We are witnessing a monumental event in history from our very own eyes. In India, farmers have been protesting since November, and it has been the largest peaceful protest in human history. More than 250 million farmers and bystanders led the march against the recent Farm Bills rammed through legislation by the Indian Prime Minister, Narendra Modi.
Why are farmers protesting?
To understand the root of the issue, we need to look at the history of agriculture in India. Agribusiness is one of the largest and most profitable industries in the country, with more than half of the population being in the agriculture workforce. “Colonial-induced famines, bureaucratic and oppressive government policies, exploitation by feudal-minded landholders, and, of course, climate change have continually left India’s land workers among the worst off in the world over.” (Slate).
Over the decades, India’s farmers have severely suffered from climate change, as it causes scarce land conditions, reducing the number of crops they can sell and make a living off of. Because of this, suicide rates have also risen dramatically. So, the Indian government decided to implement new plans to “help out” those struggling. In this article, we will be answering some frequently asked questions about the protest and the bills.
What are the bills that are being protested?
1. The Farmers’ Produce Trade and Commerce (Promotion and Facilitation) Bill, 2020
This bill allows farmers to sell their crops independently and outside of the Agriculture Produce Market Committee. APMC is a government-controlled market yard or mandi. This bill would also give farmers more options as to their potential consumers. The government's intent behind this bill is to give farmers a chance to move away from the APMC's inbred corruption as middlemen. The committee basically buys this produce from farmers, then negotiates prices when selling to big organizations. In this process, however, they usually end up not paying enough for their purchased products which puts the farmers at a loss.
2. The Essential Commodities (Amendment) Bill, 2020
This amendment to The Farmers’ Produce Trade and Commerce Bill is to ensure that farmers can sell their produce in and out of any state. It also stops state governments from intervening with any APMC fee outside of APMC areas.
3. The Farmers (Empowerment and Protection) Agreement on Price Assurance and Farm Services Bill, 2020
This bill sets up a framework for contract farming. That means that it will allow farmers and corporations to set up a contract beforehand. The government's intent behind this bill is to help farmers strike a fair deal and make sure that these corporations do not turn their backs on them.
When reading over our assessments, note our use of the word "intention" when describing the government's efforts. Intention and actual execution are two different things. Despite the intention of these bills, they introduce more issues than they do solve them.
Why are these bills problematic?
When reading over the bills, many issues can be found within them.
One of them has to do with The Farmers Agreement on Price Assurance and Farm Services Bill. With the way things were before, farmers had a minimum support price or MSP, which helped them in dealing with the APMC. Without the MSP, corporations could come in and pay whatever price they want for the product and easily get away with it, no matter how low.
This bill has an amendment that states an agreement can be set beforehand to ensure fair dealing. However, the agreement could be anything the corporation wants because the farmer has no leverage, defeating the bill's entire purpose. These bills are supposed to be helping the farmers, but sadly, they only help grow the pockets of big corporations. Many farmers only have 1 or 2 acres of land being the source of their entire livelihood. Without a set price, companies could buy all the produce on the land for way less than it was when MSP was still in play.
The corporations could set that as a permanent price per month, and with a likely increase in demand, farmers would work harder than ever only to receive the same amount of money.
Besides the disproportional exchange between farmers and corporations, another issue of these bills is that states lose revenue if the farmers are selling products outside of the APMC as they will not be able to charge any fees. Big companies will have the capabilities and resources to stock crops while also growing new crops throughout the season, unlike most farmers. Therefore, if the corporations are stocking, they will have the upper hand and leverage when dictating prices. While this will affect farmers as a whole, these issues are most likely to harm women in particular.
Why is this a gender equity issue?
Contrary to what many believe, 80% of women that are employed in India are actually in the agriculture sector. They make up 33% of the labor force and 48% of the self-employed farmers. The image of a farmer remains that of a man even though compared to the 1,860 hours they spend in a field; a woman spends 3,300, as pointed out by OXFAM India. Out of the 85% of women in agriculture, only 13% have land ownership. More than 90% of land ownership continues to be transferred through inheritance and other patriarchal customary practices that deny women their right to own land. Lack of collateral and cultural norms also prevent female farmers from receiving loans from banks which will make them less likely than men to buy quality fertilizers and other important farming chemicals, equipment, etc.
So how can we help?
There are many ways to help with this issue, no matter where in the world you are. Spreading awareness, letting the Indian government know that the world is watching, and letting the farmers know that we stand in solidarity with them can be a major way to help. Many people are flying out from their countries to join these farmers on the borders. Protesters are getting hit with tear gas and water cannons for exercising their right to peacefully protest. This is not something that can be pushed under the rug, and it is every human’s right to stand up for their family and their own lives.
A way we can help these protesters is by donating money and sending them the supplies they need like clean water, small mattresses, pillows, blankets, and other necessities. This can be done by mailing your donations to a friend or relative who could deliver them to the protest site, or it could be through donating money to Khalsa Aid, a relief organization for people going through natural and manmade disasters. Khalsa Aid helps distribute food, water, money, and clothing, and medical and sanitation supplies to those in need. You can find more about Khalsa Aid here.
The year 2020 has been hard on everyone. The last thing anyone, let alone struggling farmers need, is a violation of their basic human rights and their livelihoods endangered. Let us raise awareness, stay informed, and continue showing support in a time where so many are struggling.
Written by: Khushi Kalra
Edited by: Meklit Tilahun & Ira Gupta