested against the Indian government’s agricultural reforms internationally, near areas like the Indian embassy in London and in Washington D.C. However, it was also found that some members of pro-separatist groups were banking on that opportunity and claiming to fight for the farmers while realising their own hidden agenda as well. Yet, this shows the growing influence one country can have on the world.
In fact, the growing support from the West originated from those of high-profile figures, such as Rihanna, Greta Thunberg, and more. The use of social media to spread the word certainly heightened the impact, with sensational hashtags like #StandWithFarmers and #FarmersProtest trending online. Possibly, with the increased awareness of the protests in a foreign place far from most, it has provided the farmers with more confidence in their fight, with the notion that the international community is there to stand with them in their arduous journey for change.
In conclusion, the Three Farms Acts has caused some controversy between major stakeholders, in particular the government and the farmers themselves. The protests, which had begun purely with the aims of protecting the farmers’ livelihoods, have unfortunately morphed into something more sinister. We should remain hopeful that this issue can be resolved soon, such that everyone’s opinion is taken into account to the best of the government’s abilities. This can help to ensure that farmers’ livelihoods are protected, while at the same time, other stakeholders can understand the government’s concerns.
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